We're just about one week into conference season, and already some of the stuff we thought would happen is not happening. Here are five developments that you may or may not have seen coming. I know I didn't.
Maryland is making a serious case to be conference's best team
Coming into the season, Wisconsin was the unquestioned top team in Big Ten hoops. That had a lot to do with the Badgers advancing to the Final Four last season and returning almost all their key contributors. The Terps appeared to be reeling after finishing 17-15 in 2013-14 and losing Seth Allen and Nick Faust to transfers. What no one counted on was freshman phenom Melo Trimble immediately becoming one of the best players in the conference.
Maryland plays the same stingy defense as it did last season, but now they have another creator on offense who knows how to draw fouls and take some pressure off of Dez Wells. The result is a team that had already taken down Iowa State and Oklahoma State before starting the Big Ten slate with wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. With their only loss coming to Virginia in early December, it could be a while before the Terrapins lose another game.
Purdue was hustling us
The Boilers came into Big Ten play with three straight losses to Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and Gardner-Webb (really?). They then fell behind Minnesota by double digits in the conference opener. Since then, Purdue has come alive with a comeback win over the Gophers and another home victory over Michigan. Kendall Stephens is lighting up opponents from three-point range, while A.J. Hammons is finally starting to consistently dominate in the post.
After some non-conference struggles (Purdue also lost to North Florida in December), it looked like the Boilers could wind up among the Big Ten bottom feeders, but with this fast start, an NCAA Tournament run isn't out of the question. If they can steal one of their next two games versus Wisconsin and Maryland, we'll be talking about the Boilers as a sleeper squad.
Penn State finally got burned
At first blush, it's kind of surprising that the Lions lost to Rutgers after going 12-1 in non-conference land. Upon further examination, it seems that Penn State was just waiting to get upset by someone. Although there was one quality win over George Washington to cheer about, the rest of November and December was littered with too-close-for-comfort wins to the likes of Cornell, Marshall, and Duquesne. The Lions have to figure out a way to get more support for D.J. Newbill with a winnable game versus Michigan upcoming.
Iowa continues to confuse
Even after the departure of Roy Devyn Marble, there was a lot of talent left over on this Iowa team. Back in November, I figured the inside/outside combo of Aaron White and Mike Gesell would combine with the depth that Fran McCaffery has built up to make the Hawkeyes a dark horse Big Ten title contender. That has looked like both a good and bad call at times this season. Good when Iowa manages to upset North Carolina and Ohio State on the road. Bad when the Hawkeyes lose to Iowa State and Northern Iowa by double digits.
So how good is Iowa really? While Gesell hasn't progressed as I thought he would, the emergence of Jared Uthoff in his second season with the program has been encouraging. Still, this team needs more out of talented center Adam Woodbury and the backcourt rotation if it hopes to return to the big dance.
Nebraska's offense is vile
Speaking of returning to the NCAA Tournament, many in the preseason thought the Huskers were a shoe-in thanks to a stellar defense and the return of Terran Petteway. Well, the defense is that good again, and Shavon Shields has boosted his scoring output to nearly match Petteway's. However, that hasn't stopped the Nebraska offense from becoming a black hole of inefficiency.
There is plenty of volume scoring from the two star swingmen, but the Huskers don't shoot the ball well overall, and they don't grab their own misses either. Add in some serious turnover issues and the lack of a steady hand at point guard, and you've got a recipe for disaster. With a number of disappointing defeats already logged, Tim Miles has got to figure something out fast just to get the Huskers into the NIT.