Much like college basketball crowds during winter break, this column is late-arriving.
You’ll never guess what happened during the first week of conference play! Good teams lost! To teams they probably should have beaten! Stop the presses, rescind your AP ballot, fire every coach in the state of Indiana! THE SKY IS FALLING!
No...wait...this happens every season. Top teams drop conference games against the bottom of their league every year. Especially this season when Villanova is the only team in the country that is truly elite. I think we are going to see more conference upsets than we have in a few years. Here in Big Ten country it is going to be even more interesting.
This season’s Big Ten is going to be won with 4 losses at least, which hasn’t happened since 2012-13. The difference between this season and that one is, there are only three Top 25 teams in the Big Ten right now, and none of them are consistent enough to dominate. This year’s Big Ten consists of three pretty good teams who are tournament locks, and about 8 decent teams competing for 4-6 tournament spots. So, as fans we should be expecting CHAOS about once a week. To prove my point, we should breakdown some of the teams.
First, let’s look at the top tier teams in the Big Ten this year, and why no one will dominate:
Indiana: The Hoosiers are in crisis mode right now...or at least their fans are. This is the most talented team in the conference, but they lack leadership and cohesion. No team in the conference has to deal with the outside noise that Tom Crean’s group does. Last year, it galvanized IU and they used it to fuel a Big Ten championship and Sweet Sixteen run. This year? I’m not sure they can do it unless Thomas Bryant or Robert Johnson steps up and becomes the leader that they need.
Indiana is going to struggle against teams that play elite defense and are aggressive early. IU has a tendency to lose composure when shots aren’t going in. That is why they will lose a couple more winnable games in the Big Ten this year.
Purdue: Purdue’s biggest weakness is turnovers, on both ends of the floor. This team is well-balanced, but their elite frontcourt has had issues holding onto the ball in traffic and they do not force a lot of turnovers or block a lot of shots on defense. The formula for beating Purdue involves either hitting your shots, like Minnesota did, or forcing them to miss their shots and not letting Caleb Swanigan or Vince Edwards get offensive rebounds, like Louisville did. Purdue plays great defense, and rebounds better than most, but opposing teams will get a chance to hit tough shots. Hit those, and opposing teams have a chance.
Side note: Overall, Spike Albrecht has hurt Purdue when he has been on the court, if he doesn’t start making major improvements, Matt Painter should cut him out of the rotation.
Wisconsin: Like the Boilers, Wisconsin does just about everything well. They rebound, they can score from the inside and the outside, and they play solid defense. The issue with the Badgers is that they don’t really do anything at an elite level, except rebounding. Add to that the fact that the Badgers can occasionally go extremely cold from the outside, and you have a team that is tough, but beatable. Wisconsin has so many weapons with Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig, so teams can’t really focus on one guy. An opponent has to have great team defense to beat the Badgers, something a few Big Ten teams take a lot of pride in.
What’s that you say? You think there are other teams that could become the dominant force in the conference? Or at least compete for the title?
Well, I disagree, but let’s look at why some of those second tier teams aren’t going to run away with a title.
Michigan State: Oh, Izzo is having one of his most frustrating seasons ever, but, as always, he is going to make this group competitive. Nick Ward has been great lately, like a slightly shorter A.J. Hammons, and starting 2-0 is impressive for this group. However, they don’t have the same amount of talent as Izzo has had recently, and they have to play Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan twice. Even with Miles Bridges coming back, I don’t think they have enough offensive ability to win the title.
Maryland: The Terps have Melo Trimble, he is talented and experienced. The problem is no one else on the team has enough of both to make this a championship team.
Michigan: The Wolverines have improved since last season and have shown the ability to tighten up the defense more than last season, but they are still not a good defensive team. That will keep them off the top-tier of the conference.
Minnesota: The Gophers are good, but they don’t consistently shoot the ball well enough to win the title.
Northwestern: The Wildcats just don’t have that guy that can go win them a game when they need it. There is talent in Evanston, but it isn’t quite to the level to compete for a title....yet.
In the end, this conference season is going to fun and a bit crazy, every game could end in a surprising result. And yet, the championship won’t.