The season has been rolling along for three weeks and we're finally starting to get a better read on the conference. Today we look at who has been the most disappointing team in the conference so far, what's up with Michigan and who (if anyone) can compete with Michigan State.
1. What's wrong with Michigan? Will a healthy McGary fix all of their problems or do they need to improve elsewhere?
Thomas: I use the term "wrong" loosely in terms of this year's Michigan team because they went 2-1 last weekend, so it's not like this team is a trainwreck or something. However, they did lose to Charlotte. The biggest impacts in that game were the injuries to Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas accompanied by a poor shooting night. Teams like Michigan with outside shooters just don't miss open shots like they did on Sunday. Add in that Michigan was forced to play with an unusual lineup since they had trouble going small without GR3 and it's no surprise they struggled. A healthy McGary will help, but this team still needs to grow and learn how to play together. It's still a young team with only a handful of games.
Andrew: What's wrong with Michigan? Welp, that one really good dude is playing for the Jazz now, and that other pretty good dude is also gone, and the third pretty good dude is hurt. On the real, I think GRIII has been pretty underwhelming from what I've seen so far. I thought that, if he made a good freshman-sophomore jump, he, McGary, and Stauskas would be enough to keep Michigan in a top-15 sort of place. That could still happen, but Robinson's got the highest ceiling on this team and I really think he needs to improve for the team to realize its potential.
Aaron: Mitch McGary is not going to be able to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds every game like he did versus VCU and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament last March. That much is clear so far, and it's a problem for Michigan because it looked like McGary could be their best player this season. The sophomore is still going to score plenty of double-doubles, but it looks like Nik Stauskas will be shouldering more of the load than we previously thought. His dominant play should balance things out a bit for the Wolverines.
Josh: Michigan needs to use more dribble-drive penetration. The best guy at that right now is Spike Albrecht, which is never a good sign. Stauskas has had to do too much, and Mitch McGary, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III all need to step up for Michigan to have enough of a balanced attack. A healthy McGary is a good start, but they need to find more offensive from the perimeter.
Kyle: I think Michigan has a youth problem. They're heavily relying on young players to perform at a high level. It's still November. They're getting their sea legs still, and I wouldn't be surprised if they struggle for a while. They are a talented bunch, sure, but I didn't expect them to gel right away. Let's see where they are in January.
Mark: Nothing, really, for the time being. They've lost to a good Iowa State team in Ames and a better-than-expected Charlotte team on a neutral court in the last seconds of the game. Sure, they might not be the national title contenders some people had them pegged as before the season started, but when you lose the College POY and don't acquire a similar impact type player, can you really expect to be as good as you were? I think they are still very talented and capable of finishing top 3 in the conference. McGary being full strength will certainly be a plus and he is much needed when conference season begins and the play becomes physical. Is he some sort of panacea? No. Will they be better when he is healthy, yes.
2. What do you think will happen to Michigan's season if they end up losing four or five games in the non-conference slate?
Thomas: Michigan will be fine if they lose multiple games in the non-conference season. People forget that Michigan was only a #4 seed last season and a #5 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Plus, Michigan's schedule is much harder this year than last. The strength of schedule should help them quite a bit come March.
Andrew: To the season? Well, it'd make getting a high tourney seed much, much harder, and would probably cause folks like us to temper expectations for them in the conference season. But realistically, Michigan wasn't running the table and probably wasn't going to be a 1 or 2-seed anyway. The noncon record will only matter if it also reflects that they aren't getting any better. If their offense starts looking a bit less chaotic, McGary is looking more comfortable, but they lose a few noncon games anyway, meh. Maybe this is just my MSU fandom coming through, but serious programs view the whole season as preparation for March. That should be the lens Michigan is viewed through.
Aaron: Like will the ground open up and swallow them? Probably not. I think they "only" lose four non-conference games, but even if they drop five, so what? They played a tough slate and should be applauded. This team still has more than enough talent to reach the NCAA Tournament. Maybe they're an 9- or 10-seed instead of a 4 or 5, but they still should make it.
