B1G MBB Thoughts at the end of non-conference play

Again, in power poll format:

1. Purdue - The best team in the conference right now, full stop. I'll say that I thought Painter was just boosting his freshman's confidence when he was talking about how overlooked Braden Smith was as a recruit, but he appears to be right. Fletcher Loyer's scoring and making some nice highlight plays, but Smith's efficiency as a freshman point is eye-popping at the moment. We'll see how it holds up against the Big Ten, but he's already played some tough teams.

2. Wisconsin - Well, I don't like it, but I don't know where else to put these guys right now. They've got wins against Maryland and Iowa, and they hung right with that Kansas team that just whaled on IU. That said, I think their lack of depth is problematic and will become even moreso in conference road games, and I expect Chucky Hepburn's outside shooting to return to the mean soon enough. But no other conference team has a better case for the #2 spot.

3. Indiana - Covered well elsewhere, but the main area of concern to me is guard play. How long will X be out? Is Jalen really healthy, and can he shake off the rust as the competition ramps up? The only thing that has surprised me is really the slow starts the Hoosiers seem to be committed to.

4. Ohio State - Against UNC, karma maybe paid the Buckeyes back a bit for their should-not-have-counted buzzer beater against Rutgers. It's not a bad loss, and they've generally done well against a very tough stretch of competition. Of their last six opponents, only one will not be at least contending for a bubble spot. OSU is still a darkhorse for the conference crown.

5. Michigan State - Malik Hall should be back soon, and the Sparties should be much better once he's 100%. Coming into this season, I expected them to be about at this record at this time 7-4 (1-1), but I wouldn't have guessed that their losses would be to Notre Dame and Northwestern. They've played a tough schedule, and *if healthy* should finish in the top 5 in Big Ten play.

6. Illinois - Welp, Underwood seems pretty pissed at his crew right now. Maybe the near-total turnover has something to do with the up-and-down nature of their results. That win versus Texas is going to pay dividends for their rankings for a long time, though.

7. Iowa - I mean, they aren't bad. But how good are they? There are question marks as to whether Rebraca and Perkins can beat up on Big Ten teams like they've been doing to little guys, and whether Kris Murray can stay healthy. Fran's squads tend to look pretty good and then trend back towards .500 as the conference season goes on, so this seems like a safe bet.

8. Penn State - The Nittany Lions served some notice not to sleep on them when they went into Urbana-Champaign and embarrassed the Illini. That is literally the only game they have in hand that will likely have lasting value, though. They are pretty weak inside, but they've got a great point and a bunch of shooters, and that'll bag you some upsets.

9. Maryland - I cant get any sort of read whether this team is good or not. Maybe this is the bottom for them, after three straight losses (and none of them reflect particularly badly, despite UCLA spanking them). But until the Terps turn it around, down here they fall.

10. Rutgers - Beating Wake Forest (who won at Wisconsin) handily helps steady the ship after a couple of disappointing losses. And yeah, they were robbed in Columbus, but it still counts as a loss. It's not hard to squint at the schedule and see them eking out a slightly-above .500 conference record, but that's the only path into the NCAA tourney that I see. The NIT just seems like a more likely outcome.

11. Northwestern - The Wildcats don't have a lot, but the win at MSU puts them in the postseason conversation. And they absolutely demolished a DePaul team that went into Minnesota and pasted the Gophers. But the Wildcats are so thin on depth, especially inside, and that probably hurts them down the road.

12. Michigan - I don't think they'll end up this low, but this is certainly where the Wolverines are now. The season can be saved, but they need to top UNC and then win their home conference games. The task will be harder with Jaelin Llewellyn gone for the season.

13. Nebraska - What a weird team. In their first six games, I thought they looked worse than Minnesota. Then they beat FSU and Creighton and looked tough in their loss to Purdue. And then they went and became Kansas State's best win. IDK, man.

14, Minnesota - Last year the Gophers did surprising well, considering the roster turnover, injuries, etc. This year they'll be lucky to get above .500 in non-con play, and while going 0fer in the B1G isn't likely... it's a real possibility. At least they've got a decent freshmen core.

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