Sean's Scout: How does the B1G stack up?

Illini Inquirer basketball analyst Sean Harrington previews Big Ten conference play by breaking down each team's nonconference performance, ceiling, floor and X-factor

The Big Ten had a mixed showing in the non-conference.

Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland all showed that they have the potential to be Elite Eight/Final Four teams. The conference looked strong winning the ACC/B1G Challenge again.

But there were also some bad losses that took place at home. Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois and Minnesota all suffered multiple home losses.  

There seems to big a clear top 3 and the rest of the league is fighting for positioning.. The Nos. 5 through 11 spots will all be within a game of each other.  

1. Michigan State

What we learned during non-conference: The Spartans (13-0) looked terrific to start the season. Michigan State played a tough schedule and came out without a loss and wins over Kansas, Louisville and Providence. Tom Izzo teams usually get better as the year goes on and if that is true again this year the sky is the limit. They did suffer a major blow by Denzel Valentine getting hurt although it doesn’t appear to be serious.  

Ceiling: The Spartans can continue to get better. If Valentine only misses a few games and Gavin Schilling continues to get healthy, this team is looking at a Big Ten Championship. The Spartans have a deep bench. They can shoot the ball from deep and can get physical inside.  

Floor: Valentine misses a good part of the season or struggles to get back to 100 percent. Without Valentine creating for others, they don’t shoot the ball as well and players struggle to step up and they find themselves around fifth or sixth in the standings.  

X-Factor: Eron Harris was a big-time scorer at West Virginia. He has struggled to get into a rhythm so far this season. If he gets going on the offensive end, he give this dangerous team another scoring option.  

2. Purdue

What we learned during non-conference:  The Boilers (12-1) dominated their opponents until they ran into Butler. They showed that there may not be a better interior rotation anywhere in the country than the combo of AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue is also back to playing Purdue Basketball on the defensive end.  

Ceiling: With the core of inside players clicking and the perimeter players stepping up, this Purdue team has a chance to claim a Big Ten Championship. They have the defense and a great home court to run the table at home. This team has a great mix of experience and youth as well.  

Floor: It is hard to imagine this Purdue team having a bad floor because of the depth and the way they guard they are going to be in every game. But if they stuggle to score from the outside, opposing teams can clamp down on the bigs. If this happens this team could drop to fourth or fifth in the standings.

X-Factor: Vince Edwards has all the tools to have a great season during conference play. The Big Three inside is getting the majority of the attention of the opponents and this could allow Edwards to see a lot of openings for jumpers and lanes to attack the rim.  

3. Maryland

What we learned during non-conference: Maryland never really "wowed" us in the non-conference. The Terrapins (11-1) took care of business and might have been the most impressive in their only loss of the season at North Carolina. This team has all kinds of talent on the floor, but most of these guys are playing together for the first time and are still trying to figure each other out.

Ceiling: If all these talented pieces figure out how to click on the same page, Maryland can be very good and win the Big Ten. Any time you have a guard like Melo Trimble, you have a chance to do special things. He scores in a variety of ways and gets his teammates shots.  

Floor: Is there enough leadership on this team? That could be the thing that keeps this team from reaching it full potential. If these guys play for themselves and not for the team, Maryland could slip from the preseason pick to win the Big Ten to a team fighting for a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

X-Factor: Rasheed Sulaimon. The talent is there and Sulaimon can give this team a huge scoring option. So far, he has been a good addition to the team. He needs to have a good year if this team wants to compete for a B1G title and a deep run in March.

4. Indiana

What we learned during non-conference: The Hoosiers defense has been non existent all season long. With two bad losses in Maui to Wake Forest and UNLV, things looked bleak. But Indiana (10-3) can score with anyone and looked better with a late game run to beat a good Notre Dame team.  

Ceiling: The schedule favors Indiana. They only have to play Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland once each and get two of those games at home. If they play a little defense, they could find themselves right in the middle of the Big Ten Championship picture. Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr are as good of a scoring backcourt as there is in the country when they are on their game.  

Floor: The Hoosiers score the ball but still can’t defense and find themselves on the wrong end of a lot of high scoring games. It will be hard to win on the road if they don’t guard. The team could find themselves as a bubble team and middle of the pack B1G.

X-Factor: Team Defense. This is really all that stands in their way of having a great season. They are not big or deep in the post, and that hurts them on defense and trying to get easy buckets at times.  

