The Big Ten campaign is in full swing
February 2, 2016
Tweet: Winning the Big Ten regular season title is alot like winning the Iowa Caucus, writes @danescalona77
February is here, and, while the groundhog has predicted an early spring, he certainly hasn’t picked a favorite in the Big Ten. A slew of conference teams have positioned themselves nicely to blossom at the end of March, making the conference as unpredictable as its been in years.
With the beginning of February, Big Ten primary season has arrived, as has the battle to determine the conference’s most electable teams.
The race to the Big Ten crown has not become much like the race to the Republican nomination with candidates and teams seemingly dead in the water one week only to still – somehow – be around the next.
Unlike the GOP though, at least the Big Ten has “candidates” worthy of some excitement and not mere endless streams of hot air.
With the Big Ten primaries still over a month away, a viable crop of teams are still campaigning across the Midwest to be bestowed the title of the conference’s best come tournament time.
First, in a virtual tie, we have Indiana and Iowa. The Hoosiers are the high-flying offensive juggernaut of the bunch, leading the Big Ten and most of the country in points per game, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
Though their defense is improved over last season, Indiana will go as far as its offense — led by Yogi Farrell, James Blackmon, Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant (all averaging over 10 points per game) — can take them.
Iowa, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago, is a comparable to the Hoosiers on offense yet boasts a more sustainable model to succeed in March that balances the inside scoring of Jarrod Uthoff with the outside scoring and ballhandling of Mike Giselle and Peter Jok.
Indiana and Iowa have two matchups against each other before the end of the season, both of which will have an important impact in seeding for both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Of course, we can’t forget Michigan State, the grizzled campaign veterans. Following a rough start to the conference season, at least for Spartan standards, Tom Izzo’s men have regrouped with a win over Maryland and 30-point blowouts of Northwestern and Rutgers.
While the Big Ten regular-season crown is likely out of the picture, a conference tournament title and a Final Four appearance are again very real expectations.
We can’t forget about the Terrapins, either. After losing on the road to Michigan State, Maryland is back on track following a crucial home victory over Iowa, who was undefeated in the Big Ten before the loss.
The Terrapins, led by Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Melo Trimble, boast five players averaging over 10 points per game and have more than enough talent to make their first Final Four appearance in 13 years.
Michigan and Purdue are still on the campaign trail, too. The Wolverines — and leading scorer Caris LeVert — sits fourth in the Big Ten — have gotten off to a decent start in the conference, yet are still looking for some signature wins to pad their tournament resume.
Purdue, one of the conference’s surprise teams, is by far the best rebounding team in the Big Ten, leading in offensive and defensive rebound percentage, offensive and defensive rebounds per game and rebounding margin. The Boilermakers’ prowess on the boards makes up for some of their offensive weaknesses and makes them a potential sleeper for a deep tournament run.
The depth of the Big Ten field makes attempting to predict the rest of the regular season or the conference tournament both difficult and largely irrelevant.
Winning the regular season conference title in college basketball, unlike in football, is neither an amazing accomplishment for many nor an accurate predictor of tournament success – kind of like presidential polls.
The last Big Ten team to win both the regular season title and the National Championship was Michigan State back in 2000.
Through this point in the season, many of the Big Ten’s best have already beaten each other up. The team left standing will be both the healthiest and the one playing the best at that point in time.
Any one of the Big Ten’s top six squads can either make a deep run, or then again be bounced in the first round.
Winning the Big Ten — or any conference, regardless of the year — is much like winning the Iowa Caucus; a nice start and something to hang your hat on but ultimately not indicative of the primary battles yet to come.
Dan is a senior in Media.