Right now the Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best. They are coming off a tie in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, in which they retained the title. Most of the teams have looked solid and many against good competition already. But, from information taken from the Challenge, as well as the rest of the season, it has become apparent that there is a group of teams in the Big Ten far and away better than the rest of the conference. That top group is made up of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. In a conference full of good teams these appear to be the only great teams.
Indiana has looked dominant all year, as they were expected to coming in to the season. They have beaten good teams, including North Carolina and Georgetown. Their beat down of North Carolina was a statement to the rest of the country, about how good Indiana really is. Cody Zeller outplayed James Michael MacAdoo in a battle of top tier big men and Indiana’s depth was very impressive. Their depth is the best in the country, with guys like Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls filling a great supporting cast behind Zeller. They are too good and too deep for most teams to have a chance at them. Indiana is the no. 1 team in the country and only a few teams in the country are even close at this point.
One of those teams, that is close to Indiana is Michigan. They are ranked 3rd in the country and are as talented as any non-Hoosier team. All-American Trey Burke leads the Wolverine attack, along with the very improved Tim Hardaway Jr. and a very impressive freshmen class. Nik Stauskas is an absolutely ridiculously good shooter. He can make threes at will, despite any defensive attempts to stop him. Glenn Robinson III is a really strong all around player. He can score from the outside, as well as use his athleticism and size to score at the rim. Finally, Mitch McGary has been very exciting, playing explosive minutes inside. This is a different type of Michigan team than we are used to. They are bigger, faster, more talented and better than they have been in decades. Michigan has had convincing wins in all of their games, including notable foes Pittsburgh, Kansas State and NC State.
Finally, Ohio State closes out this group of Big Ten elites. They are the only one of these three teams with a loss, but it was as good of a loss as one can get. They lost Wednesday at Duke, 73-68. However, Duke has showed this year that they really are the second best team in the country. Mason Plumlee looks as good as anyone, including Zeller, and Mike Kryzewski has yet another Final Four quality team. So, losing on the road to Duke is not something to be ashamed of. Actually, the fact that it was such a close game is pretty impressive, and a testament to how good the Buckeyes are. Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are both playing extremely well, carrying a deep Buckeye squad.
The two biggest differences between theses three teams and the rest of the conference, besides simply having more talent, are the lack of a weakness and the presence of depth. Almost every team in the country has flaws. Bad teams have more flaws than strengths, while average and good teams have fewer. Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State are the only three teams in the Big Ten who don’t have an obvious flaw. They can rebound well, defend well, shoot threes, score inside etc. There is not one aspect that these teams are poor at. That is what separates them from the pack.
The other key aspect that separates these teams is their depth. There are two types of depth in basketball. The first is depth within your core. This means having multiple guys on a team that can takeover games. When the alpha dog has an off night, there needs to be someone who can step up. Having multiple players capable of carrying a team takes pressure off the top star.
The other depth is bench depth. All of these teams are at least ten players deep. This lets them keep their stars fresh and have strong role players. Long basketball seasons require depth and these teams have that. More often than not, a consistently good roster, nine or ten players deep, will beat a top heavy team, with only a few really good players.
The Big Ten is full of good teams, but the top tier is far and away superior from the rest of the conference. The Big Ten usually has a wide range of conference title pursuers, but this year it seems as though the field has been narrowed down to three. Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State are loaded this year and should be in a three horse race for a Big Ten title.
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