Beindit’s Breakdown is a weekly post from BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit, where he will address a number of Big Ten topics that are on his mind. The post will run weekly on Friday mornings and will touch a varying number of topics.
This, uh, hasn’t exactly been a great week for the Big Ten.
After an offseason brimming with offseason, the Big Ten finds itself coming off its worst performance ever in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Even if most of the games were competitive, it’s hard to feel great about a 3-11 record, especially after dominating the event for much of the last decade.
It’s going to be a tough pill for Big Ten fans to swallow. And where does that leave the league heading into December? Well, here are the top three things I’m thinking about on this Friday.
1. The Big Ten desperately needs a great finish to non-conference play.
Generally speaking, I try my best to avoid being too hyperbolic. Overreacting may seem good in the moment, but it rarely leads to good analysis. More importantly, it usually ends up being wrong in the weeks and months to come.
And right now, many are overreacting to what has been an underwhelming performance for the Big Ten. The Baltimore Sun described this as a “rough” start for the league, but many are labeling it as something much worse. There are the typical cries labeling the conference as “dead” and ripping it for a variety of issues.
While we can all recognize that the latter statements are ridiculous, there’s no denying that the Big Ten has struggled so far this season. The league got dominated by the ACC in this year’s Challenge and lost a plethora of other games in the holiday tournaments. A good hunk of this year’s Big Ten hasn’t even beaten a quality opponent yet.
The advanced stats aren’t all that encouraging, either. KenPom has the Big Ten has the fifth-best conference nationally and with just three teams ranked inside the top 30. The only Power conference ranked lower is the Pac 12 and that league has been a disaster project for years.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Big Ten’s start has been the underwhelming performance of the upper-middle and middle class of the league.
Fans expected Michigan State to be good and teams like Illinois, Nebraska, and Rutgers to struggle, but few could have foreseen these early season hiccups for teams like Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin. While none of those three are terrible, Northwestern has looked like a shell of last year’s team, Purdue has already lost twice, and Wisconsin has a losing record through seven games.
Not exactly a great start for three projected NCAA Tournament teams.
And that’s the scary thing about the Big Ten right now. It’s December and there are three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue) ranked in the top 75 in RPI. Even if these RPI rankings are still early, that’s not a good trend for where things are heading. It could lead to some tough sledding for the league on Selection Sunday.
The good news, though, is that there’s still time to get back on track. Although the Big Ten will have league action over the weekend, there are plenty of non-conference matchups remaining. And there are some big opportunities too, including games against teams like Creighton, Kansas, Oakland, Texas, and UCLA.
Either way, time is running out. The Big Ten needs to score some key wins to close non-conference play, or seriously risk being a four or five-bid league.
2. Michigan State looks like a powerhouse.
Prior to this season, I wrote extensively on Michigan State and what I saw out of this roster. There were some concerns, but I thought the Spartans were in position to do some major damage. Here’s what I wrote in my season preview:
With the return of Bridges and most of his fellow teammates, Michigan State now projects as the Big Ten’s favorite and a clear contender for the Final Four and a national championship. The Spartans will certainly have to work to achieve those goals, but everything is now in play. Bridges is the kind of player that can take a program to the absolute heights of college basketball. He could very well end up being the National Player of the Year.
This also puts Michigan State in the desirable, but often unusual position of having to try and live up to the team’s astronomical expectations. There is no “waiting for next year” this time around. Izzo and his staff don’t get to complain about youth. The team’s sole goal needs to be to win and win big. Every game won’t be perfect, but this is a team that has the capability of raising multiple banners when all’s said and done. Anything else would be underachieving.
Well, through seven games, Michigan State has looked the part. The Spartans are 6-1 with six double-digit wins and five wins by 20 points or more. Outside of the loss to Duke in the Champions Classic, it’s been absolute domination. And that even included matchups against good opponents like North Carolina and Notre Dame.
The tricky part for the Spartans will be fine tuning the team’s approach in the weeks and months to come. December looks like a pretty manageable slate of games for Michigan State, but can the team keep focus? Simply put, none of the team’s upcoming opponents are even in the top 100 on KenPom. Fans will hope that Michigan State doesn’t lose any of its spark in those matchups.
3. I still hate this early season Big Ten play.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Big Ten league play. The rivalries and short turnarounds make for some fantastic matchups. And in a year where so many teams will be competing for just a few NCAA Tournament spots, it should be even better.
However, as the Big Ten prepares for its unusual slate of early December games, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Thanks to Jim Delany and the Big Ten’s (terrible) decision to put the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden this season, a plethora of great league games will be completely ignored on the national stage.
For perspective, just look at Friday night. The Big Ten has a fantastic game between Maryland and Purdue in College Park. If that game had been in February, it would have attracted a huge national audience. Instead, it will likely be buried behind the Pac 12’s football championship game between Stanford and USC.
And the next two days are no different, either. Intriguing games like Indiana at Michigan and Ohio State at Wisconsin will be sunk by football conference championship games and Sunday’s matchups will be ignored for the NFL. No schedule will be perfect, but the Big Ten is intentionally sinking its games to support a trip to MSG.
For that, I can’t help but feel disappointed.