On Thursday, I made picks for the Big East, Pac-12, West Coast and Conference USA. I had planned on doing four more by today, but things don’t always go to plan, so today I’ll just go over the Big Ten and Missouri Valley, which started this week and have a full group of games today, then do the Big XII and Colonial Athletic Conference by Monday Night (when Baylor-Texas A&M and the CAA schedule commences).
BIG TEN CONFERENCE
The Big Ten rates as the top conference on average as we enter conference season. It has quality at the top and plenty of depth. 9 of the teams have double digit wins already, and 8 of them are ranked in the top 50 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. It is Wisconsin who sits atop those rankings despite a 12-2 record, while Ohio State is ranked 2nd. Indiana has the win over Kentucky, but did just lose their opener in the conference at Michigan State. The Spartans played a tough schedule early and lost to North Carolina and Duke, but the young squad has come on. Purdue, Michigan and Illinois all look like tournament teams, while Minnesota and Northwestern have a chance if they get some key conference wins, of which they will have plenty of opportunity.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: I know that Wisconsin is rated highly in the Pomeroy rankings, but Ohio State’s lone loss came without Jared Sullinger (at Kansas) and until they get knocked out, I’m picking the Ohio State Buckeyes to win. The 2nd place finisher and 3rd place finishers should still get very high seeds in March. I’ll go with Wisconsin ahead of Indiana (the Hoosiers play the Badgers only once, and it’s at the Kohl Center), followed by Michigan State.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: Plenty of good players, but it is Jared Sullinger‘s award to lose. Cody Zeller of Indiana should win Freshman of the Year, and will be in consideration for honors along with teammate Christian Watford. Tim Hardaway, Jr. of Michigan, the venerable Robbie Hummel of Purdue, and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin will also be in first team contention.
MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE
After a somewhat down year in 2010-2011, when the regular season winner (Missouri State) didn’t get an at-large bid, the “Valley” has acquitted itself well early this season, and should be in position to claim at least one at-large, and maybe two extra bids this year come March depending on how things shake out. Wichita State has a quality win at UNLV and two losses that are solid in Alabama and Temple in overtime. Creighton beat up on the bottom of the Big Ten (Iowa and Nebraska), beat San Diego State, and has no bad losses. Northern Iowa beat both Iowa State and Iowa. Missouri State played a solid schedule and had some close losses (overtime vs. West Virginia and against Oklahoma State). They just went on the road to Creighton to open the conference and got a big win. Last year’s tournament champ, Indiana State, has a road win at Vanderbilt.
Winner and Top 3 Finishers: Wichita State is the pick to win, and the other teams will be fighting to finish in prime position to secure an at-large berth. I’ll say Missouri State comes on with the strength of their early win at Creighton (though they’ll need more impressive wins to get into the bubble talk with 5 non-conference losses), edging out the Blue Jays. Northern Iowa will also be in the mix with coach Ben Jacobsen. Even though Missouri State may pip the other two in the conference standings, Creighton is the more likely at-large candidate.
Conference Player of the Year Pick: Creighton sophomore forward Doug McDermott, the coach’s son, is leading the nation with 25.4 points a game, and averages nearly 9 rebounds. He’s a lock to win the award if he stays healthy.
[photo via Getty]