INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: William Buford #44 of the Ohio State Buckeyes attempts a shot against Jermaine Marshall #3 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the championship game of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ohio State won 71-60. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
From what I've noticed, most Michigan fans don't really pay much attention to college basketball outside of Ann Arbor until after the college football season finishes (don't worry, I was the same way until very recently). Because Michigan's a football school and because a lot of us haven't followed the rest of the conference very closely over the past month and a half, I've recapped each team's non-conference performance as sort of a guide heading into Big Ten play this week. Hopefully this is helpful as a point of reference as we move into the much more exciting part of the regular season.
For reference, the teams are ordered by their computer ranking by Ken Pomeroy. In the best wins and losses section, an asterisk* denotes a neutral site game and the number following an opponent is their KenPom ranking. Facing Wisconsin at a neutral court would look like: Wisconsin* (1) for example.
1.) Wisconsin (11-2)
Best wins: UNLV (18), Brigham Young* (20), @Wisconsin-Milwaukee (84)
Losses: @North Carolina (5), Marquette (12)
@Michigan (Jan. 8)
Jordan Taylor hasn't lived up to the preseason hype so far, but Wisconsin has still hummed along with the same brutally boring efficiency that's given opponents problems for years. They've absolutely crushed some of the lesser teams on the schedule, but it's been more of a mixed bag against top competition. The Badgers throttled a very good BYU squad at a neutral site, slowed down and beat UNLV at home, almost took down North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and gave a very poor showing against their in-state rival, Marquette. Jared Berggren and Ben Brust have picked up some of the slack from Taylor, but the Badgers aren't quite as consistent as they've been in previous years.
2.) Ohio State (12-1)
Best wins: Florida (7), Duke (11), Lamar (121), @South Carolina (126)
Losses: @Kansas (8)
Michigan (Jan. 29), @Michigan (Feb. 18)
Ohio State continues to make the case that they're the best team in the country. The Buckeyes ran roughshod through their non-conference schedule -- their win over Florida and their dismantling of Duke were some of the best performances from the Big Ten. They only faced issues when Jared Sullinger was hampered by injury and they suffered their only loss in a tough environment on the road without their All-American in the lineup. Sullinger and William Buford are still elite playmakers and Aaron Craft is still the best defender in the Big Ten, but Deshaun Thomas has also developed into a powerful weapon for the Buckeyes.
6.) Indiana (12-0)
Best wins: Kentucky (3), @North Carolina State (62), Notre Dame* (68), Butler (115)
Michigan (Jan. 5), @Michigan (Feb. 1)
Indiana has been the biggest surprise in college basketball this season; the Hoosiers have gone from twelve wins over the course of the whole season a year ago to twelve wins in twelve games this year. They've also provided the best game of the young season with a thrilling, buzzer-beater against Kentucky in a rowdy Assembly Hall. The media quickly agreed that Indiana was back in the nationally elite, but I'm not quite sold on them just yet. Still, Cody Zeller and company have quickly turned around a mediocre program and have cemented themselves in the top half of the Big Ten. They won't contend for a conference title this year, but an NCAA Tournament appearance is in the cards.
The next nine teams (including Michigan and MSU) are after the jump:
13.) Michigan State (11-2)
Best wins: @Gonzaga (29), Florida State (33), Lehigh (77), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (84)
Losses: North Carolina* (6), Duke* (11)
@Michigan (Jan. 17), Michigan (Feb. 5)
After dropping games against UNC on the aircraft carrier in San Diego and Duke in New York to start 0-2, Michigan State has won eleven straight heading into Big Ten play. The Spartans struggled during their non-conference season a year ago en route to an extremely disappointing season, but it appears that Izzo is getting the program back on track. MSU has played much better defense and found more scoring options as the non-conference season has progressed. Draymond Green is having a very good senior season, Keith Appling is one of the best guards in the Big Ten, and freshmen Travis Trice and Branden Dawson have filled needs that the Spartans had coming into the season.
22.) Purdue (10-3)
Best wins: Temple* (37), Iona* (44), Miami (63), Western Michigan (147)
There have been two major storylines coming out of West Lafayette so far this season: Robbie Hummel's resurgence after tearing an ACL in two consecutive seasons, and Purdue dropping two games in which they held substantial second-half leads. Hummel has lead the Boilermakers in points (17.5) and rebounds (5.9) so far this season, and has looked like he's returned to his old form. Purdue's losses have been particularly frustrating though; an underachieving Alabama team an out to an early lead and pulled away after a Purdue rally, and then the Boilermakers saw a 19-point lead on the road against Xavier and lost to Butler after leading most of the game by double digits.
42.) Minnesota (12-1)
Best wins: Virginia Tech (38), Indiana State* (89), South Dakota State (102), Fairfield (105)
Losses: Dayton* (82)
@Michigan (Jan. 1)
The narrative regarding Minnesota's basketball season to this point in the season is pretty much the same everywhere you look: "the Gophers lost Trevor Mbakwe to an ACL tear and are therefore basically out of contention for a NCAA Tournament bid, but they're still winning somehow." Indeed, losing Mbakwe was critical and replacing his impact on the floor is impossible. I'd be shocked if Minnesota could still contend after losing Mbakwe, but they've still done fairly well against a rather weak non-conference schedule (Virginia Tech has really been their only quality opponent so far). The Gophers will struggle against much tougher teams as Big Ten play starts.
