Few could have predicted before the NCAA basketball season started that with only four games remaining before conference play, the Michigan Wolverines would have beaten two top-five teams.
After losing Kosta Koufos to the NBA, hardly anybody could have picked Ohio State to beat Notre Dame, let alone retain a No. 21 ranking and 5-0 record before the Big Ten season begins.
Seemingly, every prediction has been wrong.
All those, including myself, who thought Purdue and Michigan State were legitimate contenders might be holding their breaths.
The highly anticipated match between No. 1 North Carolina and the then-No. 12 Spartans turned out to be nothing more than a 98-63 romping in favor of the Tar Heels. Even before that embarrassing Michigan State performance, the Spartans lost badly to Maryland, 80-62.
Purdue has been a similar story this season. Returning all their starters, most people expected the Boilermakers to be able to compete with the best. Instead, Purdue lost its only two games against ranked teams, including getting beaten at home by Duke.
Even Wisconsin, who many thought would be an elite team in the Big Ten this season, lost both its games to ranked opponents, No. 2 Connecticut and No. 25 Marquette.
But on the other end of the Big Ten spectrum, Minnesota is undefeated, Michigan shocked No. 5 UCLA and No. 4 Duke and Ohio State has beaten No. 22 Miami and No. 7 Notre Dame to claim a spot in the Top 25 for the first time in over a year.
So what happened? Could a Manny Harris-led Michigan squad grow up from a 10-22 record just a year ago? Maybe, but only time will tell. Many teams get off to good starts, but the young teams have trouble finishing.
Simply put, each team’s start to the season is just that — a start. No matter how impressive it is, the way teams finish is what people remember them by.
Look at last year’s Indiana team, for example. After beginning the season 17-1 en route to a No. 11 national ranking, the Hoosiers — along with coach Kelvin Sampson — fell apart down the stretch, dropping seven of their last eight games and virtually falling off the NCAA watch-list.
On the other hand, Wisconsin was a bit of a different story. Like this year, the Badgers lost their first two games against ranked opponents, Duke and Marquette. But the Badgers went on to win 31 games that season to finish with the best record in school history.
The fact remains that these teams — no matter how impressive they look right now — have over 20 games remaining on their schedules, and the teams that have struggled against ranked opponents clearly have room to improve.
Don’t think that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn’t thinking about the loss to North Carolina. Most of those who dubbed that game a preview of the Final Four didn’t predict a 35-point margin of victory in favor of North Carolina, and neither did Izzo.
Before the season began, the media picked Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin to finish in the top of the Big Ten. Even with the early losses, those coaches are confident their teams will rebound and finish where they are expected to, maybe even higher.
These Big Ten coaches, like Izzo, Bo Ryan and Purdue head coach Matt Painter know their seasons aren’t over by any means, and the imminent break from classes is simply a chance to practice harder to bring about success in the upcoming Big Ten season.
Every coach and every team reaches for the top. A good start is nice, but only those who finish strong will achieve their goals.
Jonah is a sophomore hoping to major in journalism. Think Michigan and Ohio State are the real deal? Are the Big Ten’s best in for a big surprise this season? E-mail him your thoughts at [email protected]