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Big Ten basketball primed for as competitive a race as ever

With conference play already underway, let’s look at where things stand.

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines are 6-0, having beaten Penn State and completing the non-conference schedule unblemished. Despite displaying some defensive flaws and turnover issues on offense, Michigan has shown flashes of brilliance and an unexpectedly deep bench. With conference play beginning league-wide this week, there is certainly reason for optimism around the program.

All that stands between Michigan and the NCAA tournament is a ruthless conference schedule (including a game on Christmas Day) in the most talented and physically demanding conference in the country this year. No pressure.

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge concluded last week with the Big Ten taking the crown, 6-5, with 3 cancellations including Michigan vs. NC State. The Big Ten had already clinched the challenge on Tuesday night after winning 6 of the first 7 matchups. With many teams missing non-conference games and less for the committee to draw on come tournament time, winning the Big Ten/ACC Challenge certainly helps Michigan despite the Wolverines not even participating.

From a statistical standpoint, the conference could be a wild, crazy ride this year. To date, Michigan is 12th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency per Torvik. This is good for 4th in the Big Ten. Iowa’s offense has gone scorched-earth and proved that it is not solely the Luka Garza show by leading the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. Illinois currently sits at 7th with Ohio State in 8th. Even Maryland, currently sitting 9th in the conference offensively is inside the top 50 nationwide. To put the cherry on top, three of the top ten scorers in college basketball reside in the Big Ten. Luke Garza leads all scorers at 29.2 PPG. Ayo Dosunmu is 5th at 24.8 PPG with Marcus Carr in 10th at 23.8 PPG. Firepower is certainly not lacking this year.

On the defensive side of the ball Indiana, Wisconsin, and Rutgers lead the pack with the Hoosiers showing strong perimeter defense and an opponent 3 point percentage of just 24.6%. We’ve noted Michigan’s defensive struggles but it’s worth noting that the Wolverines are in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in adjusted defensive efficiency. Unsurprisingly, Iowa is dead last by a sizable margin.

At Illinois, the Kofi Cockburn experience is real, as the Fighting Illini are in the top-20 nationwide in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Despite a few early losses, Illinois has certainly proven to be a national contender this year as they hung with a loaded Baylor team through three-quarters of the game before eventually falling 82-69.

If I haven’t convinced you that the Big Ten is good, there is one last stat that just might do the trick. Minnesota begins conference play on Tuesday night at Illinois. 8 of their next 9 games are against ranked teams in the newest AP Poll.