In the first B1G Ten Ballin’ column of the year, Greg Mroz transitions into B1G Ten basketball by giving a rundown of all 12 teams, and forecasting what to expect from each in the remainder of the season.
B1G Ten Ballin’: The Hardwood Hustlers
Volume 1: Hustle Hard
There truly is no such thing as hustling in college basketball, but this year’s Big Ten conference may be one of the strongest in the sport, and thus, it is not hustling that gets one to the top, but pure strength and ability. The conference has been revered around the national media, and many bracketologists are giving the conference as many as 8 bids into the NCAA tournament. Many things have changed since we brought you last year’s B1G Ten Ballin’, and here is why.
You could make an argument that many of the teams of the Big Ten are the best in the country, but two of them, Indiana and Michigan, might be the best in the country. Indiana has the best post player in the entire country in Cody Zeller, and Trey Burke has become a once in a generation point guard for the Wolverines. These two teams have a combined 3 losses on the season, and are ranked 2nd and 5th in the country respectively. Each is guaranteed a berth in the NCAA tournament, and both should be receiving either number one or number two seeds come tournament time.
These aren’t the only two teams in the conference that we can call elite. 9th ranked Minnesota is having a season to remember, and Trevor Mbakwe is making this a season to remember. Austin and Andre Hollins have been pretty good too, making the Gophers a huge threat to contend for a Big Ten title. Just behind the Gophers at number 11 are the Ohio State Buckeyes, who always end up playing one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, and a team who just upset Michigan, who would’ve ended up ranked number one in the country had they beaten the Buckeyes.
Michigan State is always solid, and this year is no different. Tom Izzo’s squad is off to a 15-3 start, ranked 18th in the nation, and their point guard has finally started to come into his own. Keith Appling is taking over the leadership role that Draymond Green left behind, and he is running with it in full stride. Just behind them in the rankings at 23 is Illinois, who surprised a lot of people by getting off to a roaring 12-0 start and getting as high as 10th in the country. Since then though, the Illini have fallen in the polls, losing three of their first four conference games. Still, John Groce’s squad seems reenergized and ready to conquer the rest of the schedule.
Wisconsin is unranked, but they are the only unbeaten team left in conference. They have beaten two ranked teams (Illinois and Indiana) in their last two games, and two of their four losses have come to opponents ranked at the time (#10 Florida and #14 Creighton). The Badgers don’t have stars, but they have one of the best team basketball mindsets in all of the Big Ten.
Purdue and Iowa are unranked, but both of these teams have a chance to make the tournament. The Boilermakers had a rough non-conference schedule, but if they are able to finish above 10 conference wins with a young team, you might see them in the big dance. Iowa is also young, and they have proven that they can win big conference games. If they finish above 9 conference wins, that would give them 20 wins on the year, and that would undoubtedly warrant a tournament bid.
As for Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern, there is still a lot left to be desired. These teams are rebuilding, and in time, they will find themselves back in contention. This year though? Not so much. Only time will tell if they teams will claw themselves back to prominence.
This year, teams are going to be beating each other up in conference, and because of the strength of the conference, losses won’t mean as much as they have in year’s past. The key though, is for borderline teams, what wins are going to mean the most. Unlike years past, the Big Ten season is not going to be about seeing which team is the best in the conference, but which team is the best in all of college basketball.
Editor’s Note: A previous edition of this story called Austin and Andre Hollins “The Hollins Brothers.” It has been edited for clarity’s sake as the two are not brothers.