Well, that B1G/ACC challenge was the ass-kicking we all saw coming. Clearly, even some teams that we thought would be near the top of the conference are underperforming to this point in the season (thanks for nothing, nerds). The Gophers have acquitted themselves well - if you think the loss to Miami the other night was anything less than acceptable you can go ahead and hit the little x in the top right corner - but much of the rest of the league has not looked great. Since unpacking the State of the Conference looks pretty favorable for us to this point, and since conference play for some reason starts this weekend (for two games before taking a 3.5 week break for more cupcakes, the holiday break, and Jim Delany counting his Ea$t Coa$t Ca$h), let's do POWER RANKINGS! Note: this is a talent ranking - essentially where I expect each team to land this year, NOT what their resume has said so far.
1. Michigan State: this is an obvious and non-controversial pick, but I'll just say this if you haven't gotten a chance to watch MSU yet: their guards (Winston and Langford) have performed really well since the Duke game. This makes me less confident in our ability to knock the Spartans off head to head, as going into the season I perceived us as having a substantial edge at the 1 and 2; that edge may be smaller than I thought.
2. Minnesota: Don't overreact to our first loss. We were down a starter, honestly played average at best, suffered extreme freshmen moments, and were in it until the very end against a legit top-10 squad. Plus, the best teams in the country generally lose 5 times a year (probably not Duke this year though, as one astute/nitpicky Twitter follower pointed out). Make no mistake, we have played like the #2 team in the conference so far.
3. Purdue: Interesting case here, with two good paper wins vs. Louiville and neutral with Arizona. I discount the Arizona win a bit because they were in a complete slide and looked like they didn't want to be on the floor in the 7th place game, but it will probably look great come seeding time. The question for Purdue, following two neutral losses already, is whether they'll establish themselves among the top echelon or continue to rely on streaky shooting for an up-and-down performance all year.
4. Maryland: Sure, a loss to St. Bonaventure is a head scratcher, but it was on a neutral floor with a young nucleus to a team that's less-bad than you think. It was hard to take much away from the matchup with Syracuse due to the zone, but I continue to be high on Maryland's freshman class and their overall talent level.
5. Michigan: This statistic won't shock you: Every one of Michigan's starters has an O-rating well above average (the minimum is Zavier Simpson's 106.2 per Kenpom). They will lose some shootouts, but Matthews, Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman will win them plenty of league games.
6. Northwestern: They have been gross so far. Probably should be lower, but I have to assume that McIntosh and Random Supporting Cast Members will be able to start pulling games out of their rear ends again here pretty soon.
7. Penn State: Here begins the "I haven't seen this team play yet so I'm going to start guessing" portion of the power rankings. A loss to Texas A&M is nothing to be embarrassed about (though the ACC challenge L they took is a bit more puzzling); ultimately they'll go as Tony Carr goes all season long.
8. Iowa: I think they have juuuuuuuuust enough talent to squeak into 8 (they'll be more consistent than the couple teams below them) but wow have they disappointed so far. I turned on their game vs. Va Tech and only lasted about 10 minutes of game time because they were so putrid on the defensive end of the floor. That needs to get figured out.
9. Indiana: Almost beat Duke, so that's something I guess?
10. Illinois: Actually looked ok against Wake Forest, but Brad Underwood needs to figure out his defensive philosophy - they are overly aggressive and will get burned by it in B1G play.
11. Ohio State: is better than Rutgers.
12. Rutgers: is Rutgers.
13. Nebraska: is worse than Rutgers.
14. Wisconsin: It's not so much the under-.500 record (although it's also hilarious) or the fact that you play the worst brand of basketball in the entire conference (although it's true), it's failing to score FORTY FREAKING POINTS in an entire game of D-1 college basketball that gets you the automatic last place slot.
Looking forward to seeing us beat up on Rutgers at the barn this weekend. Ski-U-Mah!