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Posted on Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Ohio State leads the way, Indiana, Michigan State are early threats as Big Ten season gets under way

By Nick Baumgardner

The preseason tournaments, money games and bonding sessions are over.

It's time to get serious.

Big Ten basketball play begins Tuesday, meaning we're about to find out who's for real, who's overrated and who can survive one of the deepest leagues in America.

As of Monday, half of the league's 12 teams were rated among The Associated Press' Top 25. Today, we take a look at where they rank with respect to one another in the first edition of this season's B1G Hoops Rankings.


Jared Sullinger, center, with teammates Deshaun Thomas, left, and William Buford, are the key players for Ohio State.

Associated Press

Driver's seat
No. 2 Ohio State (11-1)
Last week: W 70-50 vs. Lamar, W 69-40 vs. Miami-Ohio
Up next: vs. Northwestern (Dec. 28), at No. 17 Indiana (Dec. 31)
Even without Jared Sullinger, Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten. With Sullinger healthy, the Buckeyes might be the best team in America. Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and William Buford are all threats to take over a game, and Aaron Craft remains dynamite at the point guard spot. League test No. 1 comes early, though, as Ohio State will have to enter hostile territory at a recently rejuvanated Assembly Hall on New Year's Eve.

No. 17 Indiana (12-0)
Last week: W 107-50 vs. Howard, W 89-47 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County
Up next: at No. 19 Michigan State (Dec. 28), vs. No. 2 Ohio State (Dec. 31)
Indiana has backed up its program-returning victory over Kentucky by handling Notre Dame and clobbering a pair of non-conference cupcakes. Cody Zeller is, if possible, even better than some folks thought he'd be during his first season, and the Hoosiers are still refusing to miss 3-point shots. Are they for real? We're about to find out, as IU visits Michigan State and hosts Ohio State during the first week of league play.


Tom Izzo's Spartans average more than 40 rebounds a game.

Associated Press

No. 19 Michigan State (11-2)
Last week: W 89-54 vs. Missouri-Kansas City, W 90-81 vs. Lehigh
Up next: vs. No. 17 Indiana (Dec. 28), at Nebraska (Dec. 31)
The Spartans began the year unranked with a pair of brutal tests (vs. North Carolina, vs. Duke) immediately staring them down. Michigan State dropped both those games, but hasn't lost since. The Spartans knocked off Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and scored at win at Gonzaga in their current 11-game win streak. And, more importantly, they look like the Tom Izzo teams of old — ripping down more than 40 rebounds per game and holding a double-digit rebounding advantage for the season.

On the fringe
No. 13 Wisconsin (10-2)
Last week: Vs. Mississippi Valley State (Friday)
Up next: at Nebraska (Dec. 27), vs. Iowa (Dec. 31)
Wisconsin tripped up twice this season, at North Carolina and at home against Marquette, which really isn't anything to be too upset about. The Badgers have been themselves defensively, limiting teams to less than 50 points per game this season. However, point guard Jordan Taylor has not been himself — averaging just 11.8 points per night entering Friday, shooting below 40 percent for the season.

No. 20 Michigan (10-2)
Last week: W 77-66 vs. Bradley
Up next: vs. Penn State (Dec. 29), vs. Minnesota (Jan. 1)
Point guard Trey Burke has been one of the nation's top newcomers, Tim Hardaway Jr. has shown flashes of a first-team All-Big Ten-type performer, and Evan Smotrycz is starting to look like a legitimate John Beilein-style four man. However, the Wolverines still have little to no low-post depth, and have yet to establish a solid backup for Burke at the point. Michigan's extremely dangerous, but has some kinks to work out.

Hanging around
No. 25 Illinois (11-2)
Last week: W 64-60 vs. Cornell, L 78-74 at No. 8 Missouri
Up next: vs. Minnesota (Dec. 27), at Purdue (Dec. 31)
Illinois started out hot behind the scoring of D.J. Richardson and the improved play of 7-footer Myers Leonard, running out to a 10-0 mark. Since then, though, the Illini were pasted against UNLV in Chicago, struggled to slip by Cornell at home and lost by four at No. 8 Missouri. Not exactly the type of feeling a squad wants entering league play.

