It's early in the college basketball season, but not too early to give the Big Ten some credit.
The conference had some quality wins this week, surprising even some conference coaches. The Big Ten is No. 2 in RPI and No. 1 in strength of schedule among the nation's conferences.
Michigan has done its part, beating Duke from the ACC and UCLA from the Pac-10. Ohio State took out No. 21 Miami and No. 7 Notre Dame. Like the Buckeyes, Minnesota is still undefeated.
And despite questions about whether they could win any games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Big Ten lost for the 10th time but finished with a 5-6 record in the games.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has some ideas why so many teams are responding after so-so or ugly seasons.
Some teams like Michigan and Minnesota have adjusted to their new coaches. Others like Illinois might be motivated by the lack of buzz around their programs after missing the NCAA tournament last season.
"When you do not go to the NCAA and people do not talk about you going [this year], you're immediately on edge," Painter said. "Their backs are to the wall. These guys are real good players and now coaches are getting guys to blend with them and their systems."
The only teams which have underwhelmed so far are the ones which were picked at the top of the preseason pollsPurdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Illinois (7-1). The Illini play four of their next five games at Assembly Hall before the Big Ten season kickoffall against unranked teams. It's a critical stretch, coach Bruce Weber said. "It's important we get these games if we're going to be a good team," he said.
Ohio State (5-0). The Buckeyes' No. 21 ranking is their first time in the polls since they lost the national championship game in April 2006. Evan Turner was named the conference's player of the week, and coach Thad Matta thinks the award will boost the teams' confidence. "He had a great week across the board, not just scoring," Matta said. "Defensively, rebounding. It's obviously a good thing for Evan but also a good thing for our basketball team."
Michigan (6-2). Coach John Beilein called the Wolverines' victories against Duke and UCLA "shots in the arm." So while they have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball, he is far from satisfied. One improvement he would like to see is more balanced scoring. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims account for 37.2 of the team's 70.5 points per game average. "What we still need right now is some type of rotation and a flow that is consistent," Beilein said.
Minnesota (8-0). The Gophers are off to their best start since 1976-77. One key reason? Seven of their first eight wins were at home. Tubby Smith said he is pleased with Minnesota's defense, which is holding opponents to 61 points per game, down from last season's nearly 67-point opponent scoring average.
Northwestern (6-1). The Wildcats need to keep momentum rolling for nine days of no games but plenty of final exams. "They're feeling good," coach Bill Carmody said. "[Players need to remember], what got you to feel that way? Working hard and practicing hard. You just hope the guys realize that." The Wildcats return to practice on Friday, then host Missouri-Kansas City on Monday.
Michigan State (5-2). The Spartans are fighting injuries to Goran Suton and Delvon Roe, which has forced others to play out of position. Coach Tom Izzo said high-profile freshman Roe is ahead of schedule in recovery but the best he can be this season is "80 to 85 percent," coming off of knee surgeries. The Spartans are following doctors' orders, keeping Roe's minutes around 15-18 per game. That may increase to 20 minutes per game soon.
Purdue (6-2). Back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Dukeboth ranked teamshave Painter demanding more from his players. "We have to get down and dirty and get tougher and play harder," he said. He said he'll learn more about the Boilermakers' tenacity with a road trip to Ball State on Tuesday.
Penn State (7-2). The Nittany Lions are off to a strong start, but they suffered a setback losing to Temple without speedy guard Stanley Pringle, who injured his ankle in that game. Coach Ed DeChellis said Penn State doesn't "know if we'll have him this week."
Wisconsin (6-2). The Badgers hope they can handle the Big Ten better than the Big East. Their two losses are to Connecticut and Marquette.
Indiana (4-4). True, the Hoosiers turn the ball over 20.3 times per game, but there are some positives for the team with the lowest expectations. Indiana showed some fight, keeping the score close through the first half, in losses to Wake Forest and Gonzaga. "I think we're learning not to flinch," coach Tom Crean said.
Iowa (7-2). The Hawkeyes must keep freshman guard Anthony Tucker's suspension from becoming a distraction. Tucker is being investigated for underage drinking and breaking curfew, coach Todd Lickliter said. No timeline has been set on his suspension. "When a teammate falls, it's an issue," Lickliter said. "We care about everybody and you're going to have to deal with that."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times