- Michigan State stands strong at 19-2 and 7-1 in the Big 10, the sole conference loss to rival Michigan. The road ahead will be tough for the short term without the services of Branden Dawson, who is out with a broken hand, and Adreian Payne, who has been hampered with an ankle injury.
- Michigan has been perfect through conference play so far after 4 losses during the non-conference schedule. The Wolverines’ offense tops the Big 10 in offense at 1.16 points per possession, and a lot of that is due to the play of Nik Stauskas, who has been one of the country’s best scorers in the past month.
- Iowa’s rebuilding under Fran McCaffrey has finally gotten over the hump and the Hawkeyes may be one of the nation’s most underappreciated teams. With an offense and defense both among the Big 10’s best, a dependable rotation, and veteran leaders, Iowa has a chance to be a March surprise.
- After winning their first 16 games, Wisconsin has lost 4 out of their last 5 games, but this is not a team to take lightly. Teams have been scoring much more than usual against a Bo Ryan defense, but expect the ship to be righted in the coming weeks.
- Two big surprises in the Big 10 have been teams under new coaches. Minnesota has been tough in Big 10 play and new coach Richard Pitino seems to have found a way to get his team to buy into his system. Chris Collins is in his first head coaching job at Northwestern, and nobody expected the Wildcats to be 4-4 through their first 8 Big 10 games. Great jobs by the young coaches.
- Indiana seems to be a team with no real identity right now. Losing two players to the Top 5 of the NBA Draft is always tough, but there just aren’t enough players stepping up right now to lead the Hoosiers. The positive is they are the best in the Big 10 in rebounding and getting to the free throw line, but the lack of shooters is hurting the offense.
- It’s tough to call Ohio State “bad”, but this is another team that seems to be lacking a true scorer, similar to what they had in Deshaun Thomas last year. They are by far the best defensive team in the Big 10, but have had trouble getting their own points in the last month, and now are at 3-5 in Big 10 play. I think Thad Matta’s team will turn it around, but they have disappointed up until now.
- After the masterful job John Groce did in his first year at Illinois, expectations for his second year may have been a little exaggerated, but even with lowered expectations, this team just isn’t playing well right now. The offense needs to come together and take better shots if they hope to get back on the winning track.
- I mentioned Stuaskas’ play above and he has certainly done all he can to lift a Michigan team trying to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, plus dealing with the loss of Mitch McGary for the year to back surgery. Shooting 46% from the three-point line while also dishing out almost 4 assists per game makes Stauskas a major threat.
- Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Adreian Payne have been dual scoring threats for the Spartans for the past two seasons, and Harris may be the best shooting guard in the country right now. Payne’s development into a complete player of the last few years has been a treat to watch.
- Penn State’s Tim Frazier season would be great under any circumstances, but doing after missing a year due to an Achilles ’ heel injury is remarkable. Frazier, one of the top point guards in the country, is averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds, and over 6 assists per game.
- There aren’t many freshmen making an impact in the Big 10 this season, but Indiana’s Noah Vonleh is easily the conference’s best. Vonleh contributes almost a double-double every night and is starting to round his game very well on both ends of the floor.
Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin should all but book their tickets right now. As I said above, I expect Ohio State to get back on track, and they should be there in March as well. Minnesota looks like they could be the sixth Big 10 team in if they can keep up their play as of late.