The 2017-18 Big Ten basketball season has a different vibe. Each team has already played two conference games before the new year. This is due to the 2018 Big Ten Tournament being held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With the Big East Tournament also being held at MSG, the Big Ten has to hold its’ tournament a week earlier, from February 28 through March 4th.
On top of this, besides the two frontrunners (Michigan State and Purdue), the Big Ten is wide open. Seeds 3-14 are all up for grabs as we head into what will be a very entertaining Big Ten season.
Current Big Ten Standings (As of 12/31)
Michigan State 2-0 (14-1)
Purdue 2-0 (13-2)
Ohio State 2-0 (11-4)
Maryland 1-1 (12-3)
Michigan 1-1 (12-3)
Minnesota 1-1 (12-3)
Penn State 1-1 (11-4)
Nebraska 1-1 (10-5)
Northwestern 1-1 (10-5)
Indiana 1-1 (8-6)
Wisconsin 1-1 (8-7)
Illinois 0-2 (10-5)
Rutgers 0-2 (10-5)
Iowa 0-2 (9-6)
The Big Ten is truly a two-team race, but the middle of the pack is full of young teams with potential. Here’s a look at a few teams that can have solid conference seasons and will have a shot at an at-large bid come March.
Michigan Wolverines 1-1 (12-3)
John Beilein’s team enters the new year playing really solid basketball. They are currently on a 5 game winning streak and are the 4th highest ranked Big Ten team according to KenPom, where they rank 33rd. They are 8-0 at home and have wins over UCLA, Texas, VCU and Indiana. Beilein’s teams tend to get better as the year goes on and with guys like Mo Wagner, Charles Matthews the UK transfer, and the red-hot Duncan Robinson, there’s a lot to like about this team. Don’t be surprised come Big Ten tourney time this team is the 3 seed and has a double bye.
Ohio State Buckeyes 2-0 (11-4)
Even in Chris Holtman’s first year, with a solid conference season, the Buckeyes look as if they could secure an at-large bid. The Buckeyes are tied for first in the conference including a home win over Michigan. Their other conference win came in impressive fashion when they shot lights out and throttled Wisconsin 83-58 AT the Kohl Center. Regardless of how Wisconsin has been playing this season, winning at the Kohl Center is a very tough thing to do, and the Buckeyes did it with ease. Watch out for RS Jr. Keita Bates-Diop to break out and possibly lead the Buckeyes to an at-large.
Maryland Terrapins 1-1 (12-3)
Coming into the year, Maryland looked as if they were going to be at the top of the Big Ten and had second-weekend ambitions come March. But, in just this past week, they have lost 2 solid frontcourt contributors in potential lottery pick Justin Jackson and forward Ivan Bender. Sophomore guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter can still lead this team to a top 4 finish, but the real question for this team is how they will respond to their frontcourt injuries. They will really need forward Michal Cekovsky to step up and lead this team in the frontcourt.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 1-1 (12-3)
The Gophers have fallen off of the map just a little bit, although they are not currently playing bad basketball. Ranked as high as 12th in the AP poll this year, the Gophers have since fallen out and currently sit unranked. They only have 2 quality wins, defeating Providence on the road and Alabama on a neutral court when Bama was ranked 25th (although they were outscored when playing with 2 more players.) They have no bad losses, with their worst loss coming against a sneaky Nebraska Cornhusker team on the road. The biggest question with this team lies in their bench, where they really only have one consistent producer, freshman guard Isaiah Washington. Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason still have All-Big Ten potential but without consistent bench production, this team will only make it as far as their starters take them.
Having only 2 teams that can truly compete for a Big Ten championship makes for a very entertaining season, one that the Big Ten hasn’t seen in a while. Stay tuned.