Point/counterpoint: Which Big Ten basketball team is the best?

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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Indiana (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten)

In a conference as deep as the Big Ten, it’s difficult to choose the best team.

But all season, one team has stood out above the rest: the Indiana Hoosiers.

Yes, they have lost games. Cody Zeller staring as Illinois’ Tyler Griffey cut down the lane and laid the ball in as time expired was an embarrassment. But no other team in the conference is as talented, deep, and versatile as the Hoosiers.

Michigan lives and dies by the outside shot. Michigan State feeds the ball to Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne, and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft just isn’t enough of a star to lead his team to any sort of title.

The Hoosiers are the whole package.

Indiana would be a force to be reckoned with if “Big Handsome” Zeller was its only superb player, but he’s not. With Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, and Will Sheehey in the equation, Indiana is about as star-studded as any college team can be. This is a team that can score inside, outside, and in between with ease.

Oladipo and Watford lead the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage. Zeller is third in the conference in scoring with 16.6 points per contest, and the team is in the top five in many other major statistical categories. The Hoosiers also have one of the best coaches in all of college basketball in Tom Crean.

Indiana’s wins show just how good of a team it is, and its losses show how strong a conference it playa in. This is a team that beat both Michigan and Ohio State by double digits and beat Michigan State by 5. This is a team that has lost three games by a total of 9 points, and it has earned its spot at the top of the polls with every Big Ten win.

Indiana has a tough stretch of schedule ahead of it, with games at Michigan State, Minnesota, and Michigan. But the Hoosiers have proved themselves against all of those teams, and they will prove themselves again, both in the regular and postseason.

In Big Handsome, they trust.

— by Matt Cabel

Michigan State (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten)

Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten. Despite a rough start, the Spartans are first in the nation’s premier conference with a 10-2 conference record, and they are rolling. On Tuesday night Michigan State whipped archrival Michigan by a score of 75-52. Since the turn of the New Year, Michigan State boasts a 10-1 record, featuring wins over Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan during that stretch.

Tom Izzo’s bunch has a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backcourt. Junior guard Keith Appling has put together a solid season by averaging 14 points, 4 dishes, and 3.7 boards per game. More importantly, he’s hit clutch shots in the final minutes of big games against Ohio State and Kansas.

Appling’s running mate, freshman guard Garry Harris, is wise beyond his years. He doesn’t look, or play, like a freshman — he averages just under 13 points per game. Harris is a nice complement to Appling because of his shooting abilities. Currently, Harris is shooting 43.6 percent from behind the arc.

Michigan States also boasts a stout frontcourt — Adrian Payne and Derrick Nix are beasts down low. Both players are averaging more than 9 points and 6 boards per game. These two make it difficult for opponents to attack the basket and score down low. Additionally, they are ferocious rebounders who provide a defensive presence. Sophomore small forward Branden Dawson is a gifted athlete who is the X-factor for the Spartans.

Michigan St. possesses a solid starting five with quality role players coming off the bench. The Spartans are a physical team that plays an intimidating style of defense that can stifle potent offenses like Michigan’s. The Spartans have a real chance to not only win the Big Ten’s regular season crown, but they can do damage in the NCAA Tournament. When considering their solid guard play, a tenacious frontcourt, and a national champion coach who has been to six Final Fours, Michigan St has a recipe for success in March.

— by Dominick White

Ohio State (17-6, 7-4)

Yes, Ohio State has recently lost to four Big Ten opponents; yes, all four of those teams are ranked; and yes, Ohio State is fifth in the Big Ten standings, but it is the best team in the Big Ten.

Ohio State does have six losses on the season, which may seem like a lot for a team that I’m trying to argue is tops in the conference, but when you look at the quality of opponents the Buckeyes have faced, that loss total seems a little more reasonable.

Every single loss has been to a ranked opponent. Michigan State is the lowest-ranked team the Buckeyes have lost to this season, and it’s the 18th best, according to the polls at the time. Every other Big Ten team has at least one loss to an unranked opponent.

Ohio State isn’t completely incapable of matching up against top-tier opponents, however. Don’t forget that the Buckeyes defeated Michigan by 3 back on Jan. 13, when it was ranked No. 2 in the nation.

The Buckeyes did get destroyed by No. 1 Indiana this past Sunday, but aside from that, every loss has been within 10 points, with three of them being decided by 5 or fewer. If those games go the other way, this argument would be much easier.

Statistically, the Buckeyes don’t really stand out that much as a team. With 71.7 points per game, Ohio State has the fourth highest scoring output in the conference. The team is third in the Big Ten in points allowed with 59.1.

The Buckeyes still have four games against opponents that are ranked or were at one point this season. Hopefully, they’ll be able to prove just how good a team they are in the Big Ten. With victories against No. 8 Michigan State and No. 1 Indiana, the Buckeyes should get those wins against ranked teams that have been evading them so far.

— by Tommy Reinking

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