Northwestern (10-1)
Last week: W 87-72 vs. Eastern Illinois, L 87-79 at No. 21 Creighton
Up next: at No. 2 Ohio State (Dec. 28), vs. Penn State (Jan. 1)
Is this the year? Will the Wildcats finally make the NCAA tournament? John Shurna and Drew Crawford have been fantastic, with Shurna averaging 19.5 points, and Crawford chipping in with 16.6 per game. However, the Wildcats haven't gotten a ton of scoring contribution from the rest of their roster, and Northwestern is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country (32.5 per game). If the Wildcats want to back up a strong non-conference slate, they'll have to prove they're tougher than the numbers suggest moving forward.

Minnesota (12-1)
Last week: W 63-59 vs. North Dakota State
Up next: at No. 25 Illinois (Dec. 27), at No. 20 Michigan (Jan. 1)
Minnesota's non-league slate to this point hasn't exactly been challenging. In fact, the Golden Gophers have yet to play a road game. However, Minnesota's still standing without star Trevor Mbakwe, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this year. That's an accomplishment by itself. Can the Gophers keep it up? We'll see. A pair of road games against Top 25 teams welcome Minnesota to Big Ten play.

Purdue (10-3)
Last week: W 81-56 vs. IPFW
Up next: at Iowa (Dec. 28), vs. No. 25 Illinois (Dec. 31)
The good news: Robbie Hummel is averaging 17.5 points and has shown no lingering knee issues through Purdue's non-league slate. The bad news: Purdue has failed every early test its faced. The Boilermakers fell against Alabama, blew a lead at Xavier and lost to a Butler squad that had already suffered seven losses by the time the two teams had played. Purdue has the potential to become a tournament team, but someone outside of Hummel is going to have to do something, especially in the paint.

Outside looking in
Nebraska (8-3)
Last week: W 72-69 vs. Central Michigan
Up next: vs. No. 13 Wisconsin (Dec. 27), Michigan State (Dec. 31)
Welcome to the Big Ten, Cornhuskers. Just like football, the league did the basketball Huskers no favors with its schedule. Nebraska, which struggles to score (66.8 points per game) and rebound (34.6 rebounds per game) kicks off Big Ten play with four consecutive games against ranked opponents (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois). Survive that stretch, and Nebraska will earn some respect.

Iowa (8-5)
Last week: W 105-64 vs. Central Arkansas, W 81-72 vs. Boise State
Up next: vs. Purdue (Dec. 28), at No. 13 Wisconsin (Dec. 31)
Fran McCaffery's second season at Iowa hasn't started off with a bang, losing in-state games to Iowa State and Northern Iowa, and getting embarrassed by 16 points at home to Campbell. The Hawkeyes are rebuilding, clearly. And this deep league will likely take no pity on McCaffery.

Penn State (8-5)
Last week: W 72-42 vs. Mount St. Mary's, W 74-67 vs. Cornell
Up next: vs. No. 20 Michigan (Dec. 29), at Northwestern (Jan. 1)
Point guard Tim Frazier has been fantastic statistically this season, putting up 17.2 points, 7.2 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. However, he's been a one-man gang. He's Penn State's only double-figure scorer, and at just 6-foot-1, he's far and away the team's best rebounder. That's not a good thing. The Nittany Lions and first-year coach Pat Chambers have a long way to go.

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Big Tex

Tue, Dec 27, 2011 : 1:41 a.m.

It should be an intriguing B10 season. Everyone's anointing OSU as the Champs already; hard to pick against 'em, but the B10 looks pretty damned tough to me this year, and certainly second place, at least, is totally up for grabs. I like what I've seen from State's team, but Mich looks a bit schizophrenic so far; hot and cold, and not much of an inside game (guess that's why they are considered "soft"?). Next year may be UM's turn to challenge for the B10; don't see it this year. Still, both State and UM fans should have a fun ride this year.


