On today's roundtable we take a look at the Big Ten / ACC Challenge and make some early predictions about how the rest of the season will pan out. Does anyone here think Michigan might be in risk of missing the NCAA Tournament? Who's more likely to make the tourney, Illinois or Purdue? Is Northwestern the worst team in the Big Ten? Read on to see what the staff of BT Powerhouse thinks.
1. Which team do you think was the most impressive in the Big Ten / ACC Challenge?
Thomas: There are several good options here, but I'm going to go with an unusual pick: Nebraska. Wisconsin, OSU, and Iowa all had great wins, but many expected them to win, that can't be said for Nebraska. Most wrote the Cornhuskers off, but they were able to get a big win at home. If they can get a few more of these, they could have a serious shot at the NIT.
Kevin: I think Purdue definitely looked the most impressive in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Simply because their win over Boston College looked so different than some of their other wins. After struggling against Sienna, they blew by BC with an impressive group scoring effort. The energy in the first half of that game proved that on the right night (and particularly at home), Purdue is tough to beat.
Josh: Wisconsin. After playing with a high-octane offense through the first 7 games of the season, the Badgers slowed it down against Virginia, in a major way. Going to Charlottesville and winning is one thing; holding the Cavaliers to 38 points is going above and beyond.
Satchel: Iowa. Taking on a talented Notre Dame and playing its fourth game in six days, the Hawkeyes delivered with a major performance to stay unbeaten at home. It was a gutsy win after losing to Villanova in overtime last week, putting the team on track to enter a huge in-state matchup against Iowa State later this month with just one defeat.
Kyle: I'm going to pick three teams that were all impressive for different reasons. First off, Ohio State thoroughly dismantled Maryland at home. Now, it's only a home win, which diminishes it to a point. But there was never a doubt that Ohio State would handle Maryland. And that's what's so impressive. It seemed like a game Maryland should've been closer in, but I was extremely impressed. Second off, Wisconsin impressed me. Of course, this is a weekly occurrence at this point where I gush about Wisconsin. But they're 9-0, and dismantled a very good Virginia team on the road (and limited them to 38 points in the process). They'll probably be undefeated going into conference play, and could very well be a top-5 team at that point. So, yeah, Wisconsin's legit. And, lastly, I'm going to have to say North Carolina. Now, this is still the same team that lost to UAB and Belmont. But they've also beaten Louisville and Michigan State. And there really wasn't a point in the second half where I actually thought that Michigan State could win, which is extremely impressive. So kudos to you, Roy Williams.
Aaron: I guess Ohio State, and not just because of all the "OMG" Sam Thompson dunks. I like that LaQuinton Ross has started scoring, because he's a guy that the Buckeyes should depend on a lot for points this season. I love Aaron Craft as much as the next guy, but he's not the scorer that OSU needs right now to contend for the conference title.
2. Which team do you think was the least impressive?
Thomas: Clearly, you have to go with MSU here. Losing at home to an unranked opponent isn't crazy, but doing it as #1 makes it a story. Personally, I thought MSU would dominate, but they just could never get stuff going against one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation so far this year. The Spartans will be fine, but that clearly is not a win that is going to breed confidence with many challenging games remaining both at home and on the road.
Kevin: Indiana did not impress me in their loss against Syracuse. While not every team will play the stifling zone of the Orange, they certainly exposed the Hoosiers' weakness: shooting. While Vonleh looked nice down low, no one stepped up and hit shots with consistency. Syracuse dared them to beat them with the outside shot, and they couldn't. To put up a fight in Big 10 play, that's going to have to change.
Josh: Michigan State. North Carolina obliterated them inside, and though Adreian Payne was battling cramps all night, the Spartans shouldn't have lost to a team that has its best two players suspended.
