Michigan's John Beilein believes this year's Big Ten champ could have 5 or 6 league losses
ANN ARBOR -- Last season, the Big Ten was regarded as the top college basketball conference.
This season, the stakes seem like they've gone up -- if that's possible.
So much so that Michigan coach John Beilein believes the duration of the league season won't just challenge teams, it'll brutalize them.
"The Big Ten is going to be so strong this year, with so many high level teams," Beilein said earlier this week. "Last year we were a (co) champion with a 13-5 (conference) record.
"That record, even 12-6, may be a Big Ten title winner. It's just going to be very challenging."
Last season, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all finished 13-5 to share the league title. It was the first time since 2001-02 that a league champion, or co-champion, finished the year with five league losses.
The last time a league winner ended the year with six conference losses?
That'd be never.
But to Beilein's point, the Big Ten clearly won't be a cakewalk this season.
In The Associated Press' latest Top 25 poll on Monday, the Big Ten had three teams ranked inside the top 10 -- No. 2 Indiana (15-2, 3-1), No. 5 Michigan (16-1, 3-1) and No. 9 Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) -- two more inside the top 20 -- No. 11 Ohio State (13-3, 3-1) and No. 18 Michigan State (14-3, 3-1) -- and Illinois (14-4, 1-3) at No. 23.
And, for good measure, you can go ahead and add Wisconsin (13-4, 4-0) to that list next week -- as the Badgers shocked the college basketball world Tuesday with a victory at Indiana.
In fact, Bo Ryan's Wisconsin club is the only Big Ten team still without a league loss -- and the conference season isn't even three weeks old.
"I would agree with (Beilein)," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Last year, three teams won it with five losses, and it's probably a little more competitive this year than it was last year -- as scary as that sounds.
"I think first and foremost, you can look across the board in college basketball and see some of the scores, it shows you parity. But then you look at the Big Ten and how good this league is this year, if you have an off night, you're not going to win. There's no doubt about that. In the past, maybe if you had an off night, you could still squeak one out. That's not going to happen this year, the competitiveness is at an all-time high."
Time will tell just how many losses the Big Ten winner will have. But one thing's already clear, three weeks in.
This league should be fun to watch, right up until the final buzzer.
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