The Big Ten season will begin in earnest next week. There is still the matter of Indiana and Louisville on New Year’s Eve, but the rest of the Big Ten is now completely finished with non-conference games. The conference as a group has lost the ACC Challenge, tied the Gavitt Games, and won a few tournaments. Overall, it has been an entertaining start to the season for the conference as a whole, but what about the individual members?
As someone with experience in education, I’ve decided to grade teams somewhat like I would grade students in a classroom. This means your team’s grade will be based on performance, but with a consideration for expectation. This means Wisconsin’s loss to Creighton hurts their grade, while Nebraska’s loss to the Blue Jays has little effect on their mark. Got it? Good, let’s get started.
Illinois (10-3): B+
John Groce is on the hot seat this year, and expectations for the Illini weren’t high. So, while three losses, including an overtime loss to Winthrop, isn’t ideal, it is a solid start for a team picked to finish in the bottom half of the league. Illinois has wins over three other potential bubble teams (VCU, BYU, and NC State), so a solid Big Ten season should keep them firmly in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Indiana (10-2): A-
You know why this is an A-, everyone does. The loss to Butler is passable, but the loss to IPFW kills the chance at a regular A. Yet, the Hoosiers are still a title contender, for both the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa (8-5): C
The Hawkeyes knew this was going to be a rebuilding year, but a loss to UNO is bad for any Power 5 team. However, wins over in-sate rivals Iowa State and UNI make this a passing grade.
Maryland (12-1): A-
We’ve gone through the whole non-conference schedule, and I still have no idea how good this Terps team actually is... They clearly know how to win close games, but some of those games were against teams they should have beaten handily. Oh, and the loss to Pitt was not a great sign. However, that was their only loss, so it seems wrong to give them anything less than an A-. After all, this wasn’t supposed to be a consistent Maryland team in the first place.
Michigan (10-3): B+
A couple of ugly losses keep this from being an A. These Wolverines are a dangerous team that can win against almost anyone, but they have some flaws. The defense has improved from a year ago, but it is still suspect and when their offense stagnates they become very beatable.
Michigan State (7-5-1): D
Frustration is the only word you can use to describe this Spartan team and their season. Injuries and a lack of leadership and experience have led to losses against top competition and Northeastern. Add in the tie to FGCU (idk what else to call it because it was not a victory) and you have the worst start to a season for an Izzo coached team that I can remember. This team was supposed to compete for a Big Ten title, but now they look like they might struggle to see the postseason.
Minnesota (12-1): A
The Golden Gophers need a good season, and they are off to a great start. Their only loss is at Florida State, the 26th team in KenPom’s rankings. Wins against Arkansas and Vanderbilt will help their tournament profile, but they need a few big wins in Big Ten play to truly be in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Overall, I don’t see how Minnesota fans could ask for a better start to the season.
Nebraska (6-6): C-
Expectations weren’t high in Lincoln, but it is hard to be happy with the performance of this team. Most of their losses have been to quality teams, but they have no quality wins. Dayton is almost a quality win, and it saved them from a D because Gardner Webb is an F-worthy loss.
Northwestern (11-2): A
Sure, they lost to Butler and Notre Dame, but right now this is a team that is projected to be in the NCAA Tournament. That automatically makes this an A for any Northwestern team.
Ohio State (10-3): B
If there ever was a team that plays to the level of their competition, it is this one. The Buckeyes lost at Virginia and at home to Florida Atlantic by the same margin. Those teams are currently ranked #3 and #224 respectively by KenPom. I think that tells you all you need to know about how unpredictable this team is and will continue to be.
Penn State (8-5): D+
Plenty of people were bullish on the Nittany Lions before the season started...including me. Now, not so much, they appear destined to finish in the bottom three of the conference after losing to Albany and George Mason (by a lot).
Purdue (11-2): B+
So far, Purdue is who we thought they were; they’ve won the games they were expected to win and lost the ones they were expected to lose. The reason this is a B+ though, is because they have overperformed in those wins and added some wrinkles to their game that weren’t there in previous years. They are a Big Ten title contender, and a dark horse for the national title (like most people predicted).
Rutgers (11-2): A-
Damn, why couldn’t they have held on against Seton Hall? I was ready to give them an A+. Steve Pikiell looks like he was the perfect choice for the Scarlet Knights (and his last name makes me think of a Rick and Morty episode). They have no marquee wins, but no one expected them to even be competitive against Seton Hall and Miami. They were competitive and they didn’t lose to any bad teams. That is a huge deal for a program that has struggled like they have.
Wisconsin (11-2): B+
Wisconsin has only lost to two really good teams, but they were ugly losses. That is why they only have a B+. The Badgers are still in the conversation for the Big Ten title, and have some solid wins.
Disagree with your team’s grade? You can file an official dispute with the Dean, Mr. Beindit.