Satchel: There were no devastating upsets, but it was disappointing to see Michigan State collapse in the final minutes against UNC. Given a chance to assert itself as the ongoing No. 1 team in the country, the Spartans allowed a 30-16 run over the final 11 minutes against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, it needs to be pointed out that Gary Harris shot poorly from three, again -- he's now 16-of-58 (28 percent) this season.
Kyle: Michigan State. They had no business winning that game against North Carolina. Yeah, they got attacked by injuries, but even then, what did they do right? Please let me know, I'm honestly curious.
Aaron: Michigan State, because they shot 36 percent from the floor, got crushed on the glass, and lost to an inconsistent North Carolina team. Keith Appling's streak of being awesome ended, but I guess I should just be happy that he's not seriously hurt after that scary fall.
3. After a tough stretch to start the season, do you think Northwestern will finish last in the conference this season?
Thomas: The Wildcats are just not good. I had them slated to finish last in the Big Ten before the year started and I am having zero hesitation about that pick right now. Northwestern has not looked good and although they could get better, it's hard to imagine them doing much during Big Ten season. If they can snatch a few wins in conference play that will be impressive.
Kevin: Most likely. While Northwestern's tough start is due to a challenging early schedule (Stanford, Mizzou, UCLA), nothing convinces me that they can rise from the cellar. Nebraska will certainly fall back down to earth from their hot 6-2 start, but I think the Wildcats are destined to finish last.
Josh: Yes. Northwestern has played a few awful games so far, and while Drew Crawford is finally back, it is still not enough.
Satchel: Yes. With a new coach trying to implement his system, the Wildcats clearly look to be the worst team in the conference right now. Things could always change in the next few weeks, but the early signs point to a cellar finish for Northwestern this season.
Kyle: Going into this week, I had Nebraska as my worst team. But after the results in the challenge, I don't really think anyone can legitimately lay claim to the crown other than Nebraska. Sorry, Wildcat fans.
Aaron: Yes. I thought the offense would help offset a bad defense, and it just hasn't happened so far. Plus, every other team has at least shown a pulse. Penn State is competing and boats the conferences two best scorers, Nebraska nearly upset a tough UMass squad, and Purdue was able to hang with Oklahoma State and stomped on Boston College.
4. Which team, Illinois or Purdue, do you think is more likely to reach the NCAA Tournament?
Thomas: I have been higher on Purdue than a lot of people and I still remain there now. Illinois is a solid team, but they haven't quite put it all together yet and have not been impressive in pretty much any game this year. Beating UNLV and Bradley is nice, but not enough to get you into the tourney. The Illini are going to have to secure some big wins and with Oregon and Missouri on the non-conference slate, they still have a chance. Purdue, however, has looked pretty good all things considered. I think Hammons can be the guy that takes them to that next level.
Kevin: Illinois, but not by much. I trust the consistency of their scorers, especially considering the hot start by Rayvonte Rice. Purdue will score more by committee, but having one guy to trust late in the game will be key for the Illini. But they both will battle for what is probably the final tournament spot from the Big Ten.
Josh: Purdue. AJ Hammons is due for a breakout season soon enough, and Illinois doesn't have enough talent to pick up enough Big Ten wins.
Satchel: The Fighting Illini definitely have more going for them, including a defense that continues to shine statistically in the early going. The big opportunity for Illinois to separate itself comes Dec. 14 at Oregon, but even with a loss in Eugene, it would be hard for me to put Purdue ahead.
Aaron: Illinois because KenPom likes them better? Or Illinois because they haven't lost to Washington State? That loss to Georgia Tech was bad though, and I kind of know because I was at the Barclay's Center Classic to watch Penn State and ended up seeing GT crumble versus St. John's. My final answer is the Illini, but I think both of these teams miss the NCAA Tournament. That still leaves seven bids for the B1G, though. I'd throw in PSU as the eighth, but its non-conference resume is doody.
