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Big Ten not living up to preseason sizzle

I feel cheated. Wronged. Taken advantage of

Like I was told dinner would be filet mignon prepared by Bobby Flay only to have greasy ground chuck slapped on my plate by a cigarette-puffing, hair-netted cafeteria lunch lady.

That’s the Big Ten basketball season so far: a serving of unappetizing substance that can’t live up to the pre-meal sizzle.

Touted as possibly the strongest and deepest conference in the nation before the season, the Big Ten looks no better – and possibly worse – than last season when five of 12 conference teams made the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio State has exceeded expectations – despite being ranked a top-five school by most analysts in the preseason – as the Buckeyes remain the country’s lone undefeated team with a 24-0 record. Penn State (12-10, 5-6 Big Ten) and Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) are the only other teams that can be considered mild surprises, though any success under Bo Ryan can no longer be considered shocking for the Badgers.

But the other eight teams have either met or failed to live up to preseason predictions. Following is a list of those teams in descending order to the most disappointing team in the conference.

8. Iowa (10-13, 3-8)

– Three wins for the Hawkeyes under first-year coach Fran McCaffery could be considered growth, but nonconference losses to South Dakota State, Long Beach State and Iowa State still sting.

7. Purdue (18-5, 7-3)

– Once Robbie Hummell was ruled out for the season with another ACL injury, the Boilermakers faced an uphill battle in living up to the Final Four hype. Seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have played at an All-Big Ten level. But due to an average, inconsistent supporting cast, Purdue struggles when either Johnson or Moore has an off game.

6. Michigan (14-10, 4-7)

–  The Wolverines have some young talent, but a marquee win over Michigan State at the Breslin Center last month is less impressive given the Spartans’ state of affairs and double-digit losses to Indiana and Northwestern.

5. Indiana (12-12, 3-8)

– Two home wins over once-ranked opponents (Illinois and Minnesota) is nice, but shouldn’t that be expected in Year 3 under Tom Crean? I expected bigger strides for the Hoosiers, though they’verecently played well despite injuries to starters Maurice Creek, Verdell Jones III and Christian Watford.

4. Minnesota (16-7, 5-6)

– I never bought Tubby Smith’s squad as a top-20 team nationally. Still, I expected a big, athletic front court to carry Minnesota to the next tier in the Big Ten. But Al Nolen’s injury and Devoe Joseph’s transfer (off-the-court troubles continue for Smith’s Gophers) has depleted an already weak backcourt. But an easy non-conference schedule has the Gophers still in the mix for the NCAA Tournament.

3. Northwestern (14-8, 4-7)

– Nope, it’s still not the year for the Wildcats. Despite a home win over Illinois last week, Northwestern still faces a tough road to make the NCAA Tournament. John Shurna’s injuries (high ankle sprain, concussion) have slowed a once-potent offense, and Drew Crawford isn’t quite a star yet.

2. Illinois (15-8, 5-5)

– A mix of seniors and talented upperclassmen was supposed to key Bruce Weber’s team past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Illinois is worried about making the tournament for the second straight season and third time in four years. The seniors’ production has regressed, and sophomores D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are as inconsistent as freshmen. Few teams have received less out of their talent …

1. Michigan State (13-10, 5-6)

… Except Sparty. Riding an unlikely Final Four appearance, Tom Izzo’s squad came into the season as the No. 2-ranked team. Last year’s tournament heroes have hurt the team more than they’ve helped. Izzo has criticized Durrell Summers for a lack of passion, and Korie Luscious was dismissed for the remainder of the season last month. Kalin Lucas has played well after returning from an Achilles injury, but is not the same player that won Big Ten Player of the Year honors two years ago. Most expected Michigan State to be fighting for the Big Ten crown and a No. 1 seed in February, not an NCAA bid.

So much for the Big Ten taking over. The Big East still rules college basketball with half of its 16 teams in the AP Top 25, and two more receiving votes.

Despite the conference’s disappointments, the Big Ten still may be the second best conference in the land. The Big 12 has strength on top (No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Texas) but little depth. Duke still rules the ACC, and the Pac-10 and SEC have a combined four teams in the top-25.

Still, I was told the from top-to-bottom, the B1G would be the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas.

Outside of Ohio State, this steak lacks the sizzle.

Jeremy Werner is the co-host of the “Tay and J Show,” which airs on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM and on www.myconnectfm.com. Post your comments below or e-mail Jeremy atjeremy@myconnectfm.com.

Categories: Illinois basketball
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