The Big Ten has certainly been the class of the NCAA in the early season, holding the top spot in the conference RPI rankings, while placing three teams in the top 10 and six teams in the top 25. Big 10 teams won a number of pre-conference play tournaments, including the Maui Classic (Illinois), the NIT Season Tip-Off Classic (Michigan), the Progressive Legends Classic (Indiana), the South Padre Island Invitational (Northwestern), Battle 4 Atlantis (Minnesota), and the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off (Ohio State).
Although Indiana sits atop of the national rankings, Michigan’s fast start has been every bit as impressive, going 11-0, winning the aforementioned, NIT Season Tip-Off Classic, and defeating high-profile North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It was common knowledge that the Wolverines would be guard-driven due to the talent coming back. Trey Burke (16.9 ppg/7.1 apg) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (15.4 ppg/5.7 rpg) have not only delivered, but exceeded expectations, and give the team one of the best guard tandems in the country. Perhaps no top-25 team in college basketball has gotten as much production from freshman than Michigan. Glenn Robinson III (12.2 ppg/6.7 rpg) has been better than advertised, showing a mature game and blending well into the Wolverine offense. Sniper Nik Stauskas (13.7 ppg/61% 3PT%) has already garnered two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards and has supplanted Matt Vogrich in the starting lineup. Mitch McGary hasn’t found his touch on the inside, but has provided solid interior defense and has pulled-down 5.7 rpg in a part-time role.
High expectations were certainly not in the cards for Nebraska, especially after losing five of their top six scorers from a mediocre team the season prior, but first-year coach Tim Miles has to be pleased with his club’s 6-2 start, including a win versus Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Senior guard Dylan Talley (15.4 ppg), the team’s leading returning scorer, and redshirt junior/three-point specialist Ray Gallegos (12.9 ppg), give the Cornhuskers legitimate scoring options on the wing. The biggest surprise has been the play on the interior, where Brandon Ubel (13.5 ppg/7.0 rpg), the lone returning starter, has played inspired basketball on both ends of the floor, and the team has gotten yeoman production out of 6’11” Andre Almeida (9.0 ppg/5.0 rpg) who has returned from a knee injury and has a Big 10 Player of the Week honor to his name. While he hasn’t produced much from a points perspective, freshman PG Benny Parker has a solid 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio and has stabilized a potential problem-spot for the team.
This weeks’ schedule features a plethora of Big Ten home games against less than stellar competition, but two teams will travel to neutral sites on Saturday, December 15 to play perennially-strong programs. Indiana will take-on in-state rival Butler in the Boston Scientific Close the Gap Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis, while Michigan will play in the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival against Coach Beilein’s former school, West Virginia.
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Indiana 2. Michigan 3. Ohio State 4. Minnesota 5. Illinois 6. Michigan State 7. Iowa 8. Northwestern 9. Wisconsin 10. Nebraska 11. Purdue 12. Penn State
Deric McKamey is a Big Ten Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.