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BT Powerhouse Roundtable: Is Michigan State Still the Big Ten Favorite?

After a rough start, is Michigan State starting to look vulnerable?

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

On today's roundtable we take a look at some of the developing Big Ten stories, including if we think Michigan State is starting to look vulnerable and which team has been more impressive, Wisconsin or Iowa? Also, which Indiana based school was more disappointing in the Crossroads Classic and what does Michigan need to do to beat Stanford in their pivotal weekend matchup out in Brooklyn.

1. So far which team has looked more impressive, Wisconsin or Iowa?

Thomas: Wisconsin without a doubt. Not only are the Badgers undefeated, but they have also played a very challenging non-conference slate so far including an impressive win over Florida. Sure, the Gators may have improved since that game, but that will likely go down as one of Wisconsin's most impressive wins of the season. Iowa has undoubtedly looked improved, but not on the level of Wisconsin yet.

Mark: Wisconsin. They've played one of the toughest schedules in the country thus far, with very few cupcakes. Iowa doesn't even have a signature win to hang its hat on.

Aaron: Wisconsin, because it's undefeated. Also, because the Badgers have played a tougher schedule than Iowa, even though you can argue that no team on either slate is as good as the Villanova team that the Hawkeyes lost to in overtime. Iowa playing this well will be more of a surprise for some people, but I somewhat foolishly had them ranked ahead of Wisconsin in the preseason. The Badgers are as ruthlessly efficient as they always are under Bo Ryan, and that never ceases to impress me.

Andrew: To me, it's Wisconsin. A lot of people had Iowa pegged as a probable darkhorse conference contender before the season because they had so much coming back; conversely, there were so many questions about Wisconsin's frontcourt that it wasn't clear they'd even be in the top half of the conference. When will we learn...

2. Michigan State has struggled a bit so far through their non-conference schedule. Do you still see them as the favorite to win the Big Ten or is that now at risk?

Thomas: One of the things I said all offseason was that people were overrating MSU. Not necessarily as a team, but as the favorite in the Big Ten. I viewed them as the favorite, but only by a slim margin over Michigan and OSU. Maybe I was a little off on Michigan, but I think we have already seen that MSU has some major problems in its lineup that didn't improve over the offseason. The loss of Nix alone has left a huge hole in the lineup that MSU has not completely been able to address. I still think the Spartans will be deep in the title hunt come March, but there was and remains no way to justify calling them a huge favorite. Everyone forgets how close the Big Ten race is every year.

Mark: They are definitely no longer the prohibitive favorite to win the conference. That doesn't mean that they won't though. It just means that if you took a pole, you might get a few people who think Wisconsin or Ohio State might take the crown. All votes wouldn't be for Michigan State at this juncture in the season. How the conference schedule falls may be the key here.

Aaron: The North Carolina loss was bad, but I still have Michigan State as the Big Ten favorite over Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Spartans have mostly struggled on offense so far, and that's something I don't see continuing for very long with players like Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, and Keith Appling on the court. I'll probably reevaluate, though, if MSU falls to Indiana or Ohio State (or Penn State!) in the first week of conference play.

Andrew: Izzo gonna Izzo. For the unfamiliar, that includes fiddling with lineups through the entire noncon, typically dropping a head scratcher that makes you kind of forget about MSU. Assuming anyone on the roster can make it through the season healthy, MSU will still be among the B1G contenders, albeit less clearly favored due to Ohio State and Wisconsin coming together much quicker than most of us expected.

3. Which freshman do you think has had the biggest impact on their team so far?

Thomas: Noah Vonleh without a doubt. To me, he is the runaway Big Ten Freshman of the Year and it's not even close. The crazy thing is that this isn't because other players have struggled. Vonleh has not only played well, but he is probably one of the Big Ten's best big men already. He can crash the boards, can score, and can defend in the post. Given more time, he is only going to get better.

Mark: Noah Vonleh because it's scary to think what state the Hoosiers' resume might currently be in without him in the lineup.

Aaron: Noah Vonleh has cooled off a bit after a torrid start to the season, but he's still the conference's biggest impact freshman. The Hoosiers are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country, and a good deal of the credit goes to Vonleh. His toughness on the inside gives IU something they sorely need after losing so much of their shooting from last season.

Andrew: Hmm. I'd like to hedge on this one, but I really like what I've seen of Nigel Hayes so far. He's already showing a higher ceiling than your typical Wisconsin-style bruising forward, and earning Bo's trust as a true frosh shows he's got real potential.

4. Both Purdue and Indiana lost their games in the Crossroads Classic. Which loss was more disappointing?

Thomas: The Indiana loss was more disappointing. The major reason here is that Indiana should have won that game. The Hoosiers are probably a better team than Notre Dame and let it slip away. Indiana will now enter conference season with no marquee wins on the season. They do not have any bad losses, but lack that win to make them look like a tourney team. They are going to depend heavily on upsetting some good Big Ten teams at home for tournament contention.

Mark: I would cop out and say both. Neither team really has any quality non-conference wins to speak of and they both could have used victories over teams whose RPIs should be respectable at the end of the season.

Aaron: Purdue's loss was slightly more disappointing because I think the Boilers will end up needing that win more when it comes down to deciding who plays in the NCAA Tournament. It's not as though Indiana has a ton of big non-conference wins, but it is the more talented team right now and will probably do more to make up for it in Big Ten play. Purdue looks like they will be flirting with the bottom third of the conference, so a win against Butler would have come in handy.

Andrew: Got to be Indiana. After last season's disappointing results, and with a still-pretty-young roster, it feels like Purdue is kind of playing with house money this year. And yeah, IU is young too, but with the crowing about their recruits that you sometimes hear, one could have reasonably expected quicker results than we've seen thus far.

5. What does Michigan need to do in order to pick up the win in their pivotal matchup against Stanford this Saturday?

Thomas: The biggest thing Michigan needs to do is get Caris LeVert going. He is probably the wildcard on Michigan's team with the most potential. He can attack the lane and distribute on the perimeter. If he can start getting space inside and attacking, it will open a lot of things up for Michigan's offense. Along with this, Nik Stauskas needs to improve on the defensive end and avoiding giving up so many easy looks. Michigan should be favored in this game, but Stanford is an improving team that could give Michigan that win it so desperately needs right now.

Mark: They need a balanced scoring attack and a stand out game from Stauskas. Playing better defense wouldn't hurt either.

Aaron: Mitch McGary needs to get involved on offense and win some battles against Stanford big man Dwight Powell. It will be tough for Michigan to slow down a Stanford team that is lethal from three-point range, so the Wolverines will need to counter with their own three-pointer shooting. They are well equipped to do this with Nik Stauskas, Derrick Walton Jr., and Caris LaVert all playing heavy minutes.

Andrew: This can be applied to Michigan's prospects for success in general, but they just need to get their standouts to play well at the same time. Simple, right? Of McGary, GRIII, Stauskas, and LeVert, it seems like at least one is off every game that I've seen. Any of them can individually keep Michigan in a game, but none is good enough to do it all alone.