I'm always trying different ideas out on the site and one of the things that went over really well last week were a few of my takeaways of the first few weeks of Big Ten hoops. As such, I'm going to start (hopefully) rolling out a few takeaways and/or just general thoughts on what I'm seeing in the Big Ten each week.
With that, here are a few things I'm wondering about this Tuesday.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes Could Be In Trouble.
I've written a ton of "reaction" pieces so far this season and the thing I always like to note is that a game or two will never tell the full story on a team. Even if a team has a horrible stretch, we've seen plenty of teams overcome slow starts, rough finishes, and terrible losses to do big things. One or two games doesn't tell everything.
Nonetheless, it's hard not to be concerned about the Buckeyes so far this season. Ohio State is sitting at just 2-3 and all three losses have been to decent at best teams. Needless to say, when a team has back-to-back losses to Louisiana Tech and UT Arlington at home, people are not going to be thrilled.
Ohio State has achieved a lot over the last decade. The program had nine NCAA Tournament appearances, some Big Ten titles, and two trips to the Final Four. Starting this poorly isn't exactly the norm in Columbus. What might be even more concerning is that according to KenPom, the Buckeyes are still projected to lose three more times in non-conference play, including Tuesday's game against Virginia at home.
Honestly, I don't even think Ohio State has been that bad. It's just an inexperienced team that doesn't take care of the little things. For instance, the Buckeyes are No. 327 in offensive turnover rate and No. 338 in free throw percentage. Marc Loving and JaQuan Lyle have been solid, but the rest of the roster has just been too inconsistent to overcome those kind of problems.
So are things going to get better?
Personally, I think this team is going to keep improving, especially if players like Keita Bates-Diop and Daniel Giddens can emerge, but the real question should be whether it's too late for the improvement to matter. Ohio State was already a bubble team coming into the year and now it has two rough home losses, an underwhelming neutral site loss, and probably more coming in non-conference play.
Barring an incredible turnaround, this probably looks like a team destined for the NIT.
2. Illinois Keeps Getting Banged Up.
On Saturday night, I was actually feel optimistic about Illinois' chances to overcome a rough start, reel off some wins, and get back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The team had improved play, Kendrick Nunn was back, and the Illini were absolutely in the game against a really good Iowa State team.
Unfortunately, that's when Mike Thorne suffered a left knee injury. He's now been ruled out for what could likely be the entire season. It's not only a massive blow to Thorne, but also puts Illinois is a tough spot. He was the key option at center and one of the best players on the entire roster. Now, an Illinois team that's reeling is going to have to depend on Maverick Morgan and freshman Michael Finke to carry the team upfront.
Illinois still has a chance to trend up, but you can't help thinking that this might end up being a lost season. Again, though I don't want to write somebody off this early, it's hard not to think this way. At this point, John Groce needs to think about putting his team in bubble wrap. Tracy Abrams is out for the year, Leron Black was hurt in the offseason, Jalen Coleman-Lands missed most of the summer, Kendrick Nunn got hurt, and now Thorne might miss the year.
If Illinois does end up fading after the Thorne injury - not a far fetched outlook in the slightest - what could be more interesting is how Groce is evaluated. Do you judge him based off this year? He built a hell of a roster, but has gotten railed at almost every position in the lineup with injuries so far.
As of now, I'm starting to think Groce ends up making it through even if he doesn't make the NCAA Tournament, especially with AD questions in Champaign.
3. Nebraska Is Wayyyy Up.
What if I told you there was a Big Ten team that was 5-2 with a win over a top 100 team? What if I also told you that same team's only losses came by four points to an undefeated Cincinnati team and in a road loss to KenPom's No. 1 team in the country? Would you be impressed?
Well, that team is Nebraska. Even with this, nobody is talking about the Huskers at this point. It's understandable since four of Nebraska's five wins came against terrible teams, but I'm starting to think that Nebraska could be a team lurking for a big rise over the next few weeks.
In particular, Nebraska gets a showdown with Miami (Fl) at home in what could be stirring to be an upset. Nebraska plays well at home, it's Miami's first road game, and the Huskers might not be a bad matchup either. The biggest thing for the Huskers will be avoiding turnovers. Miami does a decent job forcing them and Nebraska turns it over far too often. If Nebraska holds onto the ball, watch out.
You can follow Thomas Beindit on Twitter at @tbeindit.