I don't know if it has been the lackluster season that the Big Ten just endured - what with the underperforming Michigan teams, the Penn State and Ohio State bowl bans, and the rise of...no one - but I am really looking forward to the NCAA basketball season.
It was quite a shock for me to see Michigan ranked fifth in the nation at the start of the season. They shared the Big Ten regular season title, but ended their 2011-2012 season so badly - with a first round upset by Ohio - that my expectations were low. But apparently my expectations were the only low ones around. With the crop of new freshmen and the loss of only two seniors, the national peoples have high hopes for this team.
I was able to watch their two games this week in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and I am now impressed. On Wednesday they struggled a bit against Pittsburgh, but their defense was fun to watch. They played man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, and it actually looked like they had a defensive scheme. Today against Kansas State it was all about their Offense. Junior Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points, and I was visibly "ooh!"ing at multiple three-point shots taken by a variety of guards. They were definitely in control the entire game.
But it's not only Michigan that has the potential to have a solid season in the Big Ten. The number one team in the nation is Indiana, back in title contention after multiple subpar seasons. Currently above Michigan is Ohio State, which means that the Michigan-OSU basketball game could have more ramifications than the football game being played tomorrow.
And don't forget about Michigan State, who bounced back from a season-opening loss in Germany (which may finally get Tom Izzo and Mike Hollis to finally stop scheduling all these gimicky games) to win their next two games. Minnesota and Wisconsin also have potential to return to the rankings and challenge the conference.
The upcoming ACC-Big Ten Challenge will be a huge test for the Big Ten, and conference play will be a battle. But it has to be a lot more enjoyable than what we watched on Saturdays in the fall.