It’s only a few games into the Big Ten basketball season, and it already looks like this season, not unlike every other season, will be exciting and, most importantly, extremely unpredictable.
Who would have thought Michigan State would have opened the season 1-3 or that Michigan would have started out the season undefeated at 4-0? The answer is: not most people.
Many were predicting this to be a down year for Michigan, that they would struggle through the season and finish somewhere in the Big Ten basement. These predictions came after the team started the season 0-6, the worst start ever in school history.
I guess that’s why they are called predictions, because they are just guesses; until the final whistle blows, you never know how a team is going play. Now, the Wolverines are on a blazing 11-game win streak, the second longest in the nation. LaVell Blanchard has stepped up to contribute 17.2 points a game, the fourth-best scoring average in the Big Ten. A surprising leader for the Wolverines has been freshman point guard Daniel Horton, who is averaging 15.9 points and 4.53 assists per game. Just this week, he was named co-Big Ten player of the week for the second time this season; pretty impressive for a freshman.
However, the team will face a much tougher schedule in the next four games than they did in the first four games. After beating Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern, the team will now have to face Minnesota twice, Michigan State and Illinois. After this stretch of games, it may be easier to tell if the Wolverines are for real this year.
Along with Michigan, the feisty Iowa Hawkeyes have also turned some heads this year in the Big Ten, starting out 3-0 beating the likes of Northwestern, Michigan State and Illinois. Maybe the basketball team, much like the football team, will also prove to have flown under the radar and become one of the surprise teams of the conference.
After last year’s disappointing season and the departure of key players Reggie Evans and Luke Recker, no one really expected much from the Hawkeyes; no one except Steve Alford, who has his team playing well early into the conference season.
A big test for Iowa will be this Wednesday when Wisconsin welcomes the Hawkeyes into the Kohl Center for an intense rivalry game.
Not only will this be a big game for the Hawkeyes, this will also be a crucial game for the Badgers to win. After starting the Big Ten season 0-2, things were looking a little bleak for the team, even though UW should have beaten Michigan, but instead threw away a 10-point lead down the stretch to lose by one in Ann Arbor.
Anyway, after the team’s two losses, it bounced back strongly to beat a somewhat struggling Minnesota team and hung on to beat a strong Ohio State team in Columbus.
These next five games are extremely important to the Badgers, and they should come out of the stretch 5-0 or, at the very least, 4-1. The team will first host Iowa, then Northwestern and Penn State. While Iowa is a team to be reckoned with, if UW doesn’t take care of Northwestern and Penn State at home, then something is definitely wrong with the team. The two teams are a combined 0-7 in the Big Ten and 13-16 overall.
The first week in February, the team will travel to Purdue and then Northwestern.
While the Northwestern game should be no contest, Purdue may actually pose a threat to UW, as they have started out the season 3-0. Even though they have started out strong, two of their wins have come against Penn State and Northwestern, but they did have that impressive win over Michigan State.
Now is most definitely the time for the Badgers to make a run, pile up some victories and get the team playing on all cylinders before having to play Michigan State and Indiana. If the team can get rolling with five-straight wins, then a Big Ten championship should still be within reach. However, if the team loses one or two more games to teams they should beat, a championship may be harder than ever to reach, as the team still has to match up to some of the toughest teams in the Big Ten.