Don't let their 7-1 record fool you, they haven't played and won a meaningful game yet. They played Miami (FL) in the Big Ten/ACC challenge and lost by 12 on the road to a Hurricane team ranked 29th by Ken Pomeroy. Other than that game, they haven't play anyone inside his top 190. They beat Depaul and that sits as their best win right now. Junior Deshawn Freeman has been a pleasant surprise. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.8 per game. Junior transfer Nigel Johnson has also been a nice surprise, he averages 11.6 points per game, which is good for second on the team. Rutgers is going to have to beat somebody notable to slide out of the cellar.
13. Penn State
Penn State's resume looks a little better that Rutgers' does. They currently sit at 6-3 with wins over Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and George Washington. Penn State has talent and they put together a nice recruiting class in 2016, but they are still a few years away right now. The defense has been shaky thus far. They rank 11th in the conference in scoring defense. Losses to Duke, Albany, and Cincinnati are the blemishes on the schedule to date. Shep Garner has been as good as advertised, he leads the team in scoring, averaging 15 points a game. True freshman Tony Carr averages 12 points per game and leads the team averaging 4 assists per game.
The Hawkeyes are fighting growing pains and are having trouble replacing their four senior starters from a season ago. They sit at 3-5 overall and have really struggled on the defensive side of the ball. They rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense allowing 85 points per game. Which is 16 more than the team ranked second to last. The have trouble defending at the rim, on the ball, and stopping the dribble drive. Right now, their best win is over Kennesaw State, who is ranked 317th in Ken Pom's rankings. The Hawkeyes are supremely talented on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has been worse than the offense. Peter Jok leads the team averaging 25 points per game.
I picked the Huskers near the bottom in the preseason and that is where they sit this week. They have a 5-3 record with a nice win over a solid Dayton club. They lost Andrew White from a season ago, along with Shavon Shields. That duo averaged 32 points per game. This season it has been Tai Webster who has taken over the scoring duties. He's averaging 17 a game through the first 8. Losses to Virginia Tech, Clemson, and UCLA are respectable early on in the season. Surprisingly, the Huskers have looked a bit better than I had originally thought.
The Illini sit at 6-3 on the young season and have two very solid wins on their resume already. Wins over North Carolina State and Virginia Commonwealth are very good early on in the season. Both wins came by double digits as well. The losses to Winthrop, West Virginia, and Florida State are not glaring and they likely would have beaten Winthrop if it weren't for Keon Johnson's 38 points. Malcolm Hill leads the way averaging 18 points per game, while Leron Black and Tracy Abrams average 13 and 11, respectively. If they can keep Tracy Abrams healthy, they could win some games they aren't supposed to in the Big Ten this season.
The Terrapins currently have the best record in the Big Ten sitting at 8-1. They have wins over Georgetown, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State, but combined the win total is by 3 three points, so they aren't winning these games easily. They have the lowest field goal percentage of any Big Ten team and if one or two bounces would've went the opposite way, they could be 5-4. Their one loss came to Pittsburgh in the Big Ten/ACC challenge and it was by 14 points. I actually got a chance to sit down and watch that game and the Terps looked pretty average for most of it. Melo Trimble leads the team averaging 19 points per game.
The Gophers are off to a surprising 7-1 start this season with solid wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and St. Johns. Richard Pitino was in an absolute mess late last year as he had players getting arrested and subsequently getting suspended, so the Gophers being off to this start is definitely surprising. He brought in a nice recruiting class last year and Reggie Lynch has been a nice player after transferring from Illinois St. True freshman, Amir Coffey is averaging 14 points per game, while veteran guard Nate Mason averages 12. Minnesota opens up Big Ten play against Michigan State on December 27th.
Many thought the Wildcats could be headed to their first NCAA Tournament last season, but they faded late after a cupcake of a non-conference slate. This year they are off to a 6-2 start and many are asking if this is the year Northwestern ends their drought. They have two solid early wins against Texas and Wake Forest. Plus, they nearly beat a good Butler team, but lost by two. They finally have a healthy Vic Law, he's averaging 16 points per game. And Scottie Lindsey is playing like an all-conference guard averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. They also have an experienced point guard in Bryant McIntosh who is averaging 13 points and 5 assists per game. We'll have to see how the Big Ten shakes out before we can put the Wildcats in the mix for the tournament.
6. Michigan State
The Spartans have played one of the toughest schedules in the entire country. Tom Izzo has apologized to his young team for putting them through the gauntlet early on in the season, but that should only make them better come Big Ten play. Their four loses have come to teams inside the AP's top 16 and three of them reside in the top 9. Their closest loss came to 16th ranked Arizona, which opened the season for the Spartans. They have four games remaining before Big Ten play and they should win all of them. True freshman Miles Bridges leads the team averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds per game.
The Wolverines have done a solid job so far this season and have the two best wins of any of the teams previously mentioned. They have victories over SMU and Marquette on their resume and currently sit at 6-2 overall. Their two losses have come at South Carolina and at home against Virginia Tech, which was a game they probably should've had. They have a few tough games against Texas and UCLA coming up this week if you want to get a peak at the Wolverines. Zac Irvin and Derrick Walton lead the team averaging 15 and 13 points per game, respectively. This week should tell us a lot about John Beilein's club.
4. Ohio State
The Buckeyes were a team I thought would surprise us this season and so far they have. They have a good win over Providence on their resume and nearly had another one when they took the sixth ranked Virginia Cavaliers to the brink before falling 63-61 in Charlottesville, VA. They are 7-1 and have beat most of the opponents on their schedule fairly handily. The Buckeyes get UConn and UCLA before Big Ten play starts, so we'll find out more about them in the coming weeks as well. They have five players that average double figures in terms of scoring with Jae'Sean Tate leading the way. He averages 14 points and 8 rebounds per.
The Boilers are a team that I have been impressed with early on in the year. They are 6-2 with losses to the defending champions - Villanova - and nationally ranked Louisville. They don't have any wins that really stand out, but the Boilers have proved they belong near the top in the two games they've played against equal competition. Purdue's front line is going to be a problem for folks in the Big Ten. The Boilers also have five players that average double figures in scoring. Caleb Swanigan averages 18 points and 12 rebounds, both lead the team.
I wrestled with the top spot because the Hoosiers have the two best wins of any Big Ten team with W's over Kansas and North Carolina, but that one glaring loss to Fort Wayne is what I cannot get over at this point. They sit at 7-1, but probably should be 8-0. The Hoosiers will be in it until the end for the Big Ten crown, but sit at #2 this week. They have four players averaging double figures with James Blackmon Jr. leading the way at 18 per game. Thomas Bryant averages 13 points and 8 rebounds. Indiana will have a game against nationally ranked Butler before Big Ten action begins.
The Badgers were my top ranked team coming into the season and they'll stay there today. Greg Gard's squad comes in at 7-2 with two very respectable losses at Creighton and in a neutral site game to North Carolina. Wins over Georgetown, Syracuse, and Oklahoma back up the fact that the Badgers are the best team in the conference at the moment. They have a trio that is going to be really hard to stop and really fun to watch as we get into Big Ten play. Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, and Ethan Happ are one of the best trios in the conference and possibly the entire country. They average 42 points a game combined for Wisconsin. The Badgers also have one of the best scoring defenses in the conference. They have a big game at Marquette before Big Ten play opens.