Throughout the next two weeks, The Arena Pulse will be revealing its “Holiday Grades” for all members of the power six conferences.
As part of this feature, each conference member will receive a grade that represents their start to the season.
Illinois: A- (Record: 11-2)
The Illini have been among the pleasant surprises this season, starting the year at 10-0 overall, Illinois broke into the Top 25 fueled by non-conference wins over Maryland and Gonzaga. Illinois has dropped two of its last three games heading into the Christmas holiday, but losses to UNLV and Missouri are nothing to be ashamed of. If Illinois can keep the momentum off its strong start, the Illini might find themselves as a true contender in Big Ten play.
Indiana: A+ (Record: 12-0)
The Hoosiers are back and an unblemished 12-0 start to the season has catapulted Indiana into the discussion both in the Big Ten and on the national stage. Highlighted by a victory over then-No. 1 ranked Kentucky, the Hoosiers are red-hot. Big Ten play begins with games against Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan, all of whom are nationally ranked as the calendar year comes to a close. Cody Zeller has begun his collegiate career with a bang, leading the team in both points and rebounds.
Iowa: C+ (Record: 8-5)
Expectations are not all that high for the Hawkeyes this season, but Iowa should have the opportunity to improve in the years to come. Through the team’s first 13 games, the Hawkeyes currently sit at 8-5 overall heading into league play. An early-season loss to Campbell raised some eyebrows, while Iowa’s best win thus far has come against Boise State. Iowa will have its work cut out for them now that Big Ten play arrives.
Michigan: A- (Record: 10-2)
Head coach John Beilein continues to raise the standards of Michigan basketball. At 10-2 overall, the Wolverines are a legitimate threat in the Big Ten this year and their preseason expectations have kept them on the national radar throughout the non-conference slate. Losses to Duke (in Maui) and Virginia (on the road) do not hurt the Wolverines, but instead offer early-season learning experiences. Michigan is entering Big Ten play on a five-game winning streak.
Michigan State: A (Record: 11-2)
The Spartans fell to North Carolina on an aircraft carrier, then were tripped up by Duke at Madison Square Garden. Both of those games came back in early November, and since then Michigan State has tallied 11 consecutive wins. Additional victories over Florida State and Gonzaga boost the Spartans’ resume, as Michigan State enters league play as one of the hotter teams in the country. Draymond Green is leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists.
Minnesota: A- (Record: 12-1)
On Nov. 27, Minnesota lost to Dayton and in the process lost star forward Trevor Mbakwe for the season. How have the Golden Gophers responded? Six consecutive victories added to a 6-0 start have given Minnesota a 12-1 mark overall as Big Ten play is set to begin. Expectations continue to be uncertain, but after their terrific start to the season the Gophers are carrying a sense of momentum as they prepare for another year within the conference.
Nebraska: B (Record: 8-3)
The Cornhuskers’ first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference will be difficult. At 8-3 overall, the team’s top victories on the year have come against USC and TCU, but it might take a miracle to keep Nebraska out of the bottom of the conference when all is said and done. Nebraska will begin league play with a bang, starting with four consecutive games against teams currently ranked. That stretch continues through late January, as Nebraska will play seven of its first eight league games against teams in the Top 25.
Northwestern: B (Record: 10-2)
Is this the year that Northwestern finally qualifies for the NCAA Tournament? John Shurna and Drew Crawford lead the way, each averaging over 18 points offensively. Losses to Baylor and Creighton were missed opportunities for the Wildcats, but like years past, Northwestern will need a strong showing within the Big Ten if it has the aspirations of dancing come March.
Ohio State: A (Record: 12-1)
Star forward Jared Sullinger has been a little banged up this season, but Ohio State has national championship capabilities. At 12-1 overall, the Buckeyes are the No. 2 ranked team in the country, and their only loss came at Kansas in a game that was played without Sullinger. Ohio State is the team to beat in the Big Ten this season, but the competition will be stiff in a league that is shaping up as the best in the country.
Penn State: C+ (Record: 8-5)
Amid the football scandal at Penn State, the basketball team is off to an 8-5 start to the year, led by first-year head coach Patrick Chambers. Expectations are not that high for the Nittany Lions and a non-conference loss to Lafayette is proof why. Tim Frazier leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists as Big Ten play approaches, but it’ll be difficult for the Nittany Lions not to find themselves in the bottom three when all is said and done.
Purdue: B+ (Record: 10-3)
Robbie Hummel leads the Boilermakers in points and rebounds, and his return to the court is one of the more “feel-good” stories in college basketball this season. Blown leads against both Xavier and Butler were missed opportunities for Purdue to boost its resume early on this season. However, the Boilermakers do have wins over both Iona and Temple, and the opportunity to add more as Big Ten play is set to get underway.
Wisconsin: B+ (Record: 11-2)
The Badgers are one of the top defensive teams in the country, and their ability to limit teams offensively was clear against North Carolina’s high powered attack back on Nov. 30. Wisconsin lost that game to UNC and then fell yet again that same week to Marquette. However, neither of the losses are any cause for concern, and Wisconsin has taken care of business in each of the other 11 games they have played. The Badgers enter conference play at 11-2 overall, posing a serious threat to contend for the Big Ten crown as the season progresses.
*Records as of Sunday, Dec. 25
*Photo: Christian Watford *Credit: espn.go.com
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