The Big Ten openers hinted the nation’s best conference also might be its most wild and – for once – even its most exciting.
Saturday confirmed it in a big way.
No. 13 Indiana knocked off the league favorite, No. 2 Ohio State, 74-70, just hours after unranked Iowa won at No. 11 Wisconsin, a place where teams rarely win, let alone unheralded teams like the Hawkeyes, who’ve on just three of the last 15 vs. Wisconsin.
Throw in games that were close before spurts turned them into solid wins (Michigan State over Nebraska and Purdue toppling Illinois) and it’s clear that nobody’s gonna have an easy night in this conference. Tough break for the teams. Great news for everyone who loves compelling basketball.
“I guess the Big Ten’s going to be like this the whole year,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “I just think there’s so many teams that are kind of equal, and if you have a cold night, you’re not going to walk away (with a win) on the left-hand side.”
Tom Crean will attest to that.
His Hoosiers gave Michigan State all it could handle Wednesday night and showed the Buckeyes (13-2) why then-No. 1 Kentucky suffered its first loss of the season three weeks ago in Bloomington. The rebuilding years under Crean are over. Indiana is back.
The Hoosiers (13-1) became just the third team to beat the top two teams in the span of a month. They still don’t have the same amount of talent on the roster as teams like Ohio State and Kentucky, but Crean’s squad runs, it hits shots and crashes the boards.
Plus, they’re motivated to beat every Big Ten team. Beatdowns by various conference teams are still lingering in their minds.
“They’ve been punking us the past couple years and we realized that,” IU’s Victor Oladipo said. “This year we had to go toe-to-toe with them.”
Expect more of the same from Indiana. Iowa pulled the day’s bigger surprise.
Wisconsin was riding a six-game win streak before its offense vanished (3-for-28 on 3-pointers) and its defense – the nation’s most efficient – allowed the Hawkeyes to hit more shots (50.8 eFG%) than Ryan usually sees in two games.
It likely signals that Wisconsin (12-3) will struggle a bit more during Big Ten play if its shots aren’t falling and that Iowa (9-6) may finally be on the way back after the transition from the moribund Todd Lickliter years to the up-tempo Fran McCaffery era.
Though for now, McCaffery’s just gonna enjoy the win and not worry about anything else. He knows how difficult road wins are.
“Any time you win on the road in this league, there’s a celebration, there’s an incredible sense of accomplishment,” he said. “(But) this is the 11th-ranked team in the country, on the road, with a fabulous winning percentage here. I think our players know and understand what they had to overcome to make this happen.”
Sunday has Minnesota at Michigan and Penn State at Northwest. Normally those games might not do much for your viewing habits or your blood pressure. But this may just be the season previous habits don’t apply.
Not with this start.
- Big Ten Geeks on Hummel, Ohio State and Meatheads
- What to expect in Big Ten’s conference play
- Indiana had a solid holiday wish list
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.