Josh: If Michigan were to lose to Duke and Arizona, there would be no need to panic. If Michigan were to lose to both those teams and either Coppin State, Holy Cross or Stanford, more red flags will arise. I still think this team will hit its stride in mid-February, but beating either Duke (highly unlikely) or Arizona would be tremendous for this team's confidence.
Kyle: Nothing, save from getting a lower NCAA tournament seed. As long as they compete in the B1G, all will be forgiven. That being said, it might be indicative of more bad things to come, but seasons aren't won and lost in November and December. That happens in February and March. Let's hold off on the panic button for just a minute.
Mark: As long as Belien keeps them focused, it shouldn't effect anything about their season except for seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Their non-conference SOS will be very strong by the time they play Duke and Arizona. Now if they lose 4 or 5 of their first 8 conference games, things might get a little interesting. But I don't see that as a likely outcome. Charlotte may very well be just a small speed bump in an otherwise successful season.
3. Do you think any team in the conference will be able to compete with Michigan State?
Thomas: Plenty of teams will be able to compete with MSU. The Spartans are a really good team with a ton of experience, but they really haven't blown the doors off anybody this season. Beating Kentucky and Oklahoma are going to be good wins for the RPI, but OSU and Wisconsin both have quality wins already too. Plus, we have not seen MSU win on the road yet either.
Andrew: Nope, not in a jillion years. Izzo for President. But yeah, sure they will. The lack of frontcourt depth behind Payne remains troubling; if, as appears to be the case, the refs continue overseeing the free throw shooting contests we're seeing in the early games, having another big body who can play capable interior defense and not be a total liability on offense will be important.
Aaron: Well Ohio State is ranked higher in KenPom so far, but that squad lacks firepower in a significant way. I guess Wisconsin has the best chance to compete with MSU if Frank Kaminsky can keep up his terrific play against bigger opponents. He certainly won't hesitate to drag opposing forward out to the perimeter with him. I also like Indiana because of how dominant Noah Vonleh has looked early on, and Yogi Ferrell is already one of the top points in the conference, if not the country.
Josh: Right now, Michigan State looks to have too much talent and too many key returners for anyone to be close.
Kyle: OH HAI WISCONSIN. All joking aside, Michigan State looks rather vulnerable. Sure, they've managed to win every contest so far, but they haven't necessarily done so in convincing fashion. Meanwhile, the offensive juggernaut in Madison keeps impressing. Ohio State will be good as long as Aaron Craft avoids graduating, so I think those two are probably the best bets to unseat Mr. Izzo.
Mark: Absolutely. With the Spartans playing away games at Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan, there are ample opportunities for Michigan State to trip up. I doubt that anyone from the bottom half of the conference will give them much of a game, but the top half should be able to push Michigan State throughout the conference slate. I don't see them running away with the conference title.
4. Which team has looked the most promising so far?
Thomas: Honestly, Wisconsin has looked very promising. We all know that the Badgers are always good with Bo Ryan, but this looks like it could be one of his better squads and really score with opponents. If they can add scoring to already great defense, they may really challenge MSU and others in Big Ten play.
Andrew: If you mean relative to preseason expectation, I'd say Wisconsin. I had a feeling Frank Kaminsky could turn out to be a beast, and so far that's looking pretty accurate. I also wasn't sure if Bo Ryan would adapt his style to a more guard-oriented, offensively capable lineup, but he's proven perfectly willing to do so. Plaudits for the Madison Vampire.
Aaron: Michigan State is the easy answer, but it is also the correct answer. The improved play of Keith Appling has taken Tom Izzo's team to new heights. I really wanted to say Iowa here, but they don't play anyone until Xavier, and I'm writing his on Wednesday.
Josh: Michigan State. Talent, shooters and Tom Izzo. And these seniors haven't made a Final Four, which a crop of four-year Izzo players has not done in a long time.
