Like last season, the Big Ten doesn't have one or two teams that stand out above the rest. But if you sit down and start comparing schools, Wisconsin looks like the best team. The Badgers have outstanding players, experience, depth – the ingredients teams need to win conference championships.
I love Devin Harris. He was the preseason player of the year in the conference, and he has done nothing to invalidate his selection. But he's surrounded by good players, and the Badgers have burst out of the gates despite getting nothing from one of their best, Alando Tucker. If he can come back from his foot injury, he should only fortify a very good team.
Wisconsin does it with defense and balanced scoring, and the Badgers play with a swagger and confidence that befits a champion.
Indiana has benefited from the return of George Leach. The Hoosiers' four-game winning streak coincides with his recovery from a knee injury, and that's no accident. He's not a big scorer, but he's a big body who blocks shots, rebounds and scores enough that defenses can't forget about him.
The play of Marshall Strickland and Sean Kline, supplementing what Bracey Wright does, really makes a difference for Indiana.
After watching Purdue over the weekend, I can state that the Boilermakers are a typical Gene Keady team. They don't give up, have senior leadership, defend, make free throws – do all the nuts and bolts that Keady's teams always seem to do. Nothing flashy, just a lot of fight.
Dipping into the middle of the pack, Illinois seems to have built the best NCAA tourney resume to this point. The Illini have stubbed their toe a few times, but they still have piled up some good wins.
I'd put question marks on Michigan State and Michigan. The Spartans entered with such high expectations, but a not-so-funny thing happened in this season's typically robust non-conference schedule – they lost a lot.
Iowa is an interesting group. Losing center Jared Reiner is quite a blow, but the backcourt is good enough that the Hawkeyes might be able to sneak their way into an upper-division finish.
Ohio State expected to be better than it was last season, but the Buckeyes' mix of players has frustrated Jim O'Brien all season. OSU won't be able to have an upper-division finish, and Big Ten teams this year probably need that to avoid the NIT