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Big Ten Basketball Power Poll: Midwestern Interstates

I’ve spent a summer driving across the Midwest, and I have opinions about it, damnit.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Rutgers
Really? This is your idea of a power poll?
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten basketball season is always a slog, but this year Jim Delany and Co. were kind enough to bring a little teaser of it to us a whole month earlier than normal!

Yes, for those of you missing new episodes of a Very Special Nebrasketball, they brought it to you! With a weird-ass win over Minnesota in which the Gophers...should’ve shot more from outside and tried not getting out-rebounded by a Nebraska club with...well, a limited inside presence. You got that in early December! Because Santa Delany has gifts for us all.

Yes, for those of you wondering “what stupid controversies are we going to have to look forward to this year,” you got Chris Collins possibly lying or being emotional/ill-informed about Dererk Pardon needing stitches after a bruising matchup with Isaac Haas! As most of Off Tackle Empire’s basketball coverage to date has devolved into pissing matches between Purdue and Maryland fans, look for comments approaching “Chris Collins is a lying scumbag” to outnumber any others by about 5:1.

But! Tradition dictates that we not only rank teams in the OTE Power Poll, but that we give you some sort of arbitrary ranking or pop culture reference to go with each team’s standing. As I am not a good watcher of TV/movies, do not share Graham and Jesse’s love for obscure indie bullshit, and am nowhere near the wizard of Photoshop/Teen Beat/coming up with these that BigRedTwice is, you are stuck with something much more...well, esoteric, I guess, but that doesn’t feel like the right word. We’ll say “niche.”

I spent the summer and most of the fall driving across various portions of the Midwest for my dissertation research, covering a range from Pierre, South Dakota, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to...I guess Bloomington, Indiana? I’m in Des Moines now, off to Iowa City for the next two weeks, and will be making appearances over the next 6 months in Carbondale, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Bismarck, North Dakota; and a few other cities along the way, saying nothing of being based out of both the Twin Cities and Milwaukee.

It’s turned into a great parlor conversation piece, oddly, explaining the intricacies of highway numbering and travel. Moving beyond simple things like “even = east/west, odd = north/south,” explaining the spur/loop numbering difference (an even number in the hundreds place, like I-494, means it’s a loop, starting and ending at intersections with I-94; while I-394 means it begins at I-94 but ends without reconnecting to the parent interstate) is one of those moments to show off really pointless knowledge but nonetheless fool people into thinking you’re well-traveled or something.

That is a rambling way of saying I have a lot of opinions about interstate highways in the Midwest, damnit. And I will be ranking some of the best and worst interstate highways to go the the best (Michigan State) and...well, there’s a lot of “worst” to go around.

We had 9 voters; they can decide whether or not they want to reveal their ballots. Might be a fun thing for basketball season, but I don’t care either way.

[1] Michigan State Spartans - I-90

126 points | 9 FPV | High: 1 | Low: 1

Coast to coast, it’s pretty clear sailing for you, though it gets a little bumpy as you head through the Chicagoland area. But you made it through the speed trap of Northern Indiana, and now it’s time to set your sights to the horizon.

For me there’s nothing quite as easy-driving as I-90 through the Plains, as the hills and valleys of the Driftless Area give way to the rolling plains of southern Minnesota and South Dakota, where you set your cruise anywhere below 90 and no one really gives a shit. That’s Michigan State until about early January—gently blowing through the states, be the Long Beach or Savannah, with nothing to do until Seattle.

[2] Purdue Boilermakers - I-94

117 points | H: 2 | L: 2

You thought I-94 was going to be smooth sailing too, didn’t you? OH SHIT, A SPEED TRAP IN WISCONSIN. Well, not wisconsin, mind you, but I don’t know enough anything about the infrastructure of the Bahamas. You avoided the Chicagoland slowdown, though, and your road to defending your Big Ten title will no doubt run through the state of Michigan...

[Insert your own pothole joke here. I’m doing my best, guys and gals.]

[3] Minnesota Golden Gophers - I-35

99 points | H: 3 | L: 6

Apparently you’re a very different team going west than you are east, and the western route is full of dangerous bridges, congestion, and a lid on the rim. It should be smooth sailing most of the way through conference play, like a nice drive to Des Moines, and there are many who think you’ll make it all the way down to San Antonio. We’re not so sure.

[4] Ohio State Buckeyes - I-70

98 points | H: 3 | L: 6

I don’t like you, I-70. I really, really don’t. You run through parts of the country I don’t get, I got a speeding ticket on you in bumpkin-ass Monroe County, and you’re prone to disgusting moments of gridlock that make me wish I’d just ponied up $400 for a flight from Minneapolis to Columbus.

But then there are stretches when you can get out and really drive, and damn if there isn’t a beauty to snickering at those Bob Raper’s RVs billboards for the eleventeenth time. I might just have to give you another shot, I-70.

