By this point, we have all heard the chatter surrounding the Big Ten. After coming into the season with such high hopes and a serious shot at repeating as the nation's best conference, the Big Ten has been faced with mixed results and many are questioning if the conference even deserves to be discussed as the best. With the non-conference season quickly coming to a close, the Big Ten is losing time to "make 'em believe" and put its stamp on some quality wins.
Still, there is time left. Conference play officially begins on New Year's Eve and although fans are certainly excited to see Big Ten teams battle one another, the next few weeks will be crucial for the Big Ten. The conference needs to improve its performance, score some quality wins, and avoid more upsets. If the Big Ten fails to take care of business, it could take a pretty big hit in perception, at least for the near future.
No matter how you spin it, the Big Ten has underperformed so far this season. Whether you look at the top, the middle, or the bottom of the conference, there have been a lot of disappointments. To illustrate these struggles, let's look at Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers. According to KenPom, MSU is the #2 team in the conference, Purdue is the #9 team in the conference, and Rutgers is #14, which gives us a pretty good distribution. MSU has yet to score a Top 100 KenPom win, Purdue has already lost 3 games including a home game to North Florida, and Rutgers is just 6-4 with a loss to Saint Peter's. Those are just three teams, but those are all "black marks" that they will have to overcome this season.
Even when you take the conference as a whole, the results have been a bit underwhelming. As of now, the Big Ten has gone just 4-12 against the KenPom Top 20 this season. Obviously, those teams are tough to beat considering that they are highly ranked, but that is still a very weak performance, especially considering that many of the matchups occurred on home and neutral courts. Add this together with the upsets of teams like Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Purdue and you have the rumblings of a narrative forming. That's why the Big Ten needs to step up this weekend.
Over the course of this weekend, the Big Ten will play in 12 games. Some of these matchups are a bit underwhelming on paper, such as Seattle at Minnesota, but there are a boatload of key games on Saturday that would be huge for the strength of the conference. Let's take a look at the full list of games.
Weekend Big Ten Games:
- 8:00PM ET - Seattle at Minnesota
- 12:00PM ET - SMU at Michigan
- 1:00PM ET - Ohio State vs. North Carolina
- 2:00PM ET - Illinois vs. Missouri
- 2:00PM ET - Penn State vs. Drexel
- 2:00PM ET - St. Francis at Rutgers
- 2:30PM ET - Indiana vs. Butler
- 3:00PM ET - Western Michigan at Northwestern
- 5:00PM ET - Texas Southern at Michigan State
- 5:0PM ET - Purdue vs. Notre Dame
- 7:30PM ET - Iowa vs. Northern Iowa
- 2:00PM ET - Maryland at Oklahoma State
Not only are there some big matchups for teams such as Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio State, but there are also many games where the Big Ten could lock up solid victories. From the top of the conference to the bottom, this could be a very important weekend for the Big Ten.
To start, there are some huge matchups against challenging teams. Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio State all face big time tests. For Maryland and Ohio State, it is a chance to legitimize their non-conference performances. For Indiana, it's a chance to add another big win to their resume. For Iowa and Michigan, it's a chance to make up for recent defeats.
In the middle, you have key matchups for Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State. Facing Drexel and Western Michigan does not look that important on paper, but both are Top 170 KenPom teams and arguably, are right around the same region as Northwestern and Penn State. As such, it means that these should be challenging games where both teams can move up. These games are definitely a notch below the ones above, but could be useful if these teams are fighting for NIT bids later in the year. Illinois should be a pretty big favorite in their game against Missouri, but it would still be a nice Power 5 stocking stuffer.
Of course, there are also some underwhelming matchups for Michigan State, Minnesota, and Rutgers. These are your typical, "don't get upset" type of games. Considering that many Big Ten teams have fallen victim to this, it will be important for these three to stay focused and not overlook these opponents. There is really nothing to gain from these matchups, but a lot to lose.
When you add all these games together and look where the Big Ten teams and their respective opponents sit, there is a chance for the Big Ten to pick up some key victories this weekend not only at the top of the college basketball pecking order, but also in the middle and to avoid a weekend of upsets. If the Big Ten can take care of business, it could have a huge boost this weekend, right before they jump into conference play.