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Around the Big Ten: Opening Weekend Looks

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College basketball season is finally here and every Big Ten conference team has at least one game under their belts. Some even have two. However, only Minnesota and Rutgers played real competition. But let's see how everyone looked anyway.

Joe Robbins

Well weekend one in the college basketball season has come and gone. The Big Ten schedule started off mostly with a whimper however, as through the first 18 Big Ten games of the year, only Minnesota and Rutgers played real competition. The other 16 games played by the conference had a combined KenPom average somewhere north of 300 (hint: there are only 351 teams). Heck, Michigan didn't even play a Division I team as a part of their official schedule. Which is even more egregious than the annual process of cupcaking the first game or two of the regular season.

We're going to delve into each team and discuss how they all looked on an individual basis, just be aware that much of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Even bad teams playing much worse teams can look like world beaters. The difference between the top 100 teams of college basketball and the bottom 100 is vast. There are several Big Ten opponents we're going to talk about in this piece that would struggle to compete in the D-II Great Lakes Valley Conference that has been so strong in years past. But without saying more, lets get into the teams.

Illinois: The Illini were one of the teams this weekend that played two games. They opened Friday night with a game against #249 Georgia Southern and followed it up with #316 Coppin St. on Sunday. Both games were wins for the Illini though the first one was quite sloppy. The Illini played a heavy rotation of starters with only one non-starter, Kendrick Nunn breaking 15 minutes. It was pretty ugly from everyone but Rayvonte Rice. He killed GSU for 24 points on 12 shots. Everyone else might as well have not been there. Rice already has one tally on the board under "Saved my team's ass from embarrassment". Luckily that game jolted the Illini awake and they cruised in game 2, with only one player finishing with an ORtg below 110. Ultimately, I think they'll be fine. They won't get their first real test however, until the first week of December in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with Miami.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes paced themselves to a 34 point win against #204 Hampton in Iowa City on Friday night to open the season. What is probably the most intriguing fact about their game and proof that this tells us nothing about the team as a whole is that Aaron White logged the most minutes for Iowa at 21. 10 players for Iowa logged greater than 15 minutes of play. Fran McCaffery let everyone play a ton. White had 19 points in his 21 minutes for a 169 ORtg. Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff wasn't far behind with 13 points in 19 minutes. Hard to take a lot away from this game, Hampton had one player with an ORtg above 92 (reminder 100 is average). Iowa's first real test comes Thursday with a neutral site date with Texas.

Maryland: Hosting #240 Wagner, the Terps started the season with a 34 point win. Much like Iowa, Maryland's opponent could hit water if it fell out of a boat. Meanwhile the Terps laid waste on offense hitting 24 of 44 shots. At 1.19 points per possession Maryland looked like a team that has the ability to score. They also went deep onto the bench with 9 guys getting 15 or more minutes. We'll learn more about Maryland in the B1G/ACC challenge versus Virginia. Until then it is sunshine and lollipops minus a small blip against #78 Arizona State.

Michigan: Not really worth writing about. Playing in-state D-II Hillsdale was the weakest game of the Big Ten schedule this weekend. The Wolverines won by 23 as they played only 6 men deep. Could have been a better result allowing 1 point per possession and all to a DII school, but meh. These games usually tell us absolutely nothing and I'm going to remain consistent with that. Caris LeVert looked pretty good though as did Derrick Walton. First real test is a neutral date with Oregon next Monday.

Michigan State: Oddly the Spartans struggled quite a bit with #303 Navy. A team that is likely getting a little more love because of who they're coached by and not necessarily because of the roster, I don't see Michigan State hanging around in the top 25 for a large chunk of the year. Winning by 5 at home against Navy reinforces some of that thought. Sure it's early and just an opening night game, and it never really was in doubt. But yeesh 2 players broke into double digits for MSU against a pretty poor ball club. I'd at least be wringing my hands for their game against Duke tomorrow. I think they're going to get housed.

Minnesota: The only team to face major competition this weekend. Minnesota looked completely outclassed in the first half. However, they battled hard in the second half and looked much more like a team that could compete for the top half of the conference. Still they lost by 13 to Louisville in a game that appeared more competitive in the second half but ultimately wasn't. With the first bucket of the second half Minnesota's odds of winning fell below 75% and never got higher than that. Still you credit Minnesota for battling. Andre Hollins looked really good, but Deandre Mathieu's small stature looks like it could be an anchor on the Gophers. I don't trust them to make any sweeping statement one way or the other. They play St. John's next week and that should tell us a little more with a team more their pace.