5. Michigan

What we learned during non-conference: The Wolverines (10-3) did not have any bad losses in the non-conference, but they did miss out on three chances to get good wins. The only quality win came against Texas. Health will be a big issue to keep an eye on with this team. They struggle with it last year and already have Zak Irvin coming back into form and Derrick Walton Jr missed some time.  

Ceiling: This Michigan team is loaded in the backcourt. With three guys shooting over 45 percent from 3 (Walton, Caris LeVert and Duncan Robinson), they have big scoring potential. This team would need a lot to go their way to win a B1G title, but a top-four finish is very possible.

Floor: The injury bug hits this team again like last season and early this year. They struggle to get into a rhythm and find themselves just below 500 in the league and miss the tournament for the second straight year. They rely too much on the three and don’t get any production from their bigs.

X-Factor: Ricky Doyle. Michigan needs to get some kind of production from their bigs. Doyle showed some flashes of that last year. If Michigan is going to be a top team in the league, they will need more than just perimeter production. Doyle gives Michigan its best chance inside.

6. Iowa

What we learned during non-conference: The Hawkeyes (9-3) don’t have any bad losses. And the resume could have looked a lot better had they held on to a big second half lead at Iowa State. This is an experienced group that has been together for a while. Jarrod Uthoff showed that he can be a big time player and scorer.  

Ceiling: The Hawkeyes can maybe get into the top four of the Big Ten if they get the best year from this senior class. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury both need to be consistent players. Peter Jok has a breakout year to give this team another scoring threat.

Floor: The Hawkeyes showed against Iowa State that they could not close a game out. If this team can’t close games and has a hard time getting a basket or stops down the stretch, they could lose a lot of close games in the league. This could have them just below .500 and in serious danger of not making the tournament.  

X-Factor: Peter Jok. Jok has shown that he could be the guy to make plays or shots late in games to take some pressure of Uthoff and Gesell. If Jok can be a consistent scorer and have a breakout year, this Hawkeye team will have a fun season.  

7. Ohio State

What we learned during non-conference: This might be the biggest head scratcher in the league. After losing four in a row which included home loses to UT Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes (8-5) went on to beat Kentucky on a neutral court. The talent is there and this is an extremely young team but they are hard to get a read on after the non-conference.

Ceiling: Thad Matta gets this young team playing to their potential.  And with a couple of handfuls of four star recruits, there is a lot of potential here. The Buckeyes could get to 10 wins again. There is not a D’Angelo Russel in this group, but JaQuan Lyle could have a big year and add to a good core of returning players. Marc Loving has a consistent scoring season and becomes a good leader for this young team.

Floor: We see more of the Buckeyes team that lost at home to UT Arlington and Louisiana Tech and the group of four-star recruits are a year away from reaching their potential and this team finishes in the bottom-five of the league.  

X-Factor: JaQuan Lyle needs to continue to develop and give this team another player they can count on.  Loving, Jae’Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop all have experience in the Big Ten and need another consistent player to add into the mix.

8. Wisconsin

What we learned during non-conference: The home loss to Western Illinois is not the biggest headline in a roller coaster start for the Badgers (8-5).  Bo Ryan’s retirement shocked everyone. Home losses, a road win at Syracuse, Bo Ryan retirement…where do you begin with this young team that has two players in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig that can carry a team to wins when they are on their game?

Ceiling: This young team sees improvements from Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown to go along with Hayes and Koenig. They get a surprise season from Zak Showalter or another guard steps up into the mix. The Badgers pull off a small miracle and finish in the top-four for the 15th straight year.   

Floor: The young roster, the retirement of Bo Ryan and the very difficult schedule of in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Maryland and Indiana twice – Rugters, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota once) are too much to overcome and they find themselves under .500 in conference.  

X-Factor: Bo Ryan departure.Bo Ryan has completely changed the culture and image of Wisconsin basketball. Greg Gard has been there every step of the way. The players seem to like him and how they come out and play will determine what happens next in Madison.

9. Illinois

What we learned during non-conference: The Illini (8-5) were hit hard with some injuries and that made for a very up and down start to the season. The Illini lost at home to North Florida and Chattanooga. They also looked bad in close wins to Chicago State and UIC. The Illini did look good against Iowa State and played Notre Dame tough for a good amount of the game -- both losses. The Illini have two players that can go for 20 points on any given night in Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn.  

