The Big Ten’s early-season success has caught many by surprise.
Well, maybe everyone but Michigan coach John Beilein.
Heading into the season, Michigan and Michigan State were viewed as the cream of the crop with Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin also in the conversation. However, the rest of the schools didn’t garner much attention or expectation.
But the league has proven to be better and deeper than advertised, with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota all opening some eyes.
The Buckeyes picked up impressive road wins at Cincinnati and Creighton. The Hawkeyes won the 2K Classic tournament at Madison Square Garden with wins over then-No. 13 Oregon and Connecticut. The Gophers toppled Texas A&M and Washington en route to the Vancouver Showcase title.
Add it all up and the Big Ten had the best win percentage (83.8 percent), the most undefeated teams (Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota) and the second-best win total (67-13) among all Division I conferences through the first three weeks of the season.
“The league is going to be a monster if anybody has been watching it. It’s going to be a monster,” Beilein said on the “Inside Michigan Basketball” radio show Monday night.
“And why? Because of what happened last year. You see a team that’s really young and you watch them in the future and they’ll get better. Our league was really young last year. Watch them in the future, they’re all better. I see us getting six, seven, eight teams in (the NCAA Tournament).”
It helps the conference’s projected top-tier teams haven’t disappointed either.
The Spartans pummeled then-No. 17 UCLA and rallied past Texas to win the Las Vegas Invitational. The Wolverines destroyed then-No. 8 Villanova on the road and demolished George Washington and Providence in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The Hoosiers throttled then-No. 24 Marquette at home. The Badgers took down Xavier on the road and smacked Oklahoma in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
As a result, seven Big Ten teams were ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since February 1999, with Michigan (No. 7), Michigan State (No. 9), Iowa (No. 14), Ohio State (No. 16), Purdue (No. 19), Wisconsin (No. 22) and Maryland (No. 24) all making the cut, and Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska also receiving votes.
It sets up for what should be a grueling 20-game conference slate — and one that could benefit everyone with more opportunities at precious quality wins.
“Iowa has a lot of pieces coming back. Anytime you got everybody back and you got good kids, it works out,” Beilein said. “This Nebraska team…they almost have everybody back. And Wisconsin has everybody back. I think they’re going to be terrific.
“It is going to be a difficult schedule and I think this year somebody might win it — like a 12-8 (record) or something could win the league. It’s going to be that competitive.”