Kyle:Have you seen Wisconsin's offense? Mercifully gone are the days where the Badgers go 7 minutes without a made field goal. This team can probably score at will, and they have been doing so this far into the season. Now yeah, it's non-con and we shouldn't read THAT much into it. But they handled St. John's at a fast pace, they slowed it down to beat Florida, they went on the road in a hostile environment in Green Bay and won, and then they had their way with three cupcakes this past week. We'll see what happens going forward, but (defensive lapses aside), I'm really starting to like this top-10 Badgers squad.
Mark: Depends upon your definition of promising, but I guess I would say Michigan State. Sure they've played in a few ugly games but to show that they could beat the Kentucky hype machine on the national stage was an important step in assert yourself as a national title contender. The promise of a Big Ten team finally cutting down the nets again is promise enough for me.
5. Which team has been the most disappointing so far?
Thomas: This is an interesting question because it depends largely on your viewpoint. Michigan fans are disappointed in losing two games already this year, but given some of the challenges so far, it really isn't that amazing. I'm going to go with Nebraska. Not many people thought they would be great this year, but they had shots at a couple quality wins this year and couldn't get it done. Even one of those wins would have went a long way toward making the postseason. Has to be disheartening to miss out on those chances.
Andrew: I mean, Michigan's a logical choice, but since we've already covered that, I'll say Northwestern- and yeah, I know it's weird for a team projected to finish 10th at best to disappoint, but so far it just looks like Collins isn't going to be able to do much at all with the (lack of) talent on hand, even with Crawford and Cobb back on the court. Squeaking out a win over IUPUI could end up looking like a high point in the Wildcats' noncon.
Aaron: There haven't been many losses to go around, so I'll say Northwestern. Others will say that they didn't expect anything out of NU, so how can they be disappointed, but I thought the returns of Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb would spark this team. The offense hasn't clicked yet, unfortunately.
Josh: Michigan. Losing at Iowa State without McGary is understandable, but sneaking by Florida State and losing to Charlotte is simply unacceptable. With Vermont playing Duke down to the wire at Cameron Indoor, Michigan has to go into that game with some belief.
Kyle: Michigan. =(
Mark: As strange as it may sound, I'm going to say Northwestern. I know most didn't have high hopes for the Wildcats this season but a loss to KenPom's 177th ranked Illinois State team isn't acceptable, even for a program with a new system and coach. There is enough talent in the form of Drew Crawford, JerShon Cobb, and Dave Sobolewski to take care of those kinds of teams, especially at home.
Bonus. Michigan or Ohio State on Saturday?
Thomas: As a Michigan grad, I have to go with my Wolverines. Even though the offense is a trainwreck and the Buckeyes have a 23 game win streak, I have to keep hope in the fact that the forces of good will reign supreme.
Aaron: Buckeyes will roll on Saturday 49-20.
Josh: Ohio State, 56-21. From a Michigan student. As always, Go Blue!
Kyle: For as much as I may loathe Ohio State in everything I do, I'm going against my better judgement and rooting for them to beat That Team Up North.
Mark :Let's just say the odds of Michigan beating Ohio State in Saturday's game are as good as the odds of Brady Hoke beating Braxton Miller in a foot race.
Bryan: #BTFU. Wait, wrong game. Living on the Ohio/Michigan border is always interesting because my hometown is literally split between Michigan and Ohio State fans (with a modest number of Notre Dame fans as well). Throughout the years I've came to the conclusion that Ohio State fans are the worst and that I can tolerate Michigan fans and respect them besides when they start to get cocky. Taking that into consideration, I almost want Ohio State to go 13-0 and get snubbed from the title game (it'd make my day). Ohio State is too good and Michigan is lucky that the officiating handed them a win versus Akron and that UCONN was UCONN or else they'd be missing a bowl this season. Ohio State blows out Michigan. The Wolverines have no offensive line, no running game and Gardner is a turnover machine...it's going to get ugly.