Big Ten Power Rankings
(Ed. note: This posting is also available in a little more detail at the new Maize n Brew. So head over there as well! Friday is my last day here before all the fun will totally relocate to Maizenbrew.com.)
With the football season now officially over it's time to switch our attention to that other winter sport: Basketball. I can't dream of keeping up with Brian's or Yost Built's hockey coverage, but roundball is a different story.
So far it appears to be a down year for the majority of the Big Ten. Only standouts Wisconsin and Ohio State are ranked (albeit #4 and #5 respectively). Further the conference is a woeful 3-13 against the top 25, and 2 of those victories are Wisconsin's. It's early in every Big Ten team's season, but there no better time to start abritrarily judging their accomplishments. So let's get to the rankings:
Maize n Brew's Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings
16-1(2-0)1. Wisconsin - Wisconsin is clear and away the class of the Big Ten. Alando Tucker is perhaps the best player in the Big Ten at this point and is also one of the best in the country. But it's not like this is a one person team. Kammron Taylor poured in 25 points on the Buckeyes and Wisconsin's bench is as deep as any in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is allowing a lot of points on the year, but continues to rack of double digit point wins. Recently, they've picked it up on the defensive end holding four of their last five opponents below 60 points.
13-3 (2-1)2. Ohio State - On talent alone, this IS the best team in the Big ten, if not the country. But as a Michigan fan I know that lots of talent doesn't guarantee anything. While the Buckeyes have dismantled clearly inferior teams they have struggled against top competition. However there are plenty of reasons not to discount Ohio State. Greg Oden is still nursing with right thumb back to health and the Buckeye's shooters are too good to stay cold for long. They'll be a force come tournament time and probably the favorite to win the Big Ten over the long haul.
14-4 (1-2)3. Michigan State - Don't let their 1-2 conference record fool you. This is a good team. It's just not as good as we've come to expect out of Tom Izzo. MSU dropped its first two road games by a bucket to Iowa (who is nearly unbeatable at home) and then got blown out by Indiana in Bloomington. Now the Spartans are back home and welcoming back some big time talent. the absence of freshman hot-shot Raymar Morgan and Sophomore Mo Joseph have forced MSU's best player Drew Neitzel to not only carry the offensive load but basically do it on his own. Now that the Spartans are getting healthy expect them to make a run. Whether they have it in them to beat OSU in Columbus on January 27 is another question.
4. Indiana - Scarily similar to Michigan in terms of the make up of its team. Senior and Junior heavy starting line up with some talent off the bench. However, that's where the similarities end. Kelvin Sampson has done a tremendous job taking over at Indiana and the team's 11-4 record is evidence of that. Of Indiana's four losses, only the OSU loss was by more than 5 points, it was by 7. Their losses include Butler, Duke, Kentucky, and OSU and everyone of those games was competitive. DJ White is the team's best scorer, but the team's points are pretty evenly distributed with five players averaging 10 or more points (for the record 3 average 9.8 a game but that's close enough for me). Sampson's got this team playing hard. They won't win any of the tournaments they enter but they'll be competitive in them.
5. Michigan - No idea what to make of this team. The freshmen are playing better than the seniors for the most part. The only recent exception is Lester Abram who finally seems all the way back from injuries and is playing with an aggressive streak Michigan, quite frankly, has never seen from him. The emergence of Ekpe Udoh has taken a lot of the pressure off Courtney Sims and Brent Petway, and the crisp shooting of Reed Baker has allowed Michigan some relief when their starting guards need a rest. Still, when faced with a challenge this team crumbles. In their three losses Michigan trailed by as many as 17 points at some point in each second half, if not for all of them. Dion Harris has been a disaster shooting the ball this year and Jevohn Shepperd and Ron Coleman may as well not exist. Defensively they're getting better and the Wolverines lead the Big Ten in blocked shots. That's good because defense is going to have to carry them. This is a team that is going to struggle to score points against good teams as witnessed by their last in the Big Ten 3-point percentage.
13-5 (1-2)6. Illinois - Despite putting up big numbers on a soft schedule that closely resembles Michigan's slate of "Really, they have a team?" schools, Illinois hit a three game tailspin of losses to Xavier, Michigan and OSU, before righting the ship against Iowa (who almost came back from 10 point down with under 4 minutes to go). During that slide Illinois couldn't have hit Tina Turner if their name was Ike. It was bad. It was also strange. Illinois has 3 players averaging 11 points or more a game and some talent off the bench. An early season injury to Brian Randle didn't help things, but he's back and put in 16 against Iowa. However, Illinois like the rest of the Big Ten has struggled against top competition. Further, I'm not sold on Bruce Webber as being any better of a coach than Amaker. The Illini have two more road games before welcoming Wisconsin on January 20. That may be our best chance to evaluate what this team can do this season.
12-5 (1-2)7. Purdue - Despite getting absolutely crushed by Indiana last night this has been a very surprising season for the Boilermakers thus far. 12-5 including a road win at Oklahoma and a near upset of Butler is pretty impressive out of a squad that was absolutely terrible last year. At this point they've already surpassed last seasons 9 wins and anything else is gravy. That's why they're going to screw someone's season up royally. Karl Landry and David Teague are the heart and soul of the team and shoulder almost all of the scoring. Sadly, Purdue now enters the hardest stretch of their season with Michigan twice, a road game at Wisconsin, and visits from Illinois, OSU, MSU, and Indiana along with a trip to Columbus.
9-7 (1-1)8. Iowa - This is a team that can score in bunches. It's also a team that allows it's opponents to do the same, just more often. At home the Hawkeyes are as tough to play against as any team in the Big Ten. On the road, not so much. To make the NCAA's this team would pretty much have to run the table. Going 2-4 to start your season doesn't help, so the Hawkeyes are fighting to make the NIT. There are scorers here and plenty of people who can dish the rock, however Iowa has to learn to play defense against good teams and find ways to score when Adam Haluska and Tyler Smith are taken away.
10-5 (1-1)9. Penn State - "Fields a team for tax purposes". Michael Rosenberg coined that phrase and it fits. VMI scored 111 points on PSU defense. That's Virginia Military Institute. While PSU won, that's still really, really bad. Their schedule makes the Globetrotters jealous. 10-5 is still 10-5. But it's going to get worse. This team is maybe three players deep, after that it's a steep drop off the talent cliff.
10-6 (0-3)10. Northwestern - Princeton Offense or not, this isn't an athletic, talented, or disciplined enough team to duplicate any success Princeton had with their offense. The Cats have posted an impressive win over DePaul and a 2 point win over Miami, but they also got pigblapped by PSU, UM and MSU in their first three Big Ten games. They may pull an upset here and there, but nothing is going to keep them out of the basement.
7-9 (1-1)11. Minnesota - Ugh. Good teams have run over the Gophers this year. Run. Them. Over. Clemson hung 90 on them and Wisconsin beat them by 23, holding the Gophers to 45 points. For the record, South Dakota State beat Minnesota by 23 as well.
That's it so far. Let me know what you think.