Big Ten Conference Season Set to Begin: A Quick Once-Over

Just when I was ready to start tooting the Big Ten's horn, again, for being on their way back to a powerhouse conference, Ohio State gets embarrassed by West Virginia and Iowa gets trounced at Drake. Those were quality opponents, sure, but it was a good time to capitalize on the impressive Michigan State and Purdue wins during the weekend prior to Christmas.

Regardless, I have to root for the conference as a whole this year to maintain some level of sanity, as my alma mater has now lost consecutive games to Northeastern and Lipscomb. What a way to build momentum heading into January, huh?

Conference season for the Big Ten kicks off Tuesday night in Mackey Arena, as Purdue hosts Illinois in what is shaping up to be quite the contest. On paper, the Boilers are easily the favorite and should handle Illinois. They very well could. The Fighting Illini, however, have only lost one game all season -- a two-pointer to undefeated and 16th ranked Clemson. Sophomore seven-footer Mike Tisdale has really come into his own in the past four games, and he'll pose a major problem for the Boilers down low. I like Purdue here, but it's gonna be a doozy.

The second game this week is also a stellar contest, as the Michigan State Spartans will travel to Minnesota and get a taste of The Barn. It's really difficult to win in that place when the Gophers are mediocre. This year they are better than mediocre, as they bring a 12-0 record in with a neutral court victory over the hype machine from Louisville. If Michigan State shows up, they'll be a much tougher test, but ultimately I'm taking Minnesota to continue their early season confidence-building roll.

Other big games this week: Wisconsin at Michigan (Wednesday afternoon), Ohio State at Minnesota (Saturday mid-day), and Illinois at Michigan (Sunday mid-day).

Player to watch: Other than the aforementioned blossoming Tisdale, let's keep an eye on how DeShawn Sims fares against two quality opponents at home. He's a dark horse for the Big Ten player of the year, but the Wolverines will have to win home games like these for him to be considered. His leadership and development will be tested greatly.

Pre-Conference Power Rankings

1. Purdue -- The losses to Oklahoma and Duke were a blessing in disguise. This team is now grounded and even more motivated.

2. Ohio State
-- They'll have to prove that game against WVU was a fluke, but I believe they will.

3. Michigan State -- Hey, no more ACC teams on the schedule, so it should be smooth sailing.

4. Illinois -- Yes, I'm buying into them. They're young, but balanced and unselfish.

5. Michigan -- As I said above, big week.

6. Minnesota -- I wanna see them beat someone other than an overrated Louisville team. According to my earlier prediction, they will this week. We'll see how it goes.

7. Wisconsin -- They won't get any lower than this, but have they really done anything to inspire confidence against any of the top six at this point? They've lost to the only good teams they've played and barely squeaked by the likes of Iona, Idaho State, and Long Beach State.

8. Penn State -- They haven't been relevant in a long time, but this team is showing signs of the life. The only problem is they haven't played anybody. At least they get to start with Northwestern at home.

9. Northwestern -- They'll take down a few of the titans at home this year with their stellar outside shooting, but there's still just not enough talent here to stay in contention for the league title.

10. Iowa -- It's gonna take Todd Lickliter more time to turn things around completely.

11. Indiana -- Sigh. There's a ton of separation between 10 and 11 here. It really is the Big Ten this year. I have to keep my eyes on the future.

Big Ten Conference Season Set to Begin: A Quick Once-Over originally appeared on NCAA Basketball FanHouse on Mon, 29 Dec 2008 16:25:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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