As happens every year, I'm late with this posting as I wait and chew over the results of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Here are things I learned this week: 1) Indiana should not be ranked. 2) The ACC added three of the better basketball programs that the Big East had to offer, and still couldn't win the ACC-Big Ten challenge. And finally, 3) I've got no idea what to think of the middle of this conference. I like UW for the top spot and Northwestern's clearly on the bottom, but you could make legitimate arguments for a wide variety of re-ordering of the teams in between those two. Here's my attempt:
1. Wisconsin (9-0) W n. St Louis 63-57, W n. West Virginia 70-63, W @ Virginia 48-38
Three quality wins, all away from Madison, in just a little over a week? Congrats, Badgers, you are the new #1. Sure, the win over Virginia was as ugly as any game could be, and sure, these wins may not end up being great resume credits at the end of the season, and sure, some team with quality interior players is going to make UW pay at some point, but right now this is the team that just plain wins.
2. Ohio State (7-0) W v. North Florida 99-64, W v. Maryland 76-60
The Buckeyes seem to have finally found LaQuinton Ross's missing game. Ross averaged 18.5ppg and 7rpg in the two blowouts. We'll see if that production continues in non-blowout affairs, but I'd posit, going into conference play, that the one thing to watch is the bench. Will Matta return to a six-man rotation as he has been known for in the past, (the starters plus Sam Thompson) or will guys like sophomore Amedeo Della Valle and freshman Marc Loving be able to earn any regular PT?
3. Michigan State (7-1) W v Mount St. Mary's 98-65, L v North Carolina 65-79
The #1 team in the land couldn't snap its poor performance against Roy Williams. I am a little sympathetic to coach Izzo, as I remember when Williams was owning coach Knight for a while. It came to an end, as will UNC's current and surprising run against the Spartans. What worries me more is Gary Harris being hurt again. This club isn't deep enough or balanced enough to not be worried about that kind of loss. Sparties look vulnerable.
4. Iowa (8-1) W n. Xavier 77-74 (OT), W n. UTEP 89-53, L n. Villanova 83-88 (OT), W v. Notre Dame 96-93
Well, that was quite a run for the Hawkeyes. Three games in three nights, two of them overtime affairs, and then they host a quality foe shortly thereafter. The Irish did a good job of keeping the pressure on, but didn't really have a chance to ever take the lead in the last 9+ minutes of the game. I think there will be questions surfacing about Iowa's ability to get stops when they need to, now. But their depth alone keeps them as a darkhorse title threat: I mean, they have Jarrod Uthoff, Gabriel Olaseni, Zach McCabe, and Anthony Clemmons coming off the bench. Any of those guys would probably be starting for Northwestern or Penn State.
5. Michigan (5-3): W v. Coppin St. 87-45, L @ Duke 69-79
Michigan's not put in a terrible performance overall, but they've got a ways to go before they can be considered a Big Ten title contender again. I know they've got three losses, but I don't want to punish them for losing to Duke. But they also aren't looking like they've got the kinks figured out yet.
t-6. Indiana(6-2): W v. Evansville 77-46, L @ Syracuse 52-69
That game…. That was quite a demonstration that this is quite a young team, putting together that doozy of an inconsistent performance, all in one game. On the other hand, I don't think anyone should really put too much stock in this one performance meaning anything. I feel like the Hoosiers could've just as easily won the UConn game as lost, so let's wait for a little bit before judging this team as not ready for prime-time. They've got a couple of easier games to get their confidence back up before facing Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. But somebody besides Yogi needs to start hitting threes.
t-6. Purdue (7-2) L n. Oklahoma State 87-97, L n. Washington State 54-69, W n. Siena 68-63, W v Boston College 88-67
I want to reward the Boilers for looking like one of the better conference teams in the Challenge (even though BC did have a losing record coming into the match), and hanging with Okie State, but the 2nd-straight narrow win over Siena... and goodness - the loss to WSU? It's hard to do anything but keep them in the same general area of where they were last week. Consistency is also an issue here, obviously.
8. Minnesota (7-2): L n. Arkansas 73-87, W @ Chaminade 83-68, W v. Florida State 71-61
I know they had a better performance against the Orange than the Hoosiers did, but they also weren't playing in the Carrier Dome. Still, a nice win at home over FSU puts their foot in the door for being part of the postseason conversation. One note of concern in that game was that both centers (Elliason and Walker) fouled out before the end of the game, and the Gophers used Joey King in the last couple of minutes with four fouls. It worked out fine, but that's something to watch.
9. Illinois (7-1): W @ UNLV 61-59, W v. Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne 57-55, L @ Georgia Tech 54-57
The Georgia Tech game was the only one I picked wrong on day one of the Challenge (and day two went a little less well… oh well), and The Champaign Room is still fuming over the loss. However, the Illini were frankly lucky to escape IPFW (who shot 2-for-13 of their free throws that night), and I would say that the UNLV road win was a nice quality win, until I saw that the Runnin' Rebels were 20 point losers *at home* to the UCSB Gauchos. I'd say Groce's team definitely looks worthy of a NIT bid, but I'm not sure they should be in the NCAA at-large discussion yet.
10. Penn State (6-3): W v. Monmouth 84-52, W n. St. John's 89-82 (OT), L n. Mississippi 76-79, L at Pittsburgh 69-79
It was a busy week or so for the Nittany Lions, and they actually acquitted themselves pretty well. Sure, they had a couple of losses, but they were competitive, which is something that could not be said of many of their losses last year. The loss at Pitt was actually fairly impressive - I was expecting the Panthers to deliver a beatdown. However, coach Chambers not only had his team within striking distance until the very end, but actually led for the majority of the game! Pitt didn't pull away really until the last three minutes of the game. And if you want to see a crazy-bananas end of a game, check out the play by play of what happened at the end of regulation in the St. John's game:
11. Nebraska (6-2): W v. Northern Illinois 63-58, W v. Miami (FL) 60-49
While neither win was exactly impressive, it was indeed two wins. I really, really doubt that the 'Huskers can break .500 in overall or conference wins, but they may be able to come close. Tim Miles deserves some patience for the job he has to do in building at this program up. I'm not optimistic for a pleasant outcome for him in Sunday's game at Creighton, though.
12. Northwestern (4-5): L n. Missouri 67-78, L n. UCLA 79-95, L @ North Carolina State 48-69
Honestly, the neutral court losses to Mizzou and the Bruins weren't nearly as ugly as the loss at NCSU. At least the expectations are now being set quite low for Coach Collins' initial season in Big Ten play. As expected, play in the paint is a concern, as Olah's doing fine for the 24 minutes that he plays, but Nikola Cerina has not been up to the task, and Collins is using converted swings in the paint for notably long stretches. Covering the four-spot and filling in at center: Drew Crawford, Kale Abrahamson, redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin, and true frosh Nate Taphorn. They average (a frankly generous) 6-6, 206 pounds. That’s gonna be trouble.