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 4:09 a.m.

Hey Shadow, So this is based on states past glory? How about that Sugar Bowl bid this year?

shadow wilson

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 6:03 a.m.

Back to basketball.How in the heck can any of you call Mich soft? Zach Novak is soft? How about Smotrycz and Hardaway are they .."soft"? Geez come up with something better then that. Trey Burke is a softie? who exactly is soft? As for the gimmick/trick defense Bobby Knight has praised Beilin as being one of the best defensive minds in college ball and has commented on his coaching positively in general. So if you all think it is a trick defense so be it; if the team with the trick defense wins the game what difference does it make? I am not here to predict um will roll thru the big ten simply tired of the sycophantic glorification of some other schools.

shadow wilson

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 5:53 a.m.

I agree.Unfortunately the bowls are about money.Msu f we are talking about Msu was better than Mich this year there is no doubt......but um is the bigger name it ain right but that is the way it is.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Michigan is a skilled team with Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke, E. Smotrycz etc. BUT they are pretty soft in the middle right now. Morgan is the only physical player on the team. E Smot is a match up problem but this team will only go as far as their three point shooting right now. On some nights your shots are not going to fall and then you have to rely on rebounding and defense. The zone defense that JB plays gives teams unfamiliar with it fits... but the rest of the big ten has seen it enough to compensate. The zone also make an undersized Michigan team an even poorer rebounding team. I think Michigan will finish fifth in the Big 10 and go to another tourney. 1. OSU 2. MSU 3. Indiana 4. Illinois 5. Michigan


Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

I have to agree with your assesment of the big ten. JB has repeatedly had a soft team and yet to lead us to a tourney 2 years in a row. Proof will be in the pudding and I hope I am wrong but past experience says we will be a middle of the pack big ten team which should fire Brandon up to improve more than just the arena/center.

Wally the Wolverine

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 10:10 p.m.

Agree with the pick of OSU. Thad Matta doesn't miss a beat on reloading with talent. Indiana isn't a pretender - they actually could finish #2 in the conference. If they finish top 5, Tom Crean is B1G COY. We have a strong shot at #3 - especially if MSU's young team shows signs of not being ready for conference play. Wisky will be a challenge for anyone that plays a half court game.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

I call'em like I see'em. Only time will tell. As a big ten observer, MSU has had one down year (last year) in two decades and last year they still made the tourney. As long as Izzo is there they will be a good program. Tom Crean is leveraging the Indiana brand and he is finally succeeding in converting brand to players. Matta is a recruiting machine at Ohio State and will almost always have the best recruiting classes in the Big 10. That being said, John B. is doing a good job at Michigan. I am just not a big believer in his system. I don't like the "softness" in the middle or the reliance on a what I consider a trick defense.

shadow wilson

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

I am tired of State being anointed based on past glory.They are young and have not really beaten any better teams than Mich this year. Last yr they lost in the 1st round.It seems that when ever a player decides to attend state they immediately become a blue chip player; maybe that is why there is this unrealistic prediction about them. I don't know enough to make guesses on how the BT will end up but every team will be very lucky to win all their home games and pull off a road win or two at key places.......msu will not win at wisconsin likely not at um but could win both those games at home.....the only team that stands above is osu the rest are all a toss up. As for UM's defense so far it continues to give teams problems and all teams have plenty of opportunity to watch film and attempt to figure it out.

shadow wilson

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

On what can you possibly base this aside from OSU? MSU? who have they beat? Indiana? a good win to be sure but it was at home. My guess is you are a state alum (msu) Mich beat them twice last year so this is a confusing forecast

Wally the Wolverine

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 9:48 p.m.

Don't forget shadow, we had Darius Morris last year too. His talent is not easily replaced.