The Big Ten conference has suddenly become THE dominant league in college basketball. They're being treated much like the SEC in football or the Big East in basketball just a few short years ago. Tweets that simply state 'B1G Ten Basketball' with an exclamation point or a greater than symbol are becoming the norm from the national media. It's starting to seem somewhat juvenile and overhyped, but hey, at least it's justifiable.
The top of the league is filled with serious contenders like Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, and Minnesota, all of whom reside in the top-11 of the current AP poll. Michigan State is right there again on the fringe of being included with those top guns. The Spartans are the most formidable so far from the middle pack that includes Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Not all of these middle teams will get invited to the dance, but it will be a shock to see less than six Big Ten teams in the bracket come March.
So where does that leave Purdue, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State? Welp, there seems to be a pretty wide gap between them and the rest of the league. Maybe it's not as big compared to the middle after Purdue's win in Mackey last night, but that will likely say more of Illinois, who greatly overachieved in the non-conference, than it will of Purdue (already with 6 losses including Eastern Michigan), in my opinion.
The good news for Penn State? Their conference schedule will feature two games against their three fellow bottom-dwellers. Their one-plays consist of trips to Illinois and Michigan State with home games against Ohio State and Minnesota. I don't think any coach considers any Big Ten schedule generous, but Penn State couldn't have asked for a better one-play draw, especially for a team that needs all the breaks it can get. Remember back in 2006 when a bad Northwestern team and one of the worst-ever Purdue clubs combined for 5 of PSU's 7 conference wins that year?
Expectations weren't very high to begin with this year, but without Frazier, they just seem irrelevant now. This roster doesn't have a whole lot to suggest they can compete night-in and night-out in the best league of the land. But to think they can't at least duplicate their 4 conference win total from a year ago seems a bit unfair with this schedule. There are Big Ten-caliber players in the program right now. There's just not enough of them at the right stage in their careers, but the next few months will be used to learn, develop, and prepare for the future.
This has always been a rebuilding process that Chambers has meticulously recruited and planned for until things drastically changed with Tim Frazier's injury. Now with Frazier scheduled to return in 2013-2014, everything has been flipped around. And who can argue it isn't for the better? A full roster comprised mostly of Chambers' recruits that has another year under their belts and returns a talent like Tim Frazier makes for some intriguing possibilities. Especially if some at the top are hit hard by the NBA draft.
But before we get all 'wait 'til next year' on ourselves, the season needs to be played. We'll have to show some patience with this bunch as they attempt the impossible. Surely there will be those demoralizing games, but there will also definitely be glimpses of what is to come.
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