The Big Ten moved up the start of men’s basketball conference play this season by a month to accommodate a schedule that will end with its annual postseason tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden a week earlier than normal.
The shift resulted in more two-day turnarounds, including this weekend and early next week when teams play one home game and one road game and again the first week in January when league play is resumed and nonconference games finally end.
The first three weeks of the season have been rough for the Big Ten.
Until Purdue beat then-No. 2 Arizona in the seventh-eighth-place game in the Battle for Atlantis tournament last week after both teams had lost twice in the Bahamas, the Big Ten was 0-for-the-Top 25. Then the Big Ten went out and got demolished by the Atlantic Coast Conference this week, 11-3.
Going into Friday’s games, here is a look at how the teams and players have looked to date:
Most impressive team
Except for its loss to No. 1 Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago to open the season, Michigan State has looked very much like a team that could run away with the Big Ten this season. The Spartans go into their Big Ten opener against Nebraska on Sunday on a roll.
Michigan State showed both its defense and its depth in crushing then-No. 5 North Carolina, 63-45, on Sunday in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore., and did pretty much the same Thursday to new-No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, in the last Big Ten/ACC Challenge game of the season in East Lansing.
Even with sophomore forward Miles Bridges trying to play through an ankle injury, the Spartans have plenty of star power.
Fellow sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford have raised their games from impressive freshman years. Freshman center Jaren Jackson Jr. adds to an already big frontcourt. A deep bench allows Tom Izzo not to wear out his starters.
Most perplexing team
A year ago, Northwestern flew under the radar until making a run, and then earning a spot, in the NCAA tournament for the first time. With nearly all seniors in their starting lineup, the Wildcats were expected to be one of the dark horses to chase down Michigan State.
That is not the way it is looking going into the Big Ten opener Friday night against in-state rival Illinois at AllState Arena, the Wildcats’ home this season while Welsh-Ryan Arena gets renovated. Chris Collins…