Big Ten basketball: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far

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Michigan, Iowa still rounding into form for another entertaining season

Big Ten: The Best and Worst of 2013-14 So Far

A handful of Big Ten teams are still striving for an identity at this stage of the season, meaning the league may not have a quite the depth top-flight teams as it did last season.

The Big Ten, though, may be the most watchable league in the country again.

Even in losses, Michigan and Iowa managed to entertain during the weekend. Michigan gave No. 1 Arizona all it could handle, and Iowa lost in the waning seconds on the road against Iowa State in the biggest game for the rivalry since 1987.

And that’s not even getting to undefeated Wisconsin and Ohio State and preseason top-four team Michigan State. Even a team like Penn State will be dangerous with the high-scoring duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill.

By the time the conference season comes around, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan will hope they’re ready to take their place as Big Ten title contenders with the top three in the league.

If that happens, the Big Ten won't be far off last season's pace.

Early Season Report Card: Big Ten

NCAA teams as of today: Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State Wisconsin

Bubble watch: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan

Best win: Michigan State 78, Kentucky 74

Worst loss: Illinois State 68, Northwestern 64

Power rankings so far
1. Wisconsin
2. Ohio State
3. Michigan State
4. Iowa
5. Michigan
6. Indiana
7. Illinois
8. Minnesota
9. Penn State
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Northwestern

Important non-conference games remaining
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 21)
Michigan State at Texas (Dec. 21)
Michigan vs. Stanford (Dec. 21)
Illinois vs. Missouri (Dec. 21)
Purdue at West Virginia (Dec. 22)
MVP so far: Keith Appling, Michigan State
Compared to other leagues, the Big Ten doesn’t have a clear MVP (especially when you’ve already decided to list Frank Kaminsky, Noah Vonleh and Rayvonte Rice elsewhere). Appling is as good a candidate as anyone. Tom Izzo hasn’t hesitated to put more pressure on Appling this season as Gary Harris missed two games this season with an ankle injury and Adreian Payne has dealt with a foot injury. Appling has career highs in scoring (16.9 points per game), assists (5.1) and shooting (54.7 percent). With Harris out, Appling scored 21 to escape Oakland 67-63 to avoid an upset.

Top freshman: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 9.6 per game, but his offensive game will need to take the next step if Indiana is going to be a strong NCAA Tournament contender out of the Big Ten. Vonleh is a combined 6 of 11 from the field in the Hoosiers’ three losses to Connecticut, Syracuse and Notre Dame this season.

Top newcomer: Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
Rice has stepped into a team that replaced guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. The junior from Champaign, Ill., who started his career at Drake is averaging 17.7 points and shooting 49.7 from the field. Rice scored 25 points and added 10 rebounds and four steals in Illinois’ signature win of the season at UNLV. Illinois hasn’t fared as well in other games outside of Champaign (Oregon, Georgia Tech), but Rice has given the Illini a major leg up in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Surprise player: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
The seven-foot junior shocked everyone with a 43-point effort against North Dakota in the fourth game of the season after averaging 4.2 points last season. Kaminsky has done enough for the undefeated Wisconsin to prove that game wasn’t a fluke. Kaminsky is averaging 14.7 points in the Badgers’ other 11 games this season. Bo Ryan has a knack for finding his big man, and it seems Kaminksy is the guy this season.

Early season flop: Michigan
Michigan lost its national player of the year point guard and replaced him with a freshman. It’s probably not fair to call Michigan a flop. A two-point loss to Charlotte on a neutral court is the worst offense here, and the Wolverines put up a spirited effort in a 72-70 loss to AP No. 1 Arizona on Saturday. That’s a sign that things may be coming together for Michigan. Saturday was especially encouraging for Glenn Robinson III, who was 8 of 9 from the field with 20 points against the Wildcats. Robinson and Mitch McGary are still adjusting to playing without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr, but freshman point guard Derrick Walton has to be able to deliver more than the 14 minutes he did against Arizona.

Lingering concerns: How good is Ohio State?
Ohio State is 10-0 and ranked second by KenPom.com, but we know little about the Buckeyes. Ohio State has played once outside of Columbus, demolishing Marquette 52-35. The second-best win on the schedule is against Maryland. Even an upcoming non-conference game against Notre Dame has lost luster. Ohio State won’t really be tested until the Buckeyes face Michigan State and Iowa in back-to-back games on Jan. 7 and Jan. 12. By then, Ohio State will hope to have a go-to scorer.

Best NCAA resume: Wisconsin
Never doubt Bo Ryan. The Badgers’ coach who has never finished lower than fourth may have a Big Ten championship team on his hands. The Badgers don’t have a lot of dead weight on their 12-0 schedule so far. Wisconsin has defeated Florida and Marquette at home, Virginia on the road and St. John’s, Saint Louis and West Virginia on neutral courts.

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