After just a few conference games have been played, I finally get around to this week's rankings. And there were some interesting results, perhaps not in terms on wins or losses, but in terms of early team performances.One quick concern that I have is that the Big Ten might get considerably fewer bids in the NCAA tourney than the 7 or 8 that I was proposing even last week. With Wisconsin looking unimpressive, Iowa having almost zero quality non-conference wins, and Illinois preparing to repeat the jump into last season's smoking crater of a finish, I count only five teams at lock status for at-large bids right now. All that said, there wasn't a ton of movement in the actual rankings, although I found it fitting that Nebraska and Northwestern were #11 and #12, because they don't look like "Big Ten" teams.
1. Michigan (14-0/1-0) W v. Central Michigan 88-73, W @ Northwestern 94-66
The Wolverines followed a rather unimpressive victory over CMU, who had lost by a very similar score to Nebraska, with a curb-stomping of the Wildcats in Welsh-Ryan arena. NU was clearly overmatched, and Michigan made quick work of the hosts who pretty much exemplified the phrase "porous defense." Credit to the Wolverines,though, they are looking great.
2. Indiana (13-1/1-0) W v. Jacksonville 93-59 W @ Iowa 69-65
Indiana notches its first road win despite having an off-night shooting. Sure, posting 93 on Jacksonville was okay, I guess, but it really seemed the mood in Bloomington had turned to one of impatience. We all know they can blowout the weaker, what we want to know now is how they will play on road in the Big Ten? And the answer in Carver-Hawkeye Arena was good, not great. For all of the historical perspective I've seen about how hard it is to win at Iowa (which I agree with), and all of the "Hey, Jordan Hulls went 0-for-10, what?" chuckling, the Hoosiers actually came really close to having this game sent to OT. It's good that they won, and yes, they should go on to win a lot more games, but I hope the Hoosiers get a little more focused in this week off they have.
3. Minnesota (13-1/1-0) W v. Michigan State 76-63
So far, so good. Michigan State threatened, but Minnesota was just more athletic and much deeper in the second half. Beating MSU in the rebound battle is always a good sign, but shooting better than them from the field and the stripe is always helpful, too. There's been a lot of feel-good stories about their personnel this year with Trevor Mbakwe's recovery, Andre Hollins' explosiveness, and Rodney Williams' dunking, but I think Austin Hollins performance has been criminally overlooked.
4. Ohio State (11-2/0-1) W v. Chicago State 87-44, W v. Nebraska 70-44
It was a nice bounceback week for the Buckeyes, holding both Chicago State and Nebraska to 44 points, while recording a series of highlight-worthy dunks on both opponents. The road gets a considerably tougher now, with a trip to Champaign to face an Illini team whose pride has to be smarting, and then they're off to visit that same Purdue team that just served up that slice of humble pie. If Lenzelle Smith can continue to shoot threes like he did against Nebraska (5-of-7), OSU will be hard to beat.
5. Michigan State (9-3/0-1) L @ Minnesota 63-76
The loss at Minnesota isn't a bad one, per se, but there are some definite red flags. Shooting a mere 2-for-10 on FTs is one big flag. Looking gassed down the stretch when depth is suddenly rearing its head as an issue is another. And finally, I know Minnesota is great on the offensive boards, but Izzo cannot be happy with the way they beat the Spartans. I don't envy the MSU players this week in practice.
6. Illinois (13-2/0-1) W v. Auburn 81-79, L @ Purdue 61-68
So,a weak performance at home against Auburn foreshadowed the weak performance against the Boilers. As suspected, Purdue was able to take advantage the weak interior of the Illini, and the Boilers made the hustle plays to make the win stand up. Now, Illinois' resolve will be tested their home game against Ohio State tomorrow. If they don't win that one, a real slide could loom.
7. Wisconsin (10-4/1-0) W v. Samford 87-51, W v. Penn State 60-51
A narrow home win over Penn State, in which the Nittany Lions shot just a single free, is frankly almost as bad as a loss in my eyes. Well, maybe that's a little hyperbolic, but still, the Badgers currently look like they belong in the lower tier with Penn State. If they don't win at Nebraska and at home against Illinois, we may as well start thinking about Wisky's likely NIT match-ups.
8. Iowa (11-3/0-1) L v. Indiana 65-69
I would love to boost the Hawkeyes over the Badgers, but they did lose. It was a fine, noble, well-fought loss yadda yadda yadda. They didn't win, and they won't have a lot of other opportunities to grab national attention. However, after a trip to Michigan, they do have a match-up with MSU that looks like an almost likely home win at this point.
9. Purdue (7-6/1-0) W v. William & Mary 73-66, W v. Illinois 68-61
So, the Boilers lived up to my "too-high ranking," even though the win over William & Mary wasn't particularly impressive, the home win over Illinois was pretty nice. Next up, a visit to Michigan State and home date with the Buckeyes.
10. Penn State (8-5/0-1) W v. Duquesne 84-74, L @ Wisconsin 51-60
I'll say this, the Nittany Lions haven't given up yet. They made Wisconsin look terrible on offense, and if they could just hold onto the basketball (or *cough* earn some free-throws), they'll win some conference games. Pat Chambers sure doesn't have much in the way of depth, or y'know, shooters or ball-handlers, but his guys are playing hard.
11. Northwestern (9-5/0-1) L v. Michigan 66-94
That Michigan game, frankly, was harsh. Dave Sobolewski can at least take comfort in the fact that Steve Novak got posterized a lot, and he became a pivotal leader of a conference co-champion. We'll see if getting Reggie Hearn healthy and contributing helps, but I'm starting to believe the Wildcat fans I know who were starting to predict another brutal conference season. The only reason I'm not putting them last is because Nebraska's got that spot sealed right now.
12. Nebraska (9-5/0-1) W v. Nicholls State 68-59, L @ OSU 44-70
Tim Miles needs Andre Almedia healthy and focused. The big guy has the ability to keep the Huskers in games they otherwise simply will never be, otherwise. If he's ready to go against Wisconsin, the Badgers are looking vulnerable. If he's not, I couldn't see any way that Nebraska wins that game, even at home.