And as was readily apparent in the non conference portion of the schedule, good luck sorting this thing out.
Right now, only Wisconsin appears to be beyond the “tossup” stage in most games. Would have had Purdue in there as well but then they went and lost at home to Minnesota today in OT. Illinois looked miserable in getting blown out by Maryland and then comes home and beats Ohio State. Iowa gets run by Purdue on the road and comes home to beat Michigan in OT. Nebraska has a 6-6 non conference where it often looked as if they’d struggle to score against shadows and then beats IU and Maryland on the road. This is just week one… I think sorting out who’s likely to finish where outside of the very top and the very bottom (Rutgers is improved but just doesn’t have the firepower to win many games) at this stage is nearly impossible. Just too many flaws on too many teams. Some quick thoughts on the first week of action, though.
– IU is back to being unable to guard anybody. Nebraska and Louisville, neither of which are great offensive teams (the Ville makes their living on the defensive end…they are far from a potent offensive force), shot 48 and 53% against IU from the floor and each were right around the 50% mark from deep. IU has a number of offensively skilled guys, but the defensive end and questionable point guard play (I’m not remotely sold on Newkirk…the shooting numbers are good but he’s not giving this team what it needs as a catalyst) make them suspect. Look, there’s enough talent there to ride this out and still finish right near the top of the conference, but they’re vulnerable in a way they didn’t look to be in November.
– I’ve got to give it to Little Ricky up in Minneapolis. I thought this might be it for him in that job but you can make a case that even if they miss the Tournament again (and I’m still betting they do), he’s got a young enough group that maybe you give him one more shot beyond this season. I thought they played well against MSU…MSU had to do a lot of things very well in the second half to win that game, it wasn’t about a Gopher collapse. Today, they were even better. To go into West Lafayette to win that game, holding that offense down the way they did and getting high level play from Mason…impressive stuff. No idea where they’ll actually slot in but I have to say, they are in fact better than I expected.
– MSU made Northwestern’s offense look pretty middling but trust me, that group is going to win a good number of games this year and they’re going to do it via the offensive end being the best we’ve seen from that program in a long, long time (in fact, probably the best any of us under 65 or so have ever seen).
– Michigan really has to be feeling down about losing at Iowa today. Yes, every game is a crapshoot at this point but if you’re looking for possible road wins, that one has to rate pretty highly on the “gettable ” scale and they couldn’t do it. I’m not sure the Great Donlon Defensive Makeover has exactly taken hold, as M looked as suspect as always at that end in this game, particularly in letting Bohannon run riot.
– Not sure what to think about Purdue. I think Swanigan has really done about everything you could ask in terms of continuing to improve his body and more importantly his mindset…he’s been great and he was sensational again today (28/22). Nobody else did much well though. I know the numbers have been decent for their perimeter group but I’m still suspicious about them being Big Ten title caliber and today they clearly weren’t. Also hurt that Haas never really found himself in this game. I still think they’re probably the second best team in the league but losing today gives you at least a little bit of pause, as does their occasionally distinctly UnPurdue like defense.
– Everybody’s talking Nebraska and rightly so after two huge road wins. I just can’t buy in yet…saw them play several times in the non conference and what struck me most is that one thing just hasn’t changed during Tim Miles’ tenure, and that’s the Huskers finding it far too difficult to score for long stretches of play. Even in today’s win over Maryland, the Huskers weren’t all that good offensively, Maryland was just worse. I will say, for those who think them to be any kind of serious contender, you’re about to find out quickly, because a legitimate contender would beat Iowa and Northwestern in their next two games (both at home). The next four after that are road games at Michigan, Rutgers and Northwestern sandwiching a home game versus OSU. If they were to come out of that stretch 6-2 or 7-1, OK, then we’re talking something. That’s a run of games a contender uses as a springboard.
I don’t think they will.
-Right now, you’d have to say Wisconsin looks heads and shoulders above the rest, at least for the moment. They weren’t even that impressive against Rutgers but the way in which they flipped the switch over the last 8 minutes of that game told you what you need to know. Nigel Hayes has, like Swanigan, reined in most of his awful habits from last year and it’s making a huge difference for that team.