If the past few seasons are indicative of future success, the teams that finish fifth through eighth in the Big Ten standings will likely make the NCAA Tournament, but their order of finish in the league could have ramifications on their seeding in March Madness. Here are my predictions for this season for those positions:
John Groce is doing his best to change the attitude in Champaign. Whatever he’s doing, he should keep doing because Illinois is off to a 2-0 start in the conference (13-2 overall) after a 20-point win over the Penn State Nittany Lions yesterday.
The Fighting Illini won’t blow you away with statistics. They are making their mark on defense as they rank third in the Big Ten in points per game allowed at 61.5 points per game. Illinois still isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch, but their defense and depth (they go 10 deep) will propel them to an 11-5 record and a higher-than-expected finish in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines keep losing bodies left and right. but they are finding ways to win games. Michigan is also 2-0 (10-4 overall) in the conference after a 74-51 romp over the Northwestern Wildcats this morning. Glenn Robinson III managed to play today, scoring 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, and it’s a good thing that he was able to go because the Wolverines are already thin at forward with Mitch McGary out for the rest of the season.
The talent level in Ann Arbor is as high as it’s been in a long time, which has allowed Michigan to win four straight games since McGary was lost for the year. The Wolverines will win games because they have a ton of players that can score. Teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State won’t let Michigan run wild on them, which will rein in the Wolverines’ win total and drop them to an 11-5 league record.
I was tempted to peg the Golden Gophers as the surprise team of the year in the Big Ten before Thursday’s 63-60 home loss against Michigan. Minnesota could still be that surprise team, but the loss reeked of a team that isn’t quite good enough yet to challenge the big boys. Andre Hollins is the conference’s most underrated player, and Minnesota has some talented wing players, but they’re still learning the intricacies of the transition game and the famed Pitino Press.
The Barn is a very difficult place to play, and Richard Pitino will create excitement in Minneapolis. However, the early schedule with four straight games against the conference’s four ranked teams starting next Saturday will dig the Golden Gophers into a hole that they won’t be able to climb out of, and they will have a hard time finishing higher than seventh with a 9-7 conference mark.
There is a ton of talent in Bloomington, but most of the talent is very young. The newcomers will experience their fair share of growing pains this season. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of coaching brainpower on the sidelines to make up for the youngsters’ expected lapses throughout the course of a game.
Indiana is the prime example of a team that will beat the teams below it because it is has skilled players, but will lose to teams with a shred of coaching acumen and discipline. Tom Crean is a skilled recruiter and can develop players, but he just doesn’t manage a game well. Indiana is already 0-2 in the conference, and if it weren’t for six games against the league’s projected bottom three teams, the Hoosiers would be in a perilous situation.
Indiana will finish 8-8 in the Big Ten and will be one of the final teams selected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
For the predictions of the top four teams in the Big Ten conference, click here.