Ceiling: The schedule is not that difficult for the Illini. Anytime you have two elite players you give yourself a chance. Hill and Nunn have career years and carry this team to 10 or 11 wins in the Big Ten. Leron Black gets healthy and Michael Finke continues to improve and gives Illinois another scoring option.  

Floor: Injuries continue to hurt this team and Black is not able to return. Hill and Nunn feel the pressure and struggle to be efficient on the offensive end. The Illini continue to get out rebounded and don’t have a defensive mindset to get stops consistently, leading to a bottom-four spot in the league with just six wins. 

X-Factor: Jalen Coleman-Lands. The freshman guard has shown that he can score. He needs to have a consistent B1G season to make teams play Hill and Nunn straight up and not show gimmick defenses. Coleman-Lands can give the Illini another scoring option and can be a great compliment player to Hill and Nunn.  

10. Northwestern

What we learned during non-conference: Northwestern (12-1) is flying under the radar. The Wildcats did not have any good non-conference wins, but they did not have any bad losses. They put themselves in a great position to be in the NCAA talks. They need to go 9-9 or better to be a legit NCAA team.  

Ceiling: Bryant McIntosh continues to become a top guard in this league and backcourt mate Tre Demps has his best year yet. The Wildcats get consistent scoring and play from Alex Olah and Scottie Lindsey makes up for the loss of Vic Law (season ending injury) and win 10 games and get into the NCAA for the first time in school history.

Floor: This team struggles to find a way to win close games and they pressure of the NCAA is too much for them to handle.  Olah's foot injury hinders his play for most of the season. They play teams tough but can’t get over the hump and only get to five or six wins in conference.

X-Factor: Scottie Lindsey With the loss of Law, Lindsey is being asked for more this year then expected. Lindsey gives this team the athletic body that it has not had on the perimeter is many years. If he has a big year, the Wildcats could be dancing.  

11. Nebraska

What we learned during non-conference: The Cornhuskers (8-5) were not able to pick up a quality win and the loss to Samford is a big one to overcome. They have really put themselves in a tough spot going into the league. Shavon Shields is going to have a massive year.

Ceiling: Shields has an All-Big Ten season and puts up huge numbers. Andrew White continues to be a double-figure scoring option and the home court continues to be a tough place for opponents. Nebraska gets to 9 or 10 wins.  

Floor: This team just does not have the fire power and the fans don’t come out in full force, making it easier for road teams to get wins. The Nebraska finishes with just five wins in league play.

X-Factor: Andrew White. Can he keep up his hot scoring in the league where the defense will focus more on him? He needs to take some pressure off Shields and be the player to watch for next season.

12. Minnesota

What we learned during non-conference:  Being .500 after non-conference play is a new position for the Gophers (6-6). They have traditionally been a good non-conference team. This is a young team and losing six games early will not help their confidence.  

Ceiling: Minnesota continues to improve as the season goes on. Joey King has a great senior year and some of the young players get better like Jordan Murphy. This team needs everyone to be playing at a high level to get to nine B1G wins.

Floor: The older players start to pack it in and the young players are not ready to step up and this team finishes with three or four wins. The pressure will really be on Richard Pitino heading into next season 

13. Penn State

What we learned during non-conference:  The Nittany Lions (9-4) did about what was expected of them in the non-conference: no big wins and a few losses that they should not have let get away. This is a young team that is most likely a year or two away from making some moves up the B1G ladder.

Ceiling: Pat Chambers continues to get the most of this team. Shep Garner continues the sting of very good guards from Penn State (Battle, Frazier, Newbill). Brandon Taylor has a breakout year and Penn State gets to .500 in the B1G.

Floor: The team continues to play teams tough but just lack the fire power to win games. They struggle to three or four wins in the B1G.  

X-Factor: Josh Reaves. Reaves is a good looking freshman and has a huge upside. He is one of the top prospects that Penn State has landed. He has a great season to get this team excited for next year when PSU adds a top-15 recruiting class.

14. Rutgers

What we learned during non-conference:  Rutgers (5-7) is the only team that will enter B1G play under .500.  After losing their top two scorers from last year's team, there is not much to work with this season.  

Ceiling: It will take a great coaching job by Eddie Jordan to get this team to six wins. There just is not enough firepower on this team to compete night in and night out in the B1G.  

Floor: With this team expected to finish last in the league, the floor realistically could be going winless in the B1G.  

X-Factor: Team Attitude. How will this team react once they start losing games? Will Rutgers give teams an easy win or will the Scarlet Knights make the teams earn it each night?






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