Half the league has played 9 games, so it’s as good a point as any to put down as the halfway marker. Some thoughts on the conference.

ALL CONFERENCE TEAM

Jarrod Uthoff – Iowa POY
Yogi Ferrell – Indiana
Denzel Valentine – Michigan State
Melo Trimble – Maryland
AJ Hammons – Purdue

Uthoff edges out Valentine for POY because he’s played in more conference games. If it’s a discussion of the season as a whole, I probably go with Denzel.

Team Of The First Half – Iowa. Has to be Iowa. On the surface, maybe everyone (which includes just about everyone, btw) who didn’t pick Iowa as a preseason contender missed the boat in not considering their exceptional experience, with 4 returning seniors and 4 returning starters. That said, there was reason for skepticism. Their non conference performance wasn’t great, merely OK. This group of players has reached the Tournament on a couple of occasions but they’ve generally been at least a slight underachiever in those seasons. There were legitimate questions about their depth. The Hawks have blown all of those reasons for skepticism off the floor during the first half. Uthoff has played like a super star (when’s the last time Iowa had a guy put together a year like this one? Roy Marble?), guys like Mike Gesell and Sapp Clemmons have played the best basketball of their lives over the past month, and Peter Jok has become a legitimate, consistent offensive weapon. The play of guys like Dom Uhl and Nicholas Baer has extended the Iowa bench enough to keep the starters fresh, and Fran McCaffrey seems to be pushing all the right buttons with this group at both ends of the court. Their schedule is not overly demanding in the second half…it’s just about impossible for me to find more than 3 losses and I’d probably bet on only 2. If that happens, they’re almost certainly going to win at least a share of their first conference title since 78-79, when they tied Purdue and the eventual national champion Michigan State Spartans atop the conference standings. Think about that…38 YEARS since they’ve done that. MSU’s won 8 in that timeframe, as a comparison.

Disappointment Of The First Half – While I suppose MSU at 5-4 rates as a disappointment to a degree, there’s no way anyone trumps Minnesota IMO. Look, no one expected the Gophers to be good, but to be 0-9 and just flat out uncompetitive in a lot of those games goes beyond even the worst expectations. Minnesota is young but they’re not completely devoid of experience…guys like Joey King, Carlos Morris and Nate Mason have played a good deal of Big Ten basketball. Let’s put it this way…in terms of pure “talent” however you want to measure that, I don’t think they equate to a winless team, yet that’s where they are.

Freshman Of The First Half – In a pretty decent year for freshmen, I’m going with Diamond Stone from Maryland. That’s no surprise, as he would have been most people’s pick in the preseason and after an inconsistent start to the year, he’s really picked up steam since conference play began. He’s averaging 13 ppgand 5.4 rpg and I’ll bet both numbers rise before the season is over. He’s every bit as good as advertised.

Best Win Of The First Half – Iowa over MSU at Breslin. Not just in getting the win but the manner in which they got it. Iowa controlled the game and flat out outplayed MSU in all respects, execution and effort alike.

NCAA Tournament Teams – Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue. I think that’s where it stops. Wisconsin and Ohio State have outside shots but either would have to go on a serious tear. Wisconsin has wins over MSU, IU and Syracuse on the road. Ohio State has a win over Kentucky and a 6-3 start in the league but they’ve beaten no one. I think there’s a reasonable chance they only win 2 more games the rest of the way. Obviously, the opportunities are there for them to get meaningful wins but they’ll need a few of them, not just one or two.

CONFERENCE STANDINGS PREDICTION

1. Iowa 15-3
2. Indiana 14-4
3. Michigan 14-4
4. Maryland 14-4
5. Purdue 12-6
6. Michigan State 12-6
7. Nebraska 9-9
8. Wisconsin 9-9
9. Ohio State 8-10
10. Northwestern 7-11
11. Penn State 6-12
12. Illinois 6-12
13. Minnesota 1-17
14. Rutgers 1-17