I already previewed tomorrow's insanely important game against Michigan State here, so I figured with conference play kicking off it would be worthwhile to take a quick look at each Big 10 team, so we know how they've fared this season thus far. One thing's for certain - the league is no joke. It's going to be a dogfight. In alphabetical order:
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
RANKINGS: #12 AP, #15 ESPN, #43 kenpom, #8 RPI, #24 SOS
BEST WIN: 85-74 @ Gonzaga
WORST LOSS: 73-82 vs. Missouri
SUMMARY: It's a heck of a resume right now as their one win is nothing to be ashamed of and if this was anybody but this version of Illinois I'd likely give them more credit. The problem is they are so reliant on the three-point shot and it's tough to see them continuing to shoot like this against the better defenses in the Big 10. With that and all the near losses to inferior competition (narrow wins over Auburn, Gardner-Webb, and Western Illinois) it's hard to take Illinois too seriously. Despite the gaudy record and rankings this is a fringe NCAA team by year's end.
RANKINGS: #5 AP, #5 ESPN, #1 kenpom, #23 RPI, #76 SOS
BEST WIN: 83-59 vs. North Carolina
WORST LOSS: 86-88 vs. Butler
The Hoosiers have pretty much played as well as you'd expect this year and there's nothing that's happened so far to knock them out of their slot as favorite to win the NCAA Championship (although my pick is still Louisville), but, through no fault of their own, they don't have much in the way of signature victories. The win over UNC was more impressive for margin of victory than for beating what's proving to be a mediocre Tar Heel club, and the only other victory of note is an overtime win over Georgetown, who has beaten nobody of note. They've beaten everybody they've played (other than Butler), but I'm interested to see how they hold up once conference play starts.
RANKINGS: unranked, #45 kenpom, #80 RPI, #227 SOS
BEST WIN: 80-71 vs. Iowa State
WORST LOSS: 79-95 @ Virginia Tech
The strength of schedule so far is terrible which accounts for the flashy record, but sweeping the other Iowa schools (State and Northern) is a nice accomplishment which signals that Iowa isn't going to be a punching bag this year. McCaffrey has them playing rock solid defense, Melsahn Basabe is back to being a force, and they're getting good contributions from the freshmen. I'm a tiny bit scared of Iowa, and they could end up being a factor in some way as the season winds down.
RANKINGS: #2 AP, #2 ESPN, #9 kenpom, #3 RPI, #13 SOS
BEST WIN: 67-62 vs. Pitt
WORST LOSS: NA
This is the best team I've seen out of the Big 10 this year, and I put them with Louisville and Duke as the three teams that are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else this year. They have the best backcourt in the country and only a handful of teams are even close (L'Ville, Gonzaga, Cincy, who else?) and that's going to be a major strength in March, as is the fact that they're this good right now with three freshmen as main contributors who will likely only get better. They certainly aren't infallible, and an injury would hurt big-time because depth is a bit of an issue, but they've passed every test and looked great doing it. This is a legit national title contender, make no mistake.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
RANKINGS: #19 AP, #19 ESPN, #18 kenpom, #35 RPI, #115 SOS
BEST WIN: 67-64 vs. Kansas
WORST LOSS: 62-66 vs. UCONN
SUMMARY: The link above will give you more info on Michigan State than I'd give here so I'm not going to re-hash it, but this team could finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the conference, and given Izzo's track record I'd lean towards the upper end. They own the best win of any Big Ten team so far this year, and their two losses were in Germany and against a team just getting its best player back and hitting their stride - both good teams (UCONN and Miami). Scary team.
RANKINGS: #11 AP, #14 ESPN, #10 kenpom, #12 RPI, #31 SOS
BEST WIN: 66-63 vs. Stanford
WORST LOSS: 71-89 vs. Duke
SUMMARY: Well they certainly have the best "worst loss" of anyone (along with OSU), I can tell you that much. The RPI, kenpom ranking, and SOS certainly have this team positioned as one of the best in the conference and even the country. Can't wait to see if they're right.
