Three weeks of college basketball are in the books. As expected there have been surprises, disappointments, and a handful of teams without a blemish on their record (22 to be exact) thus far in 2012.
Gonzaga (7-0, closest game: 57-49 win over Clemson on Nov. 22) has arguably been the most impressive team, but what about the most impressive conference?
Enough with the ACC-Big East talk, can we please give the Big Ten some love? The conference possesses the nation’s top-ranked team (Indiana) and is one of only two conferences (SEC – Florida, LSU, Ole Miss) with three remaining unbeatens in Indiana (8-0), Illinois (8-0), and Michigan (7-0). Typically, the Big Ten is associated with “walk-it-up-the-court,” slow-paced, 42-41 nail-biters, but this year that is not the case… At all.
Indiana (87.8 ppg) is second in the nation in scoring while Michigan (79.9 ppg) and Illinois (79.5 ppg) are 24th and 28th respectively. Conference play is right around the corner and with North Carolina having somewhat of a rebuilding year, the stage is set for Michigan and Indiana to have the most exciting, competitive rivalry in college basketball. They will battle it out all season for the Big Ten crown, but the boys from Columbus aren’t going to lay over for anyone and don’t forget about Mr. Final Four himself, Tom Izzo, and Michigan State.
Watch Indiana play for just five minutes and try to convince yourself that you don’t want a pair of those candy-cane striped pants. You can’t do it.
Richardson has been tough as nails for No. 13 Illinois. (Credit: Illinois Sports Information)
That brings us to the dark horse in the conversation of the Big Ten champion: Illinois. If the best prescription for late season success is solid guard-play, the Illini are in good shape with Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Paul (18.3 ppg and 48% from the field) leads the team in scoring, while Richardson leads the team in rebounding and shoots 85% from the FT line. While they may have lucked out with their matchups of Chaminade and Butler in Hawai’i instead of Texas and North Carolina, Illinois didn’t trail for a single second in their Maui Invitational title run. That’s what some might call domination.
While the Big Ten has caught our attention early this season, here are some other numbers that merit a look elsewhere around the country:
Don’t let their 4-2 record and recent 80-51 drubbing at the hands of Creighton fool you… St. Joe’s is good this year. Very good. They have tremendous scoring balance (six players averaging 9+ ppg) and have played a tough early non-conference schedule (Florida State, (20)Notre Dame, and @ (11) Creighton). The only remaining tough games on their schedule are all A-10 contests. Look for the Hawks to finish with no more than four or five losses.
Like rebounding? Then I strongly suggest you take time to watch Cole Dickerson from San Francisco. The 6-foot 7 junior has the innate ability to grab rebounds that he has no business getting. Hustle, positioning, footwork, he has it all. His 15.0 rebounds per game are easily tops in the country and don’t be surprised if he ends up having a Kenneth Faried-esque season (17 ppg and 14 rpg) for the Dons.
(Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech)
Don’t look now, but Virginia Tech is the real deal. What?! Well, maybe. At 7-0 and coming off quality wins over Iowa and (15) Oklahoma State, the Hokies are taking care of business. Erick Green (24.9 ppg) is a scoring machine and the team is fourth in the country in scoring at 86.9, but their 14 assists per game (109th nationally) suggests they may be playing a little too selfishly. With ACC play looming, questions will soon be answered if they are, in fact, for real.
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