With all the myriad of early-season holiday college basketball tournaments, inter-conference challenges, and early non-conference games winding down, Big Ten Conference play is just around the corner near the end of the month.
There are two Big Ten teams in the Top Five of the latest Associated Press—No. 1 Michigan State (12-0) and No. 4 Maryland (10-1).
While the Spartans and Terrapins are arguably the two best teams in the conference at this point of the season, both teams have to go through the gauntlet of the Big Ten season and by the time March rolls around, they are going to have share of battle scars. Every team in the conference, except Rutgers, will probably come into conference play with an above .500 record.
Northwestern (11-1) led by top scorers Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh, have the second longest winning streak among Big Ten teams. The Wildcats only loss came to North Carolina, a team that also beat Maryland.
The Terrapins, led by the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year point guard Melo Trimble, are loaded with talent and a favorite to win not only the Big Ten, but also the national championship. So far, the Terps have five players averaging in double-figures. They have plenty of size with 6-11 freshman sensation Diamond Stone, who is averaging 10 points per game.
Of course, the game to watch in the early portion of the Big Ten schedule will be Maryland-Michigan State in East Lansing on Jan. 23. Last season, the two teams played three tough grind it out games against each other. The Terps won the two regular-season games while Spartans beat Maryland in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State will come into conference play unbeaten with wins over three teams AP Top 25 including No.2 Kansas and No. 10 Providence.
The Spartans are going to be without senior guard Denzel Valentine, who will miss two-three weeks because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He was averaging 18.8 point per game along with eight rebounds and seven assists per game. How will the top-ranked Spartans fare without him?
Before losing to Butler, the No. 14 Purdue Boilermakers had won 11 straight and ranked as high as ninth. They have five players averaging in double figures including 6-9 freshman Caleb Swanigan, who scored 25 points in the loss to Butler. The Boilermakers will face both Maryland and Michigan State twice this season. How they fare against those teams will certainly determine how well their season will go.
Last weekend’s set of games involving Big Ten teams against non-conference teams should give you an idea of how tough the conference is going to be this season.
Ohio State (6-5) pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend with its 74-67 win over then No. 4 Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.
Throughout the early season, the Buckeyes have struggled and have lost to some unranked teams along the way. But last Saturday against the now No. 20 Wildcats, the Ohio State came up with its biggest effort of the season.
For starters, the Buckeyes had four players scoring in double figures and nearly every player that played scored at least six points. Sophomore Keita Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes with 14 points while teammate junior forward Marc Loving added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Ohio State, on a neutral site, led by as many 16 points. After a Kentucky rally cut it to three, the Buckeyes hit their free-throws down stretch. If the Buckeyes can bottle the energy and effort showed against Kentucky during Big Ten conference play they might spring more than a few upsets to improve their tournament resume.
The Indiana Hoosiers (9-3) overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Notre Dame.
Tom Crean’s team used a zone defense and a got a huge three-pointer from guard Yogi Ferrell to pull out a game they seemed destined to lose. The Hoosiers were certainly be a thorn in a lot of teams side along the way.