With roughly a week of college basketball behind us, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for a roundtable discussion about the league and what fans should expect in the coming months.
See the full discussion below.
1. Well, we’re now about a week into the season. Every Big Ten team has played at least one game and most have played multiple times. What are your biggest takeaways about the league so far?
Thomas Beindit: I don’t want to overreact to less than a week of results, but it’s hard to look at what’s happened and avoid thinking the Big Ten could be in for a down season. The bottom of the league was expected to be decent this year and has been utterly terrible, the middle has been inconsistent, and the top has already missed out on some nice opportunities for marquee wins. In the coming days, I’m focusing on Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin. If the Big Ten is going to remain one of the nation’s top leagues, those teams are going to have to make some noise.
Bryan Steedman: The teams that have looked good have done so against inferior opponents (besides Ohio State beating Cincinnati), the teams that have looked bad (sup Nebraska and Northwestern) were expected to be bad and a lot of teams looked alright in close losses (Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota). Or in other words, it’s still hard to get an early read on things. With the Gavitt Tipoff Games and Big Ten / ACC Challenge up next, we should get a better picture over the next few weeks. Even more so with a pair of conference games in December.
AJ Duncan: It’s difficult to project anything at such an early point in the season. I will say that the Purdue loss at home surprised me only a little. That is a team that has a lot of capable pieces that just need more games together to perform to their potential. Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State look about how I expected. The teams that have really stood out have been ones that have underperformed. Nebraska losing their first two games to the caliber of opponent they played is shocking to me. Even with a coaching change and significant player turnover I did not expect that. Illinois’ performance against a marque opponent in Arizona was disappointing. They can still become the breakthrough team that many media types have predicted them to be this season but that opportunity to show it early fell flat. Every other team in the Big Ten has just kind of done what’s expected with their early low major opponents.
2. Michigan State was clearly regarded as the league’s best team coming into the season. However, the team is only 1-1 through two games. Do you think the Spartans were overrated or is it too early to tell?
Beindit: Michigan State’s wing play has underwhelmed me so far, given the team’s lofty expectations coming into the season. I thought we would see more progress there. But with that said, it’s way too early to start panicking about the Spartans. Michigan State lost to a really good Kentucky team in a competitive game. Izzo will have them playing better in March.
Steedman: Michigan State lost to Kansas in the opener last year and lost to Duke in the first week of the season the year before. They finished first in the Big Ten each of those seasons. They should be fine.
AJ: Even with their loss the Spartans pass the eye test of a Top 5 team in the country. Obviously a lot can happen either way to decide their fate this season but I don’t think that one loss to a Top 5 team should change their national perception.
3. The league suffered some embarrassing upsets over the weekend as Nebraska and Northwestern both fell to low level mid-majors. Should we be worried about these teams?
Beindit: Well, if you thought either of those teams were going to great this season, then yes. It’s time to hit the panic button. With that said, I think most people thought both would be in for rebuilding seasons this time around. It’s just going to be a longer progcess than many likely imagined. More specifically, I think Nebraska will be fine. Fred Hoiberg put together this roster overnight. Give him another offseason to get some players. With regard to Northwestern, I would be a bit more worried. The Wildcats should be better than they are right now. Transfers have really hurt them this year. Collins needs to figure things out.
Steedman: Define worried. I think everyone expected Nebraska to be awful as Hoiberg transitions the team towards his own guys. As for Northwestern, this isn’t the team Collins got to the NCAA Tournament with and it feels like they’ve returned back to the bottom of the Big Ten once again. There was some variance at the bottom in preseason predictions, but both of these teams weren’t expected to do particularly well this year.
Dom Connolly: I agree with Bryan on this one. Nebraska returns 4.1% of their minutes from last year which ranks 353rd out of 353 teams in all of Division 1 - dead last. While losing to UC Riverside and Southern Utah is a bad look for the program, Nebraska wasn’t expecting to be good in their first year under Hoiberg. Likewise, 2019-20 was always going to be a rebuilding year for Northwestern. They lost a lot of senior leadership this offseason via graduation and the transfer portal. Quite possibly their best player currently on the roster, graduate transfer Pat Spencer, hasn’t played organized basketball since high school. Admittedly, these two programs’ losses this past weekend are a terrible look for the conference, however, give them a few weeks before writing them off as an embarrassment to the rest of the conference.
AJ: This is absolutely concerning but the overall impact of these teams’ early shortcomings doesn’t hurt the league perception very much for this season. I say this because both were pretty heavily projected outside of the top 10 in the Big Ten by most.
4. A few teams like Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue were unable to capitalize on marquee opportunities over the weekend. Should we be worried about those teams?
Beindit: Given that we’re still in the second week of November, there’s still more than enough time for these teams to get things figured out. If there is one team I am concerned about though, it’s the Illini. Illinois has already had two games where it looked “meh” for large segments. That’s not an encouraging sign. For the other two, let’s wait and see. Both Minnesota and Purdue were in position to score solid wins on Saturday, but faded in the second half. Fix a few things and they should be fine.
Steedman: I wouldn’t worry much about said losses. Illinois may be improved this year and losing at Arizona doesn’t really change that possibility. As for Minnesota and Purdue, both have a number of new faces and it could take a bit of time to fully get up and running. Don’t forget that this Purdue team lost to Texas and Virginia Tech, as well as got blown out by Florida State. As long as they’re in sync by conference play it’ll be fine.
Connolly: As with a lot of these rapid reactions, it’s too early to get a really good sense of how teams are going to look going forward. Matt Painter is always going to find a way to get his team to play its best basketball and Minnesota lost their two best players last year. Give these teams some time to figure things out. As for Illinois, I was actually encouraged by their showing in the first half in Tucson, despite the lopsided final score. They were able to go into the break down only one to the No. 21 team in the nation before the wheels fell off. Arizona has a lot of talent, led by likely lottery pick Nico Mannion. If they can clean up some of the sloppiness (22 total turnovers), this team may be a force to be reckoned with, led by the talented guard, Ayo Dosunmu.
AJ: In the overall outlook for each of these teams, they will be fine. A loss this early to a quality opponent doesn’t mean much with the assumption that each team will develop and learn how to play together throughout the non conference.
5. Some Big Ten teams like Illinois, Michigan, and Rutgers struggled to put away inferior opponents at home. Does that concern you?
Beindit: Yeah, I am a bit concerned about all three. Illinois for the reasons I mentioned in the previous question and Michigan and Rutgers because they looked underwhelming against really bad opponents last week. Rutgers rebounded on Sunday. We’ll see if the Wolverines can do the same on Tuesday night against Creighton.
Steedman: Rutgers managed to bounce back nicely against Niagara and I didn’t really have any expectations for them anyways. As for Illinois and Michigan, early season struggles aren’t that concerning for either team. It’s probably better for Michigan to fall asleep at home against Appalachian State after they built a sizable lead instead of doing so versus a team during conference play.
6. It’s still early, but have your predictions for the Big Ten changed at all? Who do you think is better than you expected? Who is worse?
Beindit: The easy answer here are Nebraska and Northwestern. Yes, I picked them to finish last in the Big Ten before the season started, but not like this. Both have been far weaker than I predicted. On the other side, Minnesota has looked a bit better than I expected. Perhaps the Gophers can get some momentum going. The Buckeyes have impressed me as well. Outside of that, I don’t have a ton to change as of now. It’s still Michigan State’s league to lose.
Steedman: The sample size is too small, but it’s safe to say that both Nebraska and Northwestern might be worse than imagined.
AJ: Overall, nothing has really changed for me with such a limited sample size.