Conference play is back! The Big Ten had four games Tuesday and three games Wednesday, with each day having its studs and duds.
Here’s are some thoughts after two days of Big Ten competition:
—Scoring is back down in college basketball, and the Big Ten isn’t helping the fight against that. Although all six teams that played Wednesday reached at least 65 points, only two of eight teams Tuesday reached 60 points in regulation.
New additions Maryland and Rutgers quickly fit into the league’s reputation as offensively inept. Maryland scored 68 points on 33.3% shooting in a double-overtime win at Michigan State. Rutgers scored 47 points on 30.2% shooting in a loss to Northwestern.
—Ohio State is a perennial NCAA Tournament team and this year’s team clearly has NCAA Tournament talent. But the Buckeyes have work to do to reach the Big Dance.
14 games deep, the Buckeyes don’t have a single quality win. And now they have a home loss to a good but not great Iowa team. With no terrible losses, Ohio State would not miss the tournament. But if the Buckeyes don’t rack up some quality wins, they’re looking at their worst seed since 2009, when they were a No. 8.
—Meanwhile, Maryland has already done plenty of work. The Terrapins got a solid road win at Michigan State in their Big Ten debut. They also have non-conference wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Their only loss is to Virginia.
Maryland has separated itself as clearly the second-best team in the conference, in between Wisconsin and everyone else. The Terrapins only have to play the Badgers once, and that game will be in College Park Feb. 24. Maryland could challenge for the conference title.
—Illinois still hasn’t put the pieces together. On paper, the Illini are a clear NCAA Tournament and borderline Top 25 team. But after Tuesday’s loss at Michigan, they now have a 3-4 record against the RPI Top 150. (RPI is flawed, but it is important because it is one of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s main criteria.)
—Northwestern-Rutgers was as Northwestern-Rutgers as it gets. Northwestern held a 44-35 lead with 10:50 remaining. The Wildcats didn’t score a single point until 29 seconds remained in the game, yet they were still leading 44-41. They won the game 51-47.
I once sat through a 34-31 game between Manhattan and Fairfield, and this Northwestern-Rutgers game was more difficult to watch.
—Penn State lost by 17 points at Wisconsin, but it’s too early to say the Nittany Lions aren’t for real. Penn State went 12-1 in non-conference play with a win against George Washington, and the Nittany Lions could’ve made a huge statement just by staying close in their Big Ten opener at Wisconsin. But they didn’t.
But not many teams in college basketball stay close with Wisconsin. As far as we can tell to this point, Penn State has as good a shot as anyone not named Rutgers or Northwestern to finish third in the Big Ten.
—Nebraska is down but not out. The Cornhuskers lost a tough game to Indiana following a lackluster non-conference performance.
But remember Nebraska went 8-4 in non-conference play last season (although the overall résumé was a bit bitter) and started 0-4 in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers were 3-6 in conference before turning things around.
—How many quality teams does the Big Ten actually have? Right now, it appears the answer is two. Wisconsin is a national title contender, and Maryland may be the only other legitimate Top 25 club. The jury is still out on Ohio State.
After a few years at the top of college basketball, the Big Ten is in a major down year. At best, the league is the fourth-best in the nation behind the Big 12, ACC and Big East. At worst, the Big Ten is also behind the Pac-12 and SEC, which would make it the sixth-best.
Power Rankings as of Jan. 2
4. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
8. Penn State