Ever since the beginning of the season, the Big Ten conference has been looked at as one of the best men’s basketball conferences. Many of the teams in the conference were looked as some of the toughest in the country. Now that it’s close to the end of Big Ten conference play, it’s time to grade how each team is doing, compared to their preseason expectations.
Team: Indiana, Grade: A
There is a reason why Indiana was the preseason number one team and still is ranked as the number one. They have consistently played great basketball all season long. Thanks to the dominant play by their center: Cody Zeller. Zeller has been averaging an incredible 16.5 points a game, causing teams to double team him. However, credit must also be awarded to the play of Victor Oladipo. Little was talked about him in the start of this year, but his play on the court has turned him into a serious contender for the MVP. He contributes to Indiana’s performance by offering them 14.4 points per game and great defense. When these two are on their game, there is no question that Indiana is the best team in the country.
Team: Michigan, Grade: B+
Michigan was supposed to be one of the best teams in the nation; they were picked by many early on this year to appear in the final four. They have played solid basketball all year long; most credit to their success goes to their star sophomore Trey Burke. Burke has really stepped up this year and become a vocal team leader, motivating not only his teammates, but everyone on campus. He is the cornerstone to this Michigan offense seeing that he averages 18.2 points per game. With all said, Michigan has been a disappointment this year when it comes to the important games. They do deserve credit for playing a close one against Indiana, however, their other two big looses against Wisconsin and Michigan State show this young team can’t quite handle the pressure yet. Until their coach John Beilein finds a way to win big games, they will still be seen as a pretty good team, but not a great one. They need to take their skills up a notch in order for them to have a chance in the NCAA tournament.
Team: Michigan State, Grade A-
In many people’s mind at the start of the season, Michigan State was looked at as a decent team, but in no way a national title contender. Many of these people are starting to change their mind. Give credit to Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans, they have really come together as a team as the season has gone on. Although they had some early losses to Connecticut, Miami, and Minnesota, the Spartans have looked past that and won big games against the ranked Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, and Kansas. Part of the reason why Michigan State has started playing so well is because they turned back to characteristics that make Michigan State an elite basketball college. Izzo has once again started to utilize his big men in the post: Derek Nix and Adrian Payne. By doing this, it allows them to score easy points when they absolutely need to and develops a consistency in their offense. Another reason why they have been playing well is due to their freshmen star Gary Harris. Harris didn’t get very many minutes of playing time during the start of the year, but that changed when he started proving to others that he can be a huge factor late in the game. Thanks to his clutch shooting ability in big games, he has earned himself a spot as a starter and a key factor on the other teams scouting report. With this Michigan State team getting better each game, it wouldn’t be wise to count them out from making a final four appearance for the seventh time in 15 years.
Team: Minnesota, Grade C-
Minnesota looked like it was going to win the Big Ten Conference and more, after having an impressive run in the Bahamas Classic Tournament earlier this year. Their sophomore shooting guard, Andre Hollins, was considered by many to be one of the best in the country. Although his play has been consistently good throughout the year, his team’s play has not. After winning their first three Big Ten games in a row, things were really looking good for Minnesota. However, they then lost four straight games. One of these was against a mediocre Northwestern, where they could have easily won by double digits. They look like a completely different team than earlier this year; they lately have been having problems scoring and their defense has lost the respect it had before. Unless Minnesota does something magical in March, this season can be looked at as a disappointment. Depending on how they finish, their current coach Tubby Smith could be looking for a new job.
There is still time for these grades to change before the NCAA tournament, all of these teams are going to have their share of formidable opponents. Depending on how they finish, can make their team a serious contender for becoming the NCAA champions.