The Big Ten is likely going to run through the state of Michigan. Whether that’s Ann Arbor or East Lansing is anyone’s guess.
The Michigan Wolverines look like the best team in the conference — and maybe the country — 12 games into the season, amassing a perfect record while winning 10 by double digits. They have a star freshman in Ignas Brazdeikis and a future NBA player in Charles Matthews, and are the slight favorite to edge out Michigan State in our pre-conference polling results as voted on by our college basketball experts. UM arguably has the most impressive resume to date, too, with double digit wins over Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue, and a 2-0 conference start to boot.
But the Michigan State Spartans have been no slouches themselves, garnering two first-place votes by our panel. With a 10-2 record, they have been impressive and competitive even against top-end competition in losses; their only slip-ups being to a title-contending Kansas team by 5 and a tough Louisville team on the road in OT.
Wisconsin and Ohio State are just a tad behind the two in our voters’ minds in the third slot. Wisconsin has just two losses — to Virginia and to Marquette, the latter in OT — and has impressed in the early portion of the season. The Badgers have an array of weapons at their disposal, most notably 6-foot-10 center Ethan Happ, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. D’Mitrik Trice has made a jumbo leap as well both as a scorer and distributor.
The Buckeyes were picked to finish third by two of the voters and fifth by another. They are off to an 11-1 start, their best since the 2013-14 season.
Still yet, there’s a consensus among the college basketball experts at CBS that it’s likely going to a battle in Michigan for the Big Ten crown. We took a poll of the five experts — Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander, myself, Jerry Palm and Chip Patterson — and three picked the Wolverines and two picked the Spartans. Below is how we picked the rest of the league to shake out, 1-14.
Big Ten predicted order of finish
Most overrated: Indiana
Indiana’s 11-2 start has been excellent. It’s also possible it’s a bit of fool’s good. Four of the Hoosiers’ last six wins have been within four points, so while they’re coming ahead in most close games (save for a 73-72 loss to Arkansas), they aren’t winning convincingly. The odds that they continue to win close games against better competition in the league is unlikely, and a slight regression is likely in order.
That’s not to take away from how good IU has — and will — be this season. The Hoosiers not only have a Frosh of the Year candidate in Romeo Langford, but a top-5 player in the league in Juwan Morgan who is playing more and more like a future NBA player by the game. Morgan’s expanded his game with his 3-point shot this season, taking and making more than ever in his career, and getting buckets more efficiently than ever. The extra space Langford is drawing has done gobs of good for him — and for IU as a team.
Most underrated: Wisconsin
Wisconsin has enjoyed a better-than-expected start to its season, notching wins over Oklahoma, Iowa and Xavier, among seven others. They rank top-20 in both offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and rate well in a lot of other metrics. The ceiling for this team is still untapped. It seems like this team has a safe floor of 11 or 12 wins in league play, so stealing a win against Michigan or Michigan State — or both — could leave them where they’ve been much of this season with regards to the conference title race: better than expected.
Player of the Year: Carsen Edwards, Purdue
A trendy preseason National Player of the Year pick, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is the most obvious choice for Big Ten Player of the Year. Edwards is averaging 26.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game for the 7-5 Boilermakers. He’s a scoring machine who is putting up gigantic stats unlikely to be matched. Ethan Happ of Wisconsin and Kaleb Wesson of Ohio State are capable of making this an interesting race, but it’s Edwards’ honor to lose.
Coach of the Year: John Beilein, Michigan
Michigan coach John Beilein is the early favorite to win Big Ten Coach of the Year, mostly because he can’t do much better than what he’s done thus far. His Michigan Wolverines are a perfect 12-0, up to No. 2 in the AP Top 25, and on track to potentially win the league for the first time since 2014. Beilein’s got a lot to do with that, coaching a top-5 defensive unit that ranks first nationally in steal percentage. This team feisty as hell, and has Beilein’s fingerprints all over it. It’s a remarkable bounceback for a coach who came up one victory shy of winning it all last April.
Freshman of the Year: Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan
Only two games into league play, there’s already an early favorite to win FOTY in Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis — who also happens to be a dark-horse contender to win POTY. Brazdeikis is the leading scorer for the undefeated Wolverines and an all-energy guy who meshes perfectly in John Beilein’s system. Indiana star Romeo Langford is perhaps the only guy capable of knocking Brazdeikis off his lead.