Nebraska: One of two teams to play #315 Northern Kentucky, Nebrasketball walked away with a 19 point win. The game pace was steady and the results never came into question. Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway did most of the damage and they did it efficiently. The defense could have been better, but again, first game against fluffy pastries. They don't play anyone until a December 1 showdown with Florida St. Their non-con schedule is pretty poor as that will be their biggest competition. They also have #53 Creighton and #44 Cinci before conference play opens. Expect their record to be very shiny when they come to Indiana on New Year's Eve.

Northwestern: Hosting #344 Houston Baptist, there are some real concerns with a mere 7 point victory. Pomeroy says the game was never really in doubt, but I had my concerns. Scoring only 8 points in the first 10 minutes is worrisome. Just not a lot for Northwestern to be happy about in this one. Houston Baptist's Anthony Odunsi may have been the best player on the floor, though Alex Olah dominated a bunch of guys 4 inches shorter than him. Keep an eye on Northwestern. Their toughest game of the non-con is #68 Butler. So come conference season, their record may say yes, but their actual play could say no, no, no.

Ohio State: #340 UMass Lowell came to Columbus and got run out of the house. In 65 possessions, Ohio State scored 1.42 points while shooting 60% from the floor. Much like Indiana's game, UM-L had no business being in this game. But hey, at least they got paid for making the trip. Not really much to add. Sam Thompson looked great, but when he's by far the best athlete on the floor that will happen. Freshman D'Angelo Russell also put up really strong numbers on an astounding 34% usage rate. Check back at the the start of December when they go to Louisville.

Penn State: Hosting both #271 Morgan St. and #169 Fordham, Penn State looked solid in both. They may not be the most talented squad in the Big Ten but I think they're one that gets the most out of what they've got. You'd prefer larger margins of victory, but Pat Chambers and company have to feel good that the guard play is still going strong. Freshman Shep Garner got the start and had two very strong games. He may be the next heir apparent to the giant pain in the ass Penn State guard title. They're going to be challenged by #84 Charlotte on Thursday, but outside of that don't see real competition until #42 George Washington comes to town in the second week of December.

Purdue: Playing the fluffiest of fluff, the Boilermakers actually looked really good. They ran Samford out of the house on Friday and that Bulldog team went on to push Pitt to the wire yesterday. They also struggled some with IUPUI, but ultimately took a 10 point lead into the "4th quarter" and expanded it to a final 20 point margin. Purdue should be ecstatic that Vince Edwards early on is looking like a guy that is going to make Michigan wish they didn't slow play him on the recruiting trail. Looked well above his 90ish recruit ranking. On the flip side, AJ Hammons did not look like a guy 5 inches taller than his next closest defender. Passed well out of the post but came away with 11 points and 7 rebounds in 47 minutes of game time. That's very bad considering the competition. Watch for their game next Monday against Kansas St. That will be very telling. Until then, they should be mildly optimistic about their start.

Rutgers: People are going to kill Rutgers for losing to George Washington. It wasn't even close, but GW is a pretty strong mid-major. Don't kill them for losing. Kill them for how bad they looked. .76 points per possession is bad. Only Myles Mack appeared to have any ability to stick with GW. There wasn't another player on Rutgers that could probably start for GW. They're bad. It's going to be a long season. Could be winless in conference. Next major challenge would be my boys of Seton Hall in their annual rivalry game. Isaiah Whitehead will destroy them.

Wisconsin: #315 Northern Kentucky and #289 Chattanooga came to Madison and left with absolute drubbings. The Badgers are who we though they were. I do have some concerns about where their scoring might come from when the going gets tough, but they'll be fine. Unfortunately they don't truly get tested until Duke comes to town in December. Still their non-con is balanced with a lot of decent but not great teams. About how a non-con schedule should look. They'll at worst be 11-2 going into conference play.

Overall there wasn't a ton to take away from this weekends slate of games. Everyone played someone, but someone wasn't necessarily anybody worth paying attention to. The month of November is going to finish out with very few exciting matchups for the conference. Michigan State has a date with Duke tomorrow, but mostly we're waiting on the Big Ten/ACC challenge. In fact, IU's probably got the second strongest competition in the conference for the month of November as SMU comes to town this week.

Keep an eye out though, as weak schedules tend to lend themselves to weak showings. Someone may get popped when they least expect it.