Over the years, the Big Ten has done a superb job of making its name known as one of the more elite conferences in NCAA Division I basketball. High expectations were placed on the conference upon entering the 2003-04 season. As the season unfolds one particular question, among many others, that floats in the air is has the conference been living up to those high hopes?
Much of these expectations prior to the season had to do with Michigan State. The weight was on the Spartans' shoulders with both the coaches and media predicting them to take over the conference and they were even ranked No. 3 in the preseason polls.
So what happened to the Spartans? What seemed like a good idea to take on other NCAA powerhouses during the pre-season such as Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas and Duke all resulted in losses for MSU and their gradual fall from the top. Ultimately the Spartans dropped from the rankings but somehow are still one of the teams on top of the conference.
At the present moment, Wisconsin has the best overall record at 12-3 and it could be safe to say that they are on track for being the most dominant team in the conference. They were able to pull off a 77-64 victory over Michigan State but fell to Purdue, 53-51 for their first, and only, conference defeat.
There has been rapid change on top of the Big Ten in this young season. Surprisingly enough, Indiana was all alone on top of the conference on Jan. 20, though three teams joined them the following day. This seems very hard to believe since the Badgers handed the Hoosiers one of their biggest beatings to date, 79-45. How could this be the same team that was dealt a 34-point slaughtering?
Could it be because not one team really jumps out quite yet? By looking at the current conference standings, there is no definite "top team" at this point. Despite Michigan State stumbling in its non-conference season, they, as well as Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, are all 3-1 in Big Ten action.
Another question that arises is will a dominant team ever emerge within the conference this season? While there are already four teams competing at the top another is nipping at their heels. Illinois is currently on the rise with their 3-2 Big Ten record and 12-4 overall record. With the Illini thrown into the mix that now makes five teams who could potentially all be fighting for the Big Ten crown. They will have the chance to see if they can compete with the top teams as they travel to the Kohl Center on Saturday to take on the Badgers.
Another question mark for the Big Ten related to its participation in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in late December. This served as a huge wake up call for the Big Ten as it came out on top only twice in nine games.
Sure most teams are only four or five games into the conference schedule but based on the poor showing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and lack of a dominant team, there is much speculation that the Big Ten is not the gem that it used to be.
"People say a lot of things about a lot of places and a lot of conferences," Wisconsin junior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "People have their own opinion about what they think about the Big Ten…Just playing games prepares you for later on in the tournament and everything. Even though the conference matters what really matters is the end of the season and how well you perform. We feel our conference is as good as any in the country right now."