49.) Michigan (10-2)
Best wins: Memphis* (34), Iowa State (73), Oakland (145)
Losses: Duke* (11), @Virginia (24)
Will not play @Wisconsin, @Minnesota, Nebraska (home), Iowa (home)
Michigan's beaten the teams that it's better than, and has lost the games that they were supposed to lose. A win over then-top ten Memphis was great for momentum, but the Tigers haven't been very good this season. On the other hand, a loss to Virginia on the road -- which concerned a lot of Michigan fans -- doesn't look as bad; the Cavaliers have moved into the Top 25 and have an elite defense. Trey Burke has been the biggest story for Michigan: he's done a fantastic job of replacing Darius Morris. Flying under the radar a bit is Evan Smotrycz -- he's quietly turning into an excellent player and he's averaged almost 20 points and 10 rebounds over the past four games.
It might be concerning to see Michigan so low in the computer rankings, but the caveats of a small sample size and the fact that Michigan hasn't really blown out anybody come into play. Letting the likes of Iowa State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff back into the game is relatively harmless, but it has killed Michigan in the computer formulas. Fortunately they mean nothing and Michigan is much closer to their ranking in the 17-20 range in the conventional polls. This is just explaining why the Wolverines are so low right here.
53.) Illinois (11-2)
Best wins:Gonzaga (29), St. Bonaventure (87), Illinois St.* (98), Richmond* (109)
Losses: Missouri* (9), UNLV* (18)
@Michigan (Feb. 12), Michigan (Mar. 1)
The Illini started the year 10-0 but have dropped two of the last three heading into Big Ten play. So far, the Illinois offense has been rather ineffective, but they showed glimpses of potential in a tough, close loss against an undefeated Missouri team in St. Louis. Sitting at 11-2 and being in position for an NCAA Tournament bid is definitely exceeding expectations for an attrition-riddled team (key seniors Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, and Mike Tisdale graduated), but the potential is there for an even bigger year if the offense gels. Unfortunately, the Illini haven't really shown the capability to put together consistent offensive outputs from Meyers Leonard, Brandon Paul, and D.J. Richardson.
Northwestern has quietly flown under the radar and put together a pretty decent non-conference performance. They've given themselves room to qualify for that elusive NCAA Tournament bid -- they've never been to one -- but once again, they'll need to perform very well in the tough Big Ten as they haven't notched any marquee wins yet this year. The Cats have plenty of explosiveness on the offensive end -- John Shurna and Drew Crawford average over 18 points per game despite playing at a slow pace -- but having the second-worst defensive efficiency in the conference will really hurt Northwestern again this year. They've put themselves in position to make history and get a bid, but it will be tough.
110.) Nebraska (8-3)
Best wins: South Dakota State (102), @USC (123)
Losses: @Creighton (36), Oregon (117), Wake Forest (168)
Michigan (Feb. 8)
First off, Nebraska definitely wasn't added to the Big Ten for its basketball prowess, and the Cornhusker basketball program is nowhere near as good as the football program. Nebraska hasn't played particularly well this year -- they've faced a very weak schedule and have fared poorly so far (which may be an understatement considering they dropped a home game to hapless Wake Forest). Outside of LSU transfer Bo Spencer there is very little firepower offensively for Nebraska, and their defense isn't much better. Look for Nebraska to start off with a poor showing in their new conference; it's probably too much to ask for a football school to do well in its first year in the best basketball conference in the country.
There were a few bright spots last year for Iowa -- they managed to destroy Michigan State and upset Purdue a year ago -- and there were signs that the program was turning around under Fran McCaffery's young team. However, a bad non-conference showing has all but erased what little positivity there was around Iowa basketball and it looks like the Hawkeyes will need to brace for a brutal conference season. Melsahn Basabe was a star last year as a freshman for Iowa, and as a microcosm of Iowa as a whole, he's really struggling during his sophomore campaign for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has the worst defense in the Big Ten to go along with their anemic offense, so it's unlikely that they'll spring any upsets like they did a year ago.
146.) Penn State (8-5)
Best wins: South Florida* (135)
Losses: Kentucky* (3), @Saint Joseph's (66), Ole Miss (92), @Duquense (111), Lafayette (246)
@Michigan (Dec. 29), Michigan (Dec. 4)
The less that can be said about Penn State basketball, the better. After losing the core nucleus of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones to graduation and coach Ed DeChellis to Navy (as a side note, how seriously dysfunctional is a basketball program when your coach leaves his alma mater to take several steps down the career ladder to a service academy), it was going to be rough year with Tim Frazier doing it all on the court and new coach Pat Chambers trying to hold everything together. Hopefully the Nittany Lions manage to win a conference game at some point during the season, but it wouldn't be a tremendous shock to see them fall to 0-18.
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