The last few seasons the Big Ten has prided itself on being the best conference in the nation. Sure, that claim is debatable, especially with no Big Ten school winning a title in well over a decade, but the conference still was up front during the regular season and had enjoyed a decent amount of tournament success as of late. So while the conference looked considerably weaker this year, somewhat due to a considerable amount of parity across the league, it was still expected that the Big Ten would be better than this.
A little over two months into the season and the conference has essentially devolved into being the Wisconsin show. From a national perspective that's about it, with Maryland playing solid basketball (but looking relatively beatable) and Indiana impressing even though they've been somewhat limited by their youth. Even the other conference teams that look like possible tournament programs (Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State) all have had their fair share of duds and won't inspire much fear from opposing programs in March if they don't get things rolling.
That being said, there are definitely several programs that take the cake when it comes to most disappointing, but in a year this down the question is which team has been the most disappointing. You can probably rule out a so-so Illinois program, as well as teams like Purdue, Northwestern and Ohio State, all of which are playing either at or near where they were expected to be at. So when looking at all 14 programs, there are four front runners for the label each school obviously wants no part of.
With that being said, let's take a look at each school.
The Wolverines were never going to be as good as they were the last two seasons, even more so after an impending suspension forced Mitch McGary's hand as he surprisingly entered the NBA Draft. With a high amount of roster turnover, a laundry list of fresh faces and a frontcourt with absolutely no experience, this season was going to be a regression one way or another. That being said, though, a lot of people still though Michigan had enough in the tank for another postseason run. With guys like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., if the freshmen could do anything whatsoever the team surely had enough talent, right?
This thought continued to be the status quo for Michigan several weeks into the season, especially after beating Syracuse and a slim defeat against Villanova.
Then the New Jersey Institute of Technology came to Ann Arbor and won. Then Eastern Michigan did it. Lifeless outings against Arizona and SMU, followed by blowing a decent first half lead against Purdue, and suddenly Michigan looked like they would end up in the bottom of the league. Getting blown out versus Ohio State, while narrowly beating Northwestern at home, did little to change that thought for the Wolverines and that was before the bomb was dropped this past weekend.
Caris LeVert. Out for Season. The one guy who looked like he could carry the team is now out for the remainder of the season and a particularly tough upcoming stretch now looks near impossible. With no production in the frontcourt, no sudden impact from any of the freshmen, no major development from guys like Walton and a plethora of injuries, Michigan is falling apart in trainwreck fashion. The only thing that could save them from being the most disappointing program is the fact that their combination of youth and injuries could be valid excuses, but still...few people predicted Michigan would fall this far in 2015.
I guess it wouldn't be fair to rule out the Cornhuskers just yet, especially considering the run they made last year from an even worse record than 10-7, but to expect Nebraska to repeat last years performance is looking considerably less likely (even more so when you realize 19 wins likely won't get them in to the tournament this time around). Nebraska ended up losing to teams like Incarnate Word, Hawaii and Rhode Island, while even entering overtime against Loyola Marymount tied at 35. Even in conference play Nebraska hasn't looked much better, with their best win coming against an Illini program without their best player. The offense has been stagnant, ranking outside of the top 240 in points per game, and outside of Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields the team has been a complete mess. Even more problematic is Petteway playing hero ball, shooting 15 or more field goals in over half his games this season and only failing to attempt at least ten field goals once (nine versus Iowa). The rise to the postseason season was unexpected and impressive last season, but a year later and it looks like Nebraska's success in 2014 was nothing more than getting hot at the right time.
Well at least the Gophers picked up a conference win this weekend, even if that was a home game against Rutgers that required a career performance by Austin Hollins and 19 Rutgers turnovers. Minnesota may have had atrocious luck in their five game losing streak to kick off conference play, but for a program with this amount of talent Pitino should be having this team contend for a NCAA Tournament appearance, not another NIT bid. Minnesota couldn't seal the deal in numerous close games last year, ultimately settling for a NIT appearance (and championship). This was supposed to be the year Minnesota returned to the NCAA Tournament, but now that's starting to look like a pipe dream. It looks like the Gophers are simply recreating last season's disappointment thanks to their inability to consistently win close games, which has to be frustrating for Minnesota fans after the end to last year created plenty of optimism.
I don't think the idea of Penn State being 12-6 at this point in the season is disappointing per se, but their 12-1 start and the down Big Ten led to a handful of people hoping the Nittany Lions could trend up into the middle of the pack and maybe, just maybe, contend for a surprising postseason appearance. Well losing their first five conference games, including a road trip to bottom dwelling Rutgers, more or less killed that notion. Even more problematic is that the last four games have all been winnable. Penn State's early season luck has apparently gone to the wayside, losing to Indiana after a three pointer came just after the buzzer and then to Purdue after a Kendall Stephens three in the closing seconds sent the game to overtime.
With that being said, who do you guys think is the most disappointing Big Ten school so far? Let us know in the poll and/or in the comment section below.