Badgers & Big Ten: Conference At A Glance
Big Ten play kicks off today, and Wisconsin Badgers begin tonight at home versus an upstart Rutgers team. It’s been a good non-conference season for Big Ten. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has nine teams in the Big Dance to start the conference season. Let’s take a look at how Big Ten might shake out this season.
Purdue Boilermakers – Matt Painter has himself a real good team. They’ve only lost to Villanova and Louisville with good wins sprinkled in as well. Caleb Swanigan is the likely favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year before conference play starts. Swanigan is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per game. He’s an absolute monster and type of player who can help a team make a deep run.
Indiana Hoosiers – Tom Crean’s squad is a good one. They have four guys who can go off whenever they feel like it. That’s lethal. James Blackmon Jr is the leader of the bunch. He’s very good and a strong leader for this Hoosier teams. Their defense is a little suspect, but that could be due to their fast-pace offense more than being bad.
Wisconsin Badgers – To no one’s surprise, Badgers are good again this season. The three-headed monster of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ is hard to stop on any given night. Wisconsin could use a reliable bench scorer. Also, don’t get too excited if your team is up early on Wisconsin. They’re great in the second half and will bury you in the next period.
Tourney to Bubble Teams
Northwestern Wildcats – I’m ready to say Northwestern could make the tournament for the first time in school history. They have some good wins versus Dayton, Texas and Wake Forest with close losses to Butler and Notre Dame. A couple breaks, and Cats are unbeaten heading into conference play. Scottie Lindsey is the leader averaging nearly 15 points a game.
Illinois Fighting Illini – Other than a shitty Thanksgiving holiday week, Illinois played really good basketball. Van Wilder nominee Malcolm Hill is having a great start to the year averaging 18 points per game, and the leader of this team. One thing to be weary about with this squad is turnovers. They average around 14 per game.
Michigan Wolverines – Wolverines should have a “I have the need for speed” tattooed on their court. Fast-paced offense and one of the more fun teams to watch in Big Ten. Their non-conference is a mixed bag with Marquette and Texas being their best wins so they’ll have some work to do in conference. Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. are a dynamic duo that teams will struggle with this year.
Ohio State Buckeyes – Thad Matta’s squad had an interesting non-conference schedule. They played tough opponents and two of their three losses are against top ten teams (UCLA and Virginia) yet Florida Atlantic sticks out like a sore thumb. Ohio State has six players that are scoring in double figures for this team. That means they have a slew of guys who can go off at any point.
Cupcake Schedule or Really Good?
Minnesota Golden Gophers – Quite a turnaround for Richard Pitino after winning only eight games last year, and now, they have 12 wins before the conference season. It’s come against virtually no one though. Gophers have three guys who shoot over 40 percent from deep so who knows maybe they’re legit.
Maryland Terrapins – There’s still a lot to be sorted out with the Terps. They have one of the best players in the Big Ten with Melo Trimble, but what’s there elsewise? They haven’t been shooting the ball all that well, and no real signature non-conference win. Still, they will be pesky.
Tough Schedule or Maybe Mediocre?
Michigan State Spartans – Easily, the toughest team to figure out in Big Ten is Michigan State. Miles Bridges is the best freshman in the conference, but he’s missed the last five games with an ankle injury. Four of the Spartans five losses should be taken with a grain of salt since they came against Arizona, Kentucky, Duke and Baylor. They need to find someone who can replace Bridges scoring though if Sparty wants to avoid digging themselves a hole in Big Ten season.
The Conference Fade
Rutgers Scarlet Knights – Here’s the thing, Rutgers isn’t your little brother’s team. Steve Pinkell did a hell of a job with this squad of players that aren’t his yet. Pinkell is a great coach. Scarlet Knights are going to beat a few teams they shouldn’t this conference season, but they’re a year or two away from being awesome.
Penn State Nittany Lions – This team wouldn’t surprise me if they’re better than the credit I give them in this blog. Penn State’s squad is a decent one who is always going to bother you. They don’t do anything superio, but Nittany Lions find a way to stay in games. It helps when five guys are in double-figures.
Nebraska Cornhuskers – At the end of the day, Nebraska will probably be towards the bottom of Big Ten, but that doesn’t mean they can’t knock a few teams off. Three of Nebraska’s six losses are to top 10 teams, but still, they’re not very good defensively this season. Tai Webster can ball though.
Iowa Hawkeyes – It’s Peter Jok then everyone else. Jok averages over 22 points a game for Iowa, but he doesn’t get much help otherwise. That’s not a good sign for this Hawkeye squad that already has five losses. If Jok can find a scoring partner, Iowa might get a bump up in their spot for Big Ten this season.