Ohio State - The perennial Big Ten favorite as of late, Coach Carmody managed to make the Buckeyes play down to our tempo in both our games last year, narrowly losing both matches (the second one in OT). Returning sophomore Jared Sullinger blah blah blah -- the Buckeyes have already taken out then-No. 8 Florida at home and have stomped everyone else. I'm just glad that Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale are out of the picture. That probably won't stop Sullinger, but I'm going to say that our down-tempo game finally gets the best of Matta's team this time around. Prediction: 1-1 split.
While we've all been basking in the success of men's basketball and winning the Charleston Classic, many of us have been discussing the remainder of the non-conference schedule -- particularly, whether or not we can defeat Baylor and Creighton before the calendar turns to January. That's all fine and dandy, but we all know that our hopes of reaching our first Big Dance hinge on our performance in the 18 B1G games in January and February. Coming up, I'll provide my take on each of the B1G teams based on their performance so far this year.
Penn State - Another team where I'm thankful that players (and coaches, for that matter) are gone from last year's team. There is no Talor Battle to beat us. Unfortunately, it looks like Tim Frazier is picking up the scoring slack left from his predecessor. They're a middling team, but I guarantee that they'll find a way to bite us at State College. Prediction: 1-1 split.
Illinois - Everyone always loves to talk about Bruce Weber's recruiting classes every single year. Weber also does an underwhelming job of coaching up his team every year. This year's team is very young, with three seniors graduated from last year and the loss of another due to the draft. It's hard to say how this team will turn out, since their first three wins have been at home against nobody teams. (Edit: Illinois beat Richmond on a neutral court last night.) That said, home court advantage will help the 'Cats take one in the end. Prediction: 1-1 split.
Michigan - As good as Ohio State is, this is the team that scares the bejeezus out of me. After taking out Memphis, the Wolverines took Duke the full 40 minutes before dropping another close one in the 2nd-round rematch of last year's Big Dance. Tim Hardaway, Jr. has had a solid sophomore campaign so far, and with three guys who can shoot the rock, NU will have a very hard time trying to win a shootout. I doubt we'll be able to handle this team. Prediction: 0-2.
Michigan State - Draymond Green is the only significant piece remaining from last year's embattled team. Keith Appling has been helping out, however, averaging 11.3 points through the first four contests. MSU is known for improving as the year progresses, so hopefully we'll be lucky with catching them earlier in the season. Two losses against top teams (UNC and Duke) and two wins against nobodies doesn't really tell us how this team will turn out. They'll probably be back in the tournament hunt this year, but we have home court advantage. Prediction: Win.
Wisconsin - It's Wisconsin. It's Bo Ryan's team. And we're on the road. Prediction: Loss.
Minnesota - Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III are back, which means there will be plenty of jokes about two big men who can't really dribble. (Wait, that's also true for Mirk-etti.) Four wins against four cupcakes mean squatola right now. But hey, at least Hoffarber can't kill us from the perimeter anymore! We were able to neutralize Sampson (for the most part) last year, which means Mbakwe will probably go 25-10 on us one night. Prediction: 1-1 split.
Purdue - Robbie Hummel's back! That means the Boilermakers actually have more than one player who can shoot the ball. (The other is Ryne Smith.) They defeated a rather talented Temple team and lost another grinder against No. 15 Alabama, both games as part of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore accounted for about 70 minutes and 35 points together last year, and both men have graduated. Purdue has a thing for playing small, but not really relying on speed to make up for it. Here's hoping we leave Hummel sulking on the bench like we did two years ago. Prediction: Win.
Nebraska - Admittedly, I also know little about this team. So far, they've played three total cupcakes and nearly lost to one of them (@ USC). They get Wake Forest and Creighton as they turn the calendar, where we'll get a better sense of how this team will turn out in its first B1G season. Caleb Walker is shooting lights-out so far this season from three (7-9) after posting a .357 3PT percentage last year. He could be the next who-the-hell-left-HIM-open 'Cat killer. Once again, though, home-court is nice to us. Prediction: Win.
Iowa - Things started out on an upbeat note for Fran McCaffery's second year at the Hawkeye helm, and then they got wasted by Creighton. Gatens, Cartwright, May, and MELSAHHHHN BESAAAAABEEEEE are all back this year, which means they might actually win six conference games this year. Pomeroy has them at 72 right now, but I'm not a believer -- we manage to take both games. Prediction: 2-0.
Indiana - Maybe it's because they actually showed flashes of brilliance last year. Maybe it's because the Lil' Brudda of Tyler Zeller is now a Hoosier. Maybe it's both, but people really think that Indiana's going back to the promised land this year. It's hard to say, because they're 5-0 so far against practically nobody. (Okay, so their margin of victory hasn't dipped below 20.) Thing is, I'd like to actually see Zeller in action against Big Ten teams before I make a judgment on his current ability. Until then, I'm looking at you, Christian Watford and Maurice Creek. Prediction: Loss.
So there you have it - my take on the Big Ten conference schedule in a nutshell. We go 9-9 in conference and once again need to do something in the Big Ten Tournament to actually be considered qualified to Dance with the big dogs. Maybe those Baylor and Creighton games will loom larger than I thought...