Everyone loves preseason rankings and polls even though everyone likes to denounce them as irrelevant and then take offense when people put any value into them. It's like "we need these preseason polls" from the media, sites and established writers...yet once we get them we're going to complain about them for the next day or two.
So when Big Ten Network's Stephen Bardo posts his power rankings before the season begins, it's likely only going to create more debate while re-establishing a few things everyone tends to agree with. First, here's Bardo's preseason poll:
3. Michigan State
5. Ohio State
10. Penn State
Like pretty much every single Big Ten preseason poll we have Wisconsin up top at first place and Rutgers in last place at 14th. That was predictable, and ultimately right where each team belongs right now (though I'd put money on someone else edging out Wisconsin up top and that Rutgers somehow finishes either 13th or at least in a tie for the last spot). What was a little more eye catching was...Nebraska?
Nebraska is an interesting team to consider and I'm curious on if they'll be able to handle this seasons higher expectations. That's the thing, this team at one point was 11-10 and 3-6 in conference playing, coming off of a 29 points loss to Michigan. It wasn't until after that blowout that they turned it around, closing out the regular season with an 8-1 mark to sneak their way into the NCAA Tournament. Of course playing Illinois (twice), Northwestern (twice), Indiana, Penn State and Purdue helped things, but the question was if Nebraska's surge at the end of the season was the result of the team getting things together or if they just got hot at the right time.
By the time postseason hit Nebraska did little to answer the question, losing to a decent Ohio State team in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament and then losing by 14 to Baylor in their first NCAA Tournament game. So what team are we going to get, the team that looked like the bottom of the Big Ten or the team that is apparently getting some love for the second or third spot in the Big Ten? On one hand I'm definitely a skeptic here, as I don't think Nebraska will be able to stay up top for an entire season...but on the other hand the talent level is good enough to keep them firmly in the middle of the pack.
That being said, I'd rather get behind Iowa instead of Nebraska at this point and it'll be interesting to see if Nebraska can keep their place if teams like Minnesota and Illinois make the improvement most anticipate from them. While the Big Ten had a ton of parity last season, the reality was both the previous mentioned teams, as well as Purdue and Indiana, were all on down seasons last year. So if said teams can bounce back, with the addition of Maryland and developing Northwestern and Penn State programs, it'll make things that much harder for Nebraska to repeat last years tournament run.
Speaking of Indiana, I understand to some extent people low balling the Hoosiers because of the "doom and gloom" narrative everyone seems to likes for Tom Crean and company. The team did have a high amount of roster turnover, sure, but with Yogi Ferrell still in Bloomington and the programs ability to recruit, I'd like to think this isn't a bottom dwelling team. Especially to the level of 12th place like Bardo ranks them. Sure Indiana has a lot of issues going on, including the off the court situations, but there's still enough talent here and if Indiana had won maybe two of their more winnable games last year they could have edged into the postseason. And the reality is that it would have changed the entire perspective heading into the season, even if it doesn't change where they're at right now. It's almost the absurdity of preseason rankings. While I understand using last year as a basis to make said picks, there's usually more value placed on the previous season then the talent at hand this season.
What would have happened if Nebraska lost to Wisconsin and missed the NCAA Tournament? Do you think anyone would have them at 2nd or 3rd place right now? The reality is people would be considerably more skeptical and there'd be more predictions of them back in the middle of the pack. Even though that doesn't change the coaching, talent or what this Cornhuskers team returns. It means that one or two games from last season have a huge influence on predicting this season, even if said games mean nothing for this season.
One last thing, I may be biased here but I'm not sure I bite on people who think Northwestern and Penn State will finish above Purdue and Indiana this season. It's like the "turmoil" angle around both programs means they're going to automatically be worse than both teams, even if they have more talent on hand. Not to mention scheduling situations, like Purdue's decisively easier conference slate compared to what Northwestern has to deal with. But it is what it is, I suppose, and by the time conference play rolls around any ranking or poll will ultimately be meaningless.