B1G Preview and Predictions

As you likely know by now, we have an unusual men’s Big Ten basketball schedule for the 2017-18 season.  Each team played two games in early December, and thus we are now resuming conference play in early January.  With the pre-conference schedule now fully behind us and Big Ten play ready to continue at full throttle, it is time to take a quick look at where the teams stand and then make our predictions for the final conference standings.

REVIEWING THE TEAMS

  • Illinois (10-5, 0-2) – It looks like it’s a rebuilding year under first year coach Brad Underwood.  They’ve lost most of their games against quality opponents.  The Illini will likely still be dangerous at home, as evidenced by a 92-91 home loss to Maryland.  Illinois is led by Leron Black with nearly 15 points per game.
  • Indiana (8-6, 1-1) –  Similar to Illinois, the Hoosiers are finding their way under first year head coach Archie Miller.  A win over Notre Dame and taking Duke down to the wire gives some hope, but blowout home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne expose how vulnerable this team can be.  Junior Juwan Morgan is having a breakout year.
  • Iowa (9-6, 0-2) – A sluggish start has head coach Fran McCaffery on the hot seat.  Have they righted the ship with a 5 game winning streak against inferior talent?  They resume conference play with home games against Michigan and Ohio State which will give them a chance to change the narrative.  Tyler Cook leads the way with 14 a game, but the lack of a consistent scoring threat has been part of the problem.
  • Maryland (12-3, 1-1) – The Terps have suffered some recent injuries losing Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season.  Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter remain to lead the scoring, but the injuries could be enough to prevent Maryland from being a sneaky pick to contend for the title.  Nevertheless they’ll remain a tough out for everyone.
  • Michigan (12-3, 1-1) – Wins over Texas and UCLA show that the Wolverines are solid this year.  They can beat you with a variety of weapons including Charles Matthews, Moritz Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad -Ali Abdur-Rahkman.  The main question is whether they have the length to challenge the top teams.
  • Michigan State (14-1, 2-0) – Ranked #1 in the country, the Spartans are the clear favorite to win the conference this year.  Spurred on by the surprise return of star Miles Bridges, and complimented by Nick Ward, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, and Jaren Jackson — head coach Tom Izzo has a realistic shot at his second national title.
  • Minnesota (12-3, 1-1) – The Gophers returned most of their roster from last year’s surprise contender and have the look of an upper third team.  It is hard to know for sure as they haven’t played a challenging schedule and they’ve lost some of their more difficult games.  Guard Nate Mason and Forward Jordan Murphy are both legitimate contenders for first team All Big Ten.
  • Nebraska (10-5, 1-1) – Just when you think you can write off the Huskers they pull off an upset over Minnesota and take Kansas down to the wire.  This is clearly not a team you can take lightly, which has always been the case under head coach Tim Miles.  Ultimately it doesn’t look like Nebraska has the front court size or the depth to reach the top half of the standings.
  • Northwestern (10-5, 1-1) – Last year’s conference darling has been a little hit or miss this year despite returning most of their roster.  Injuries have played a role but the Wildcats have the roster to play with everyone in the conference, led by Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh.
  • Ohio State (11-4, 2-0) – The Buckeyes are perhaps the biggest surprise thus far in the Big Ten under first year coach Chris Holtmann.  It was a case of addition by subtraction as a roster transformation opened the door for the emergence of Keita Bates-Diop and CJ Jackson, along with the continued solid play from Jae’Sean Tate.  This will be an interesting team to monitor to see if they can continue their hot start which included a 25 point road win at Wisconsin.
  • Penn State (11-4, 1-1) – Every year it seems like the Nittany Lions might emerge as a upper half team, and every year they just cannot break through.  This is likely one of their better teams under Pat Chambers, but falling way behind in a home loss to a struggling Wisconsin team showed that this just might be the same old Penn State.  Tony Carr leads a talented first 5.
  • Purdue (13-2, 2-0) – If Michigan State is 1A, then the Boilers have to be 1B.  They are talented at every position on the roster, especially with the emergence of guard Carsen Edwards who leads the team in scoring.  If there are weaknesses they would be depth and inconsistency, which showed in surprising back to back losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
  • Rutgers (10-5, 0-2) – Who can figure this team out?  They followed an upset victory of #15 Seton Hall with home losses to Stony Brook and Hartford.  Ultimately they lack the depth to contend this year, but the win over Seton Hall and playing Michigan State tough shows that they are not to be taken lightly.  Corey Sanders leads the way with 13.5 ppg, but he has been struggling with his shot of late.
  • Wisconsin (8-7, 1-1) – If Ohio State is the surprise team on the upside, Wisconsin has to be the negative surprise.  A lock almost every year to finish in the top third of the conference, the Badgers have been shockingly bad at times, losing home games to Ohio State and Marquette by 25 and 19 respectively.  Big Ten teams will know better than to look past the Badgers with their reliable system under Greg Gard and All-American Ethan Happ.

PREDICTIONS

Okay, with two games already in the books, technically we are cheating by making these predictions now.  But who does Big Ten predictions in November?  With the benefit of a two game sneak peek, here are our final predictions for the Big Ten conference standings:

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