Big Ten basketball update: Michigan, Michigan State lead the way

Heading towards the end of January, the Big Ten has provided us plenty of good basketball. The conference has emerged as likely the deepest conference in the country, albeit top-heavy. There have been some meaningful games so far, and there will only be more as the season progresses.

Surprise Teams

As the season has progressed, the conference has only grown stronger. Everyone expected Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland to be strong, but the conference has proven to be much deeper than just those three. This is thanks to middle of the pack teams coming out strong, and bottom feeders turning their seasons around.

Nebraska

Tim Miles has led his team to a 13-6 record. This year they look strong enough to be a tournament team that won’t be an easy out. Nebraska’s downfall will be depth, after Nana Atenken, they don’t have much help coming off the bench. This will likely not be enough to win any big games once foul trouble becomes an issue. But the starting five, led by James Palmer Jr., is playing at a much higher level than it was expected to.

Minnesota

The Gophers went from a bottom feeder in the Big Ten to No. 6 in the conference and a 14-4 record. Jordan Murphy has led with way, averaging a double-double with 14.6 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game. This is along with help from Amir Coffey, who chips in another 15.7 points a contest. Minnesota looks like a team that could make the second weekend in March, showing signs after upsetting Wisconsin in Madison and beating Nebraska at home quite handily.

Iowa

The team that has made the biggest turnaround so far this season has been the Hawkeyes. They have gone from second to last in the conference last year, to No. 5 in the Big Ten and an AP Top 25 ranking. While no one should expect them to make a run this year, they have been competitive following an extremely poor season. 

Ohio State

The Buckeyes are on the other end of the spectrum, struggling after finishing No. 3 in the Big Ten last season. They have gotten off to a slow start this season, including a four-game losing streak early in conference play after having high expectations placed on them. The Buckeyes are better than their record indicates, but the struggle they are facing is surprising.

Overall, teams like Iowa and Minnesota, who have had massive turnarounds, is one of the main reasons the Big Ten is the best conference in the nation.

Notable Games

Indiana vs. Michigan State

The reason this game is intriguing is for the star-studded guards participating in it, Romeo Langford and Cassius Winston. The freshman for the Hoosiers is averaging 17 points and five rebounds per game and appears to be a one-and-done. A lottery pick and the best point guard in the Big Ten playing in the same contest is must-see basketball.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan

Payback is the main reason to watch this matchup. On Jan. 19 the Badgers upset then-undefeated Michigan in Madison by double digits, robbing them of a likely No. 1 ranking after Duke lost to Syracuse prior to the game. The Wolverines are awaiting their shot at revenge in Ann Arbor after a no-show from Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews in the loss. Those two may want redemption more than anyone else on the roster.

Michigan at Maryland

In early March, Michigan travels to College Park to take on Maryland in a game that could be overlooked, due of course to when the contest is scheduled. Stuffed between two blockbuster games against the Spartans, the Wolverines can’t overlook an away game against a very good team in Maryland. The Terrapins are averaging 75 points per game, led by Anthony Cowan Jr. and Bruno Fernando, who combine to average 30+ points per game. Michigan is a defensive team, so we’ll find out if that strength can hold down the Terrapin offense. This screams a must-watch game that should come down to the wire.

Michigan vs. Michigan State matchups

A bitter rivalry between two elite teams that will be playing for everything, need I say more? These games make up two of the last four games on both team’s schedules, meaning these games could have monumental implications. It’s very likely these games could decide the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, or a regular season Big Ten title. This could possibly even dictate who will get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

These teams compete hard against each other, and the placement of these two games late in the season could decide a lot in the grand scheme of things. It will be must-see television, to say the least.

This season has been fun so far, but the second half could be even more fun than the first. It will be headlined by a plethora of future NBA talent, such as Indiana’s Romeo Langford, Purdue’s Carson Edwards and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. There are underrated teams trying to make their mark in order to get a shot in March, as well as two juggernauts building their resumes for what could be the two best basketball games of the year.