A little glimpse into my thoughts on the state of the conference after having watched most of the Big Ten/ACC challenge and seeing how each team has started the year. First off, a general rank of the tiers I see teams falling into right now:
Tier 1 - MSU, Iowa, Indiana
Tier 2 - Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State
Tier 3 - Minnesota
Tier 4 - Northwestern
Tier 5 - Penn State, Purdue
And some thoughts on each of the teams...
Michigan State (4-2) - What to make of the Spartans? Their best performance to date was a loss to Gonzaga. Their least awe inspiring games were a loss to Hawaii and a narrow win against IUPU-FW. Best win was a good OT win against Arizona. Didn't look so hot against a young Georgia Tech team at home last night in the challenge. On paper, they are the best team in the Big Ten. Paul Davis is a very good post player and Brown and Ager are a dynamite pair of wings. But why the struggles? Perhaps they lack a bit in depth but I was expecting a better start to the season. I still look for them to turn it on come conference play.
Iowa (5-1) - They've got the best resume so far of any team in the conference. Wins over Kentucky and NCSU and a narrow loss to Texas. They've got an experienced rotation and will likely be in the top 25 all year.
Indiana (4-1) - They rolled 4 patsies before losing to Duke in the challenge. Still playing without DJ White who was their best player until Marco Killingsworth turned into a beast. I'd take them as the best pair of post players in the country right now once White is healthy. Still not sold on their backcourt which could hold them back in conference play when they start facing much tougher defense in the post. Very good looking team, though.
Michigan (4-0) - The good news is that they are playing excellent defense, rebounding with a passion, and Daniel Horton is playing the best and most efficient basketball of his career. The bad news is they haven't played that difficult of a schedule. Road win at Boston U and an easy home W over Miami are their 2 best performances to date. We'll find out a lot about how serious a threat in the Big Ten they are when they play at Notre Dame and home against UCLA in the next 2 weeks. Win both and they'll likely be undefeated and top 20 heading into conference play.
Illinois (6-0) - Yep, they're still undefeated. The bad news is they really haven't played anybody. Winning at North Carolina sounds impressive, but this year it isn't. Games at Xavier, Oregon, and Missouri will let us know how well they've adjusted to life after Williams, Head, and Powell.
Wisconsin (4-1) - Managed to beat 4 patsies and lose a nailbiter in Winston-Salem against a good Wake Forest team. They will be a solid club this year, but probably not good enough to challenge for the Big Ten title. Good enough to beat anybody in Madison, though. Look for their team to blossom next year with young guys like Brian Butch, Greg Stiemsma, Joe Krabbenhoft, and Marcus Landry all getting valuable experience.
Ohio State (3-0) - Haven't played much of anybody yet (and all at home), but they could challenge for a tourney berth. Terrence Dials is a very good player in the post and he is surrounded with guys that can make plays. JJ Sullinger is really underappreciated. So while everybody is waiting for Greg Oden and co.'s arrival next year, don't write off the Buckeyes this year.
Minnesota (2-2) - They've got a bad loss to Gardner Webb and a road loss to Maryland under their belts already. So yeah, it's safe to say they miss Vincent Grier. He's a great defender and a dynamic threat on offense. He's also the most valuable player in the conference this side of Carl Landry. When he returns, they'll be similar to Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio State. Until then, no way.
Northwestern (3-3) - Yep, they suck. Vedran Vukusic has a nice offensive game, but they still suck. Only reason they aren't lower is because Purdue and Penn State REALLY suck.
Purdue (2-2) - Worst loss in the history of the challenge, to Florida State?!?!?!?!?!?! I feel bad for Carl Landry. He's borderline All America in talent with his efficient scoring and rebounding, but nobody will ever notice this year. (Side note: how about the post talent in the Big Ten with Paul Davis, Marco Killingsworth, DJ White, James Augustine, Terrance Dials, Carl Landry, Courtney Sims,...?)
Penn State (3-1) - Lost by 8 at home to Clemson in the challenge and beat 3 pansies. Still not inspiring any confidence. They joined the Big Ten with the hopes of dominating in football and using the Big Ten's power in basketball (and a new arena) to help power their basketball team to respectability. We all now how the football thing has worked out, but they've been bottom dwelling in basketball for most of the last decade and they are not going anywhere fast.
The Big Ten looks very deep this year and I'd be surprised if we didn't send 6 or 7 teams to the dance.