Maybe the ‘Average 11' Doesn't Suck After All

It's becoming an annual tradition to hate on the Big Ten these days, and in recent years it's been hard to argue. The results haven't been great for the once mighty conference as a whole, even if there was a standout team -- Ohio State as national runner-up, for example.

As we inch closer to the conference season this year, however, it may be a bit lazy -- and even arrogant -- to start slapping the moniker "Average 11," or titles far more disrespectful, on these teams. In this non-conference season, they have proven their worth on several different occasions. This past weekend presented a coming out party for two teams.

We've already covered Michigan's resurgence, as they've now taken down both UCLA and Duke. I was actually surprised to not see them get more love in the rankings, but that loss in Maryland kept them out.

Ohio State should be quickly climbing the polls as well, after taking down two ranked opponents in the past week, neither of which was a home game (they played at Miami and against Notre Dame in Indianapolis). Gary Parrish has them ninth, but they didn't see any action in the official polls.

Adding these two to the expected upper-echelon trio of Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Purdue; the Big Ten appears to have a very strong top five.

As was on display in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where a two-point swing in one of a few games would have meant the Big Ten's first victory, the lower group of teams is quite strong. Other than my beloved Hoosiers, who are in for a long season, the conference is very strong top-to-bottom. Let's take a quick swing through the teams.

Minnesota - Tubby Smith's got his boys out to an 8-0 start, though they haven't really faced tough competition. That will change on December 20th when Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals

visit the barn. That is a really tough place to play, especially if you've never been there before

. (EDIT: They play in Glendale, AZ. Thanks for the correction in the comments section). I still predict a Gophers upset victory. Why not?

Ohio State - Luke Harangody actually did play for the Irish, and it wasn't enough to beat Ohio State. Evan Turner was a monster, and highly-touted seven-foot freshman B.J. Mullens will only get better as the season progresses. It's smooth sailing for the Bucks until a December 27th home bout against Bob Huggins' West Virginia squad. I like Ohio State in this one, and they'll head into conference play undefeated.

Illinois - Only slipped against undefeated Clemson by two. They've won at Vandy and embarrassed Georgia. They face one more test before heading into conference play, a likely doozy in the Busch Bragging Rights game against Missouri in St. Louis.

Northwestern - They lost at Butler, but manhandled Florida State -- who just beat Florida -- and DePaul. They aren't going to be a good team, but for the 10th best team in the league the are no pushover.

Iowa - They were blown out by a very solid West Virginia team and lost a heartbreaker at Boston College. It does appear, however, that Todd Lickliter is making the Hawkeye faithful forget about the Steve Alford administration -- which has moved on to, ahem, greener pastures.

Michigan - Already covered their body of work and rise to the upper half of the conference. They won't be stumbling again out of conference, so that means they get Wisconsin on New Year's Eve at home with a 10-2 record. The Wolverines are back.

Penn State - Winning at Georgia Tech was summarily wiped out with a home loss to Temple. Even since the Crispen brothers departed, the Nittany Lions basketball program has been a laughingstock. This team has the potential to change that, but they can't go on losing to Rhode Island and Temple at home.

Purdue - They've lost to two really solid teams, but been exposed in those two losses. They likely aren't an elite team yet, and expectations were just a little out of control to start the season. Still, they are very solid and will remain towards the top of the heap.

Wisconsin - Once again, they are going to be good, but not great. You can expect them to trample the next three opponents before losing handily to Texas.

Michigan State - They've easily been the most disappointing team in the league thus far, but I'm confident Tom Izzo gets them on the right track before February. They brutal non-conference schedule (Maryland, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Texas, Kansas) will prepare them for March.

Indiana - I have to say, losing to Gonzaga by only 16 was encouraging. I have high hopes for the 2010-2011 campaign, and think that next year they can be a fringe NCAA tourney team. This year, however, is a learning process. Learning how to accept blowout defeats is a major part of the curve.

Look, the bottom line is that this is a solid conference once again. While it's certainly never gonna be confused with the Big East, it's right with the Big 12 and the SEC. I'll stand by that this year and allow the upper-tier Big Ten teams prove my point in March.

Maybe the 'Average 11' Doesn't Suck After All originally appeared on NCAA Basketball FanHouse on Mon, 08 Dec 2008 13:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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