Bryan: I want to and will say Purdue but I'm a bit conflicted here. Purdue is the better team, they have the better talent and considerably more depth. But time and time again they fall into the same exact pitfalls of last season and it's scary because you have to wonder what they'll do when they're trying to beat teams not named Siena and Rider. The free throw shooting is atrocious and if I see Ronnie Johnson put his head down, run the court and then toss up an off balanced jumper one more time I'm going to break something.
At the same time Illinois has Rayvonte Rice and then a bunch of guys that haven't consistently kept it together. Nnanna Egwu has looked nice so far, but will he keep it up when the competition increases? The same can be said for Tracy Abrams as well. Jon Ekey has just kind of been there and Joseph Bertrand has looked pretty good but the team would benefit from improved play down low or at the point. None of the freshman have really stuck out to me besides Jaylon Tate and his youth could be create problems when the competition amps up. Already we have an Illini team that had to sneak out wins against UNLV and IPFW, while straight up choking at the end of the Georgia Tech game. Are the last three games a hint of the rest of the season or is the team just lacking focus right now?
Either way we'll find out soon enough, but I'll still have to side with my Boilermakers solely because their roster has more options and talent spread around. If they can keep it all together they'll make the tournament easily, let's just hope they don't regress to last year's team anytime soon.
5. Potential crazy talk, but what do you think the odds of Michigan missing the tourney are?
Thomas: No. Just no. Maybe I am biased (I am), but I just cannot picturing this happening. Michigan is simply too good at home and has too many good pieces for this to happen. They have played an insanely tough schedule so far this season and what a lot of people keep forgetting is that they have demolished pretty much anybody outside of the good teams they have played. Maybe this team isn't great or elite, but they are definitely good enough to be at least in the middle of the Big Ten, which means you will make the NCAA Tournament.
Kevin: 11%. They're simply too talented and too well-coached to not figure this out. But a game at home against Arizona looms ahead. If they don't look helpless against the Wildcats, they'll be fine. But if they just get demolished, then that's legitimate cause for concern.
Josh: Zero! Michigan has one of the youngest teams in the country, and there were going to be some serious growing pains. Two of the three losses are legit, and every team suffers a few questionable losses in November and December. Michigan will be fine very soon. If they beat Arizona next Saturday, this question will seem even more ridiculous than it already is now.
Satchel: I'd say they're pretty low. From the looks of things, Michigan is struggling to transition offensively without Trey Burke running the show, but these are the kinds of things that should get figured out. With guys like McGary, Stauskas and Robinson III, there's just too much talent in Ann Arbor for the Wolverines to completely miss tournament action.
Kyle: 1%, but only because anything can happen.
Aaron: Maybe 10 percent? I'm not ready to go there yet. Michigan's roster is very talented. I love the leap that Caris LaVert has made so far, and Derrick Walton Jr. seems like a really solid addition. You also have three players who were really good last season to round out that starting five.
Bryan: This should be crazy talk but it's definitely not. I honestly think Michigan will turn it around and play considerably better at some point this season. The problem is I still see them losing next weekend against Arizona and that makes their game versus Stanford very, very important. If they drop both of these games they'll enter conference play with an unimpressive 7-5 record. Their non-conference SOS would look great but they'd have very little to show besides an overtime win over Florida State.
Now entering Big Ten play this team will have double plays against every top team in the conference besides Ohio State. The Wolverines went 12-6 last year in conference play and were a better team, if they go 11-7 after a 7-5 start you'd have them sitting at 18-12 and likely needing to win a Big Ten tourney game or two to get in. It'd put a lot of pressure on them to win in conference and there's still a lot of issues with the team right now. Outside of McGary there is no go to guy without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. If they can't get someone like Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. or Zak Irvin to step up it's going to be a long season, even more so if McGary tweaks anything.
So if Michigan can pick up a win (or two) against Arizona and Stanford? I'd say there would be little reason to worry in Ann Arbor. If this team stumbles into conference play at 7-5? I'd say the odds of them making the tourney could fall to a toss-up. Luckily for Michigan the schedule makers are easing them into conference play with their season opening up with Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State.