– Nobody’s going 18-0. There was some thought (and with good reason) that if Wisconsin had been able to pull off a road win today at Purdue, they might just be able to run away and hide from everyone else. Not to be, as the Badgers were comprehensively handled in West Lafayette. Doesn’t mean they’re not still the favorite, but at least for now, several teams can look at the standings 4 games in and think they’ve got a chance to hang around.
– We’ve got two 3-1 teams in Nebraska and MInnesota that have enough bad history to make you question the validity of their starts, but enough good play so far this year to make you think *maybe* they’re legitimate (or at least semi-legit). Both teams have taken their only loss at home (Minnesota to MSU and Nebraska today to Northwestern), which can be a sign of mirage time, but the road wins (Nebraska over IU and Maryland and Minnesota over Purdue and Northwestern) are impressive enough that I think you still have to give them full credit thus far. Minnesota has a week coming with two road games, at MSU and at Penn State. I don’t know that they can keep winning with Nate Mason not playing particularly well, as he has in their two wins this week. Nebraska is at Michigan and home against Ohio State.Personally, I’m more inclined to believe in Minnesota. They need Mason to be back at his best or somewhere near it, but if they get that, they’ve got everything you want in a Tournament team except experience. I still think Nebraska is short some scoring. Glynn Watson followed up a game for the ages this week against Iowa by scoring 6 today against Northwestern…that’ll happen with young guys still trying to find their game.
– Ohio State is in serious trouble. 0-3 after tonight’s loss to Minnesota and a road game at Wisconsin and home game versus MSU looming next week. 0-5 is a distinct possibility. I’m not going to say they can’t pull out of this, but it’s looking unlikely. Bates-Diop is done for the year and even more importantly, they are in their second consecutive season without a real point guard. It just *kills* them down the stretch in league games, because they just can’t ever get anything easy. They’ve got some pieces and I certainly don’t think they won’t find their way into making some trouble for some people along the way, but it’s getting very difficult already to see them as a Tournament team. Missing two straight years for Thad Matta would be a big deal in a negative sense.
– Big week coming up for the Wolvies. They’re 1-2 and should be winless as PSU’s youth failed them late in their game this week in A2. They’re at Illinois and home against Nebraska. Those are games you probably should be able to win if you’re Tournament good. I’m not sure MIchigan is. All the hot air about increased attention to defense has proven out to be just that so far…talk and not much else. Offensively, they’ve got something with their big kids Wagner and Wilson but unfortunately for them, they play for Michigan, where big men don’t get utilized optimally.
– Maryland hosting IU is a sort of big game coming up this week. The Terps are 2-1 after beating Michigan in A2 (blew out Illinois and lost at home to Nebraska in their other two games). I still have no idea who or what they are, though. Young team led by Melo Trimble, but I can’t get my arms wrapped around what that group is at the moment. IU is 1-2 after beating Illinois this weekend. A road win in this game would make it easier to believe this group is getting back on track but right now, the defense and the point guard spot are very much suspect. I think whomever wins this game is going to feel like they got a big one and the loser (particularly if it were to be IU) will be behind the 8 ball a bit.
– PSU and Northwestern were my two lower division teams to watch for a breakthrough coming into the season. Right now, both are 2-2 and have given reasons for thinking they could go in either direction. PSU obviously got a big win over MSU and now they get Minnesota coming into Happy Valley this week, with IU looming at home after that. Wins in those games would put them at 4-2 and legitimize them as a young team very much on the rise, but one game at a time. Northwestern quietly got a big win in Lincoln today. That came after two losses to MSU and Minnesota (the latter at home). At Rutgers and home against Iowa give the Cats a good chance to be sitting at 4-2 this time next week.
The bottom line in my view is that we’re seeing a Big Ten that probably doesn’t have a legitimate national title contender, but one which is deeper than we’ve seen in a long time. Even lower end teams like Illinois and Iowa each have go-to players on their rosters and enough to pull off an upset on the right day against just about anyone. Day to day, game to game, calling how these games will turn out is a tough task, especially with Big Ten road teams having already won 11 times. We’re going to need a few more weeks for things to sort out and even then, with so many single plays now on the schedule, it’s getting increasingly difficult to get a strong feel for things. What we have seen thus far is some very competitive play and some good young talent starting to find itself.