Here’s some blizzard fodder between trips to shovel the driveway.
1. MICHIGAN (12-0)
The Wolverines are now the lone team in the conference not to stub its toe, off to their best start since the 1985-86 season. Other than finding out if Michigan can keep its focus against the bottom half of the league, we likely won’t learn too much about this team until a Jan. 13 trip to Columbus.
2. INDIANA (11-1)
Since the loss to Butler, the Hoosiers have systematically dismantled a pair of opponents and shown the kind of offensive efficiency many expected. With Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Derek Elston officially back — and Peter Jurkin also available — there’s a lot more frontcourt depth as IU enters the part of the season where it will need those bodies most.
3. OHIO STATE (9-2)
The Buckeyes got another shot at an elite team when they hosted Kansas Saturday, but the offense went missing at key moments. That left OSU with strong showings but no wins against top 10 teams. Figuring out a way to get easy baskets when the jumpers aren’t falling will be key for Ohio State entering league play.
4. ILLINOIS (12-1)
Missouri exposed the weakness of the Illini, dominating the backboards and the points in the paint en route to handing Illinois its first loss of the season. This is the first taste of adversity this season, so how the Illini respond — first, at home against Auburn, then in the Big Ten opener at Purdue — will be revealing.
5. MINNESOTA (12-1)
The Gophers have continued to chug along during non-conference play, but after a nine-day layoff will open conference play against Michigan State. Minnesota has done it so far without shooting the 3 particularly well — just 32.2 percent — but have limited turnovers (14 per game) and allowed less than 60 points per game.
6. MICHIGAN STATE (11-2)
Saturday’s victory over a rapidly improving Texas team was one of the best of the season for the Spartans, who got a monster effort out of Derrick Nix, which could spell trouble if he can maintain that level of play with consistency. The offense remains questionable, though more points in the paint could help cure that ill.
7. IOWA (10-2)
The Hawkeyes will enter the Big Ten season with a six-game winning streak, and they’ll be well-rested too, getting a nine-day layoff before hosting Indiana. Freshmen Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury are showing signs of maturity, and with the exception of some cold shooting from the 3-point line, Iowa looks to be hitting on all cylinders.
8. WISCONSIN (8-4)
Wins over in-state rivals Green Bay and Milwaukee have the Badgers optimistic that the season might finally be turning in their favor, and the schedule helps them out with Penn State and Nebraska to open league play. The productivity off the bench might be the main concern for a Wisconsin team that typically has plenty of interchangeable parts.
9. NORTHWESTERN (8-4)
Already injury-riddled, the Wildcats played Sunday without Reggie Hearn (ankle), who will need to heal quickly if Northwestern has any hope of getting off to a good start in the Big Ten. Games against Michigan and at Minnesota make for a rugged beginning. Slowing down those games and playing solid defense are a must.
10. NEBRASKA (8-4)
The Cornhuskers took it on the chin against Texas-El Paso on Sunday night, with some familiar offensive woes being the culprit. Inconsistency is probably to be expected in Tim Miles’ first season. Expect Nebraska to be far more dangerous at home than on the road, which is where the Big Ten season starts — at Ohio State.
11. PURDUE (5-6)
After a win over Ball State last week, Purdue has one more non-conference game left to try and gather some momentum. Even if they’re successful, a three-game slate of Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State to open the conference campaign will make it tough to sustain.
12. PENN STATE (7-4)
Don’t look now, but the Nittany Lions have won three straight with one more home game left before entering the Big Ten season. But Army, Delaware State and New Hampshire aren’t quite the same as having their first two league games against Wisconsin and Indiana.
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