[5] Maryland Terrapins - Hiawatha Express

92 points | H: 3 | L: 7

Look, I still don’t understand you or why you’re here. But damn if you aren’t efficient at doing the one little thing—getting to Milwaukee/Chicago/the NCAA Tournament—that you’ve been doing all along, even if you are foreign and out-of-place in the Midwest.

Don’t think about getting uppity and extending some “efficient service” any farther west, though, because there are a lot of us hostile rubes who are perfectly fine with our “functioning” interstates, thank you, and have already spent enough money on some highfalutin eastern boondoggles.

[6] Michigan Wolverines - I-65

84 points | H: 4 | L: 8

I-96 was such a tempting metaphor here, but the (mostly) quiet efficiency of I-65 parallels what John Beilein has cobbled together in Ann Arbor. Are you stuck with haunting stretches of emptiness/blinking windmills that scare the bejesus out of you/interminable miles of one-lane traffic? Oh yes, absolutely. And no, you’re not going to go any faster right up until you get 50 miles outside Chicago, and then it’s OFF TO THE GODDAMN RACES WEEEEEEEEE.

But all of a sudden you’re in Nashville/the NCAA Tournament and it’s time to get drunk and party and just don’t ask questions, OK, you’re here and that’s really what matters.

[7] Northwestern Wildcats - I-294

70 points | H: 5 | L: 9

EVERY TIME. I fall for you EVERY GODDAMN TIME. Much like 2016-17, there’s one miracle pass through on I-294 that doesn’t suck out loud or cost me thousands of dollars in time and agony, and suddenly I’ve gotten to where I want to go without any pain or suffering.

But more often than not it’s 53 miles of pain, paying your dues along the way, and moving so slowly that you’d think you were in a funeral procession. The only hope is that other travelers get stuck on you along the way—like Purdue almost did.

[8] Nebraska Cornhuskers - I-69

60 points | H: 7 | L: 11


My only drive on I-69 was...unpleasant, and it doesn’t make sense that a highway can just switch from north-south to east-west all willy-nilly. There are RULES, DAMNIT. But anyway, this highway exists in a number of pieces, just as Nebrasketball does at the moment. For all the brief spells of efficiency, you suddenly wind up in Kentucky with no idea where this interstate came from, and you have a lot of questions that are just never going to be answered.

Much like this stretch’s original designation as the NAFTA Superhighway, well... Maybe one day that dream will be realized. I don’t think we can renegotiate Nebrasketball, though.

[9] Penn State Nittany Lions - I-29

58 points | H: 6 | L: 10

Sure, you can go really fast, and sure, there’s nothing particularly unpleasant about you, but much like a game at the BJC, it’s just vast expanses of nothingness before you find yourself in Nebraska for some reason and then you realize that there’s no purpose to this highway because you’re a wrestling school anyways.

[10] Indiana Hoosiers - US-66

44 points | H: 9 | L: 11

Ah, just smell it. Smell the history, the tradition, the classic Americana that is Hoosiers on the Hallmark Channel, a pair of striped warmup pants, a drive from Chicago to Los Angeles in search of a new start.

Then an asshole getting off the Tri-State doing 65 while texting rear-ends you and you realize it’s 2008 and everything is fucking terrible now, and it’s not gonna get any better.

[11] Rutgers Scarlet Knights - I-390 to Pierre (proposed, citation needed)

31 points | H: 9 | L: 13

I would sure appreciate you not being terrible, that’s for sure. Instead of driving some shit US highway to a little metropolis of 14,000 people, it’d be nice to do 80 on an interstate highway rather than, like a game at the RAC, be involved in something wholly unpleasant with very little reward.

But you’re a work in progress, rutger, even if we’re still waiting for...well, a citation, a blueprint, really anything to show us you’re not just some flight of fancy. And even if it’s’re just connecting Chamberlain to Pierre. Don’t go crazy.

[12] Wisconsin Badgers - I-380 (Cedar Rapids)

30 points | H: 11 | L: 13

You get a ticket for going above 55 possessions a game miles per hour.

Yes, I wrote this whole fucking Power Poll to compare wisconsin basketball to driving through Cedar Rapids. You’re welcome.

[13] Illinois Fighting Illini - I-96/I-75

25 points | 1 LPV | H: 10 | L: 14

I wanted to make this I-96, and here’s why: It’s bumpy, it’s never pleasant, the roadside is littered with broken dreams accidents, it’s rarely funded properly, and you find Thumpasaurus at one end of it. That about sum it up, Thump?

Thump: I don't know, I'd change Illinois to I-75. Because it's supposed to be important and yet it's always fucking under construction.

[14] Iowa Hawkeyes

11 points | 8 LPV | H: 12 | L: 14


Well, there you have it. This was...just a disaster. Let us know your Big Ten basketball power rankings, interstate highway power rankings, travel horror stories, or really just whatever you’re thinking about in the comments below.