RANKINGS: unranked, #198 kenpom, #59 RPI, #32 SOS
BEST WIN: 50-48 vs. Valparaiso
WORST LOSS: 60-74 vs. Kent State
The disparity here between kenpom's ranking and their RPI is puzzling, but you can see where it comes from. They've beaten a bunch of bad teams by slim margins, which kenpom hates, but their losses are all fairly undamaging (Kent State the only non-top 100 RPI team and Creighton is top 20) which RPI loves. That win over Valpo might end up as a top 100 win (they just beat Murray State, too). In any case, Nebraska needs to do some major damage to garner any kind of at-large consideration, and they're likely one (or more like 2-3) years away.
RANKINGS: unranked, #86 kenpom, #104 RPI, #86 SOS
BEST WIN: 74-70 vs. Baylor
WORST LOSS: 44-50 vs. Illinois-Chicago
SUMMARY: This team is absolutely fascinating, and I'm extra bummed Drew Crawford got hurt for the year. First they get rolled by Maryland and UIC and everyone's like, "dude these guys blow." Then they beat Baylor and it's like "all is forgiven." Then Drew Crawford goes down for the year and suddenly they seem irrelevant, but they still manage to nearly knock off Stanford - losing Reggie Hearn (leading scorer) to an ankle injury in the process. The Crawford injury and computer numbers say that this isn't the year they finally make the tournament, but this team is absolutely going to knock off one (at least one) of the conference's top tier squads this year. I just hope the Gophers can avoid it.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
RANKINGS: #10 AP, #10 ESPN, #7 kenpom, #34 RPI, #67 SOS
BEST WIN: 77-66 vs. Washington
WORST LOSS: 66-74 vs. Kansas
SUMMARY: Another fascinating squad, because they've beaten exactly nobody. Washington ranks #107 in kenpom's ratings, and for reference the Gophers have beaten five teams who rank better than the Huskies (Richmond, NDSU, Stanford, Memphis, and Florida State) and two more who are very close (USC and SDSU). There's no shame in losing to Duke or Kansas, obviously, and they were able to hang with them for most of the game so this is clearly a good team, I'm just wondering why exactly they're ranked 10th (and yes, I'm aware the polls mean dick). They've looked really good beating up on bad teams by huge win margins, but their best win is by 11 over a team who lost to Albany and got crushed (CRUSHED) by Colorado State. I would be more surprised by a 2 seed out of Ohio State than an 8. Not a believer. You can write that down. (NOTE: still better than Illinois).
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
RANKINGS: unranked,#163 kenpom, #131 RPI, #131 SOS
BEST WIN: 60-57 vs. Bucknell
WORST LOSS: 61-73 vs. Boston College
SUMMARY: They weren't likely to be a factor at all this year, and with Tim Frazier out for the year it's even less likely. Without him they're basically a team that can neither shoot nor defend, and I don't know if you're ready for this kind of analysis but when you can't score and can't stop your opponent from scoring it's going to be a rough year. D.J. Newbill can try and carry the team, but he's no Talor Battle or Tim Frazier. They're pretty much screwed, but at least they'll get a high draft pick next year.
RANKINGS: unranked, #72 kenpom, #193 RPI, #101 SOS
BEST WIN: 73-61 @ Clemson
WORST LOSS: 44-47 @ Eastern Michigan
That loss to Eastern Michigan is about as embarrassing as it comes, and frankly I'm struggling to think of a worse loss from any Big Ten team in the last few years. Purdue basically looked like garbage at the beginning of the year, somehow rose up to smoke Clemson at Clemson to give hope to any Boiler fans, and then just went back to sucking. This is a bad, bad, bad team. They're right in the mix with Penn State and Nebraska for the bottom of the conference.
RANKINGS: unranked, #16 kenpom, #138 RPI, #195 SOS
BEST WIN: 81-56 vs. Cal
WORST LOSS: 54-60 vs. Virginia
They never die, right? Like some kind of group of zombie assholes. They have four losses already, but none of the four are particularly egregious, even if Virginia has a terrible RPI right now. The win over Cal and Arkansas are the only good ones they have, and the computer numbers say Wisconsin is definitely on the outside looking in at this point - by a lot. But they're assholes, and Bo Ryan can mind-bend the universe, and somehow they're going to claw their way on to the bubble and probably screw the Gophers in the process. God I hate these guys so much. It's not healthy, and I'm kind of embarrassed about it, but here we are.
7. Ohio State
18. Michigan State
163. Penn State
34. Ohio State
35. Michigan State
131. Penn State
And finally my DWG conference predictions:
4. Michigan State
5. Ohio State
12. Penn State
Please let the Gophers win.