Those who have studied Big Ten history or were around for the 1970’s remember the era of the “Big 2, Little 8” on the gridiron. Well, let us introduce you to the same situation on the hardwood in 2014-15, and that’s because there are just two teams who have what it takes to be Big Ten champions.
While we have yet to play a Big Ten game, it has become abundantly clear that there are two teams who are the class of what we’ve seen so far from this conference — the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers.
Over the past few years the conference has borne witness to tight races for the Big Ten regular season championship, with as many as five teams involved down the stretch last season alone. Yet, through the first six weeks of non-conference play the Big Ten has given us just two teams playing good enough basketball to even be considered for the title right now.
Michigan was young but a favorite. Instead it has faltered against multiple mid-major programs. The feel-good story of 2013-14, Nebraska, has lost its mojo from last season and Michigan State can’t find a way to win a big game so far this season.
That leaves us with two teams who have done just about everything asked of them in the non-conference season, and Saturday was the best example of that for both OSU and Wisconsin.
The Badgers are 10-1 and the Buckeyes 8-1 following blowout wins for both teams on Saturday. Wisconsin took it to Nicholls State in a 43-point win and Ohio State won 87-71 over Morehead State in a game that was much different from the score indicated.
Yet, the scorelines of both games aren’t the reason why this was a good example of how these two are clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Big Ten. It was the fact that both teams got massive performances from the three-headed monster they both have.
Ohio State needs the formula of freshman star D’Angelo Russell along with veterans Sam Thompson and Amir Williams to come up big, while the Badgers need the star trio of Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky to play well.
That happened in major ways for both teams on Saturday. Ohio State got 42 of its 87 points from the trio, with Russell and Sam Thompson pouring in 15 points and Williams adding 12 points to the cause. In total OSU had four players reach double figures.
Wisconsin saw five players reach double figures and all three of the big names were part of the effort. Dekker had 17 points to lead the way, Hayes put in 12 and Kaminsky had 10 before the Badgers turned to their bench for most of the second half.
It shouldn’t be shocking to see it happening because all six players were keys before the season started, but when you look around the rest of the Big Ten the fact that both teams are getting major contributions from three players is what separates them from the rest of the league.
So is the consistency with which both teams find three significant contributors each game.
Sure, both have losses to high-end competition on their records (Wisconsin to Duke at home and OSU to Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten challenge), but so does everyone else in the Big Ten — and both of these teams own some other nice wins on the resume early in the season.
Wisconsin took home the Battle 4 Atlantis title in a loaded field, winning games over UAB, Georgetown and Oklahoma in the process. It turns out those wins are more impressive than going through Florida, UCLA or North Carolina would’ve looked on paper.
Ohio State also has a nice win over a scrappy Marquette team and every win its gotten this season has been by double digits.
What is missing on their resumes are the disastrous losses the rest of the conference has. Outside of Maryland’s neutral court (and that was questionable at best at Hilton South) win over No. 13 Iowa State in the CBE Classic there aren’t many impressive wins from the conference this season.
You could point to Iowa’s win over a ranked North Carolina, but that would require someone thinking the Tar Heels are actually worthy of being ranked and I’m not in that corner.
Beyond that the Big Ten doesn’t own a lot of great wins, and furthermore they don’t have rosters as deep and as full of multi-talented scorers like Ohio State and Wisconsin have.
If the Badgers are missing something from Dekker or Hayes or Kaminsky we’ve seen both Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson step up to the plate. For Ohio State it is Marc Loving, who is actually second on the Buckeyes in scoring (10.9ppg), helping to lead should Amir Williams or others have issues on the scoring front.
In a season of transition for the Big Ten, the Badgers and Buckeyes have found themselves clearly at the top of the heap because they know who they are and they execute that to the fullest.
The rest of the Big Ten is playing catch up, and unless they figure it out quickly in conference play it could be Ohio State and Wisconsin running away at the top of the league by the time February rolls around on the calendar.