Big Ten Title Contenders: Who Will Win It All?
As we enter yet another college basketball season, the Big Ten Conference looks to be quite strong.
The conference enters the season with two teams ranked in the Top 10 and five teams total ranked in the Top 25. All but three teams in the conference have lost two or fewer games thus far in the season and two teams remain undefeated this season.
The only other conference that even comes close these kinds of numbers is the Big East, who has been considered the dominant conference in college basketball for the past few years.
The Big Ten should be competitive this year in the postseason tournaments, but how will each Big Ten team fare in the conference standings with such stiff competition and who should be considered legitimate conference championship contenders this season?
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are 8-0 to start the 2010-2011 season with wins on the road against Florida and Florida State.
Head coach Thad Matta has his squad playing on all cylinders early in the season, evident by their fifth-ranked defense in the nation, allowing a mere 54.4 points per game and winning all of their games by double digits.
With four double-doubles in eight games and only one game without a double-digit scoring total, freshman forward Jared Sullinger has led the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding during their hot start to the season. He has averaged an impressive 18.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.2 spg through the first eight games.
A key performance by Sullinger came in the Buckeyes' recent 75-64 victory at home against IUPUI, when he put up 40 points, 13 rebounds and two steals.
Another key contributor is junior G-F David Lighty.
He is averaging 12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.6 apg and 2.0 spg. His best performance thus far has been against Miami (OH), putting up 21 points, six rebounds and six assists en route to a 66-45 home victory.
There are many other key contributors to this squad for scoring, rebounding, etc. who can be relied on any given night to help give OSU the extra boost they need to win a tough game.
Altogether, this Buckeyes squad looks solid enough to not only be among the top contenders for the 2010-11 Big Ten Championship, but also among the top contenders for the 2010-11 NCAA National Championship.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini
Texas is the only team to beat the Illini so far this year, and it was by six points in Austin. This being said, Illinois beat the North Carolina Tar Heels 79-67 at home.
Despite their road loss to the Longhorns, the Illini look like the next best team behind Ohio State in the race for a Big Ten Championship.
Head coach Bruce Weber's squad seems to have one major weakness, which was made painfully obvious in the game against UT, though and that is their weak defense.
Their high-octane offense should be able to wear down their opponent throughout the 40 minutes of each game, though, making things a bit easier on the defensive end.
Senior G Demetri McCamey has led the way for the Illini averaging 15.8 ppg, 7.3 apg, 3.4 rpg and 1.2 spg. His best performance helped propel the Illini to a 74-63 win at home against Oakland. He posted 30 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Another key contributor is senior C Mike Tisdale, the leading rebounder and blocker for the Illini, with 7.2 rpg and 1.7 bpg. He also contributes a decent amount to the offensive success of the team with an average of 11.0 ppg and 1.4 apg.
The Illinois Fighting Illini should be able to put up a good fight against the Buckeyes for the Big Ten Conference championship this year. They aren't national championship-caliber, but they should be able to make a solid run at the NCAA tournament.
If they get good matchups they could possibly make it all the way to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.
3. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Golden Gophers pulled off an impressive 72-67 win at North Carolina followed two days later by an impressive 74-70 win at West Virginia.
The Golden Gophers, led by head coach Tubby Smith, have found their way into the Top 25 and possible contention for the Big Ten Conference championship this season. To win that honor, they will need to have some extremely good play against Ohio State and Illinois throughout the regular season.
Senior G Blake Hoffarber has proven that he brings experience and a consistent scoring threat to the table for this Minnesota squad, especially in the clutch. Hoffarber had his best clutch performance in a key 72-67 road victory against North Carolina, racking up 20 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Junior F Trevor Mbakwe is the other main contributor to the Golden Gophers' great start, averaging a double-double through the first 10 games this season. He has contributed 13.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg and 1.1 spg. He has come through big in some games alongside Hoffarber, with six double-doubles thus far.
His best performance came in the Gophers' 87-79 home loss against Virginia, posting 18 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, an assist and a steal.
The Golden Gophers should be able to compete with Ohio State and Illinois if they can continue to score effectively and play solid defense. They may even be able to compete for a conference championship.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue has gotten off to a great start winning nine of their first 10 games. They hurt their reputation for the season with a double-digit loss at Richmond.
A big part of the Boilermakers' success is their solid ninth-ranked defense, allowing only 56.2 points per game.
Senior G E'Twaun Moore has been a key component in the Boilermakers' hot start, averaging 20.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.6 apg and 1.4 spg. He has put up double-digit scoring in every game this season, with his best overall performance coming in a 103-48 rout against Alcorn State. He posted up 19 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal.
Senior F-C JaJuan Johnson is the other key component that has made major contributions to the Boilermakers' hot start. He has averaged 18.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg and 1.2 apg. His best performance came in a 82-67 win against Oakland, posting up 25 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks.
The Boilermakers have their dynamic duo of Moore and Johnson, who pose a huge scoring threat every time they step on the floor. This alone should put them in the hunt for a conference title along with the stellar defensive play of the entire team as of late.