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Big Ten Basketball Poll: 3-0, baby

Okay. So the competition's been lousy, and the margins of victory have been distressingly slim. Nonetheless, Iowa basketball is 3-0, and that's a welcome respite from the hell that is this football season. Say what you will about the lowered expectations that accompany this season, but we're coming off a messy divorce with the Hair Gel and we will take anything right now.

Let's just hope Alcoholic Daddy doesn't figure out where Carver is.

Anyway, onto this week's basketball poll!*

1. Indiana
Eric Gordon is legit, and it's probably too late for Kelvin Sanctions to negatively impact his team's postseason eligibility. Add in the fact that they don't have Tom Coverdale, A.J. Moye, or Dane Fife, and I don't even have the visceral hate for the Hoosiers that I had harbored ever since one of those pricks bit Duez Henderson and fired a basketball off Jacob Jaacks's face on an inbound. Fuck them.

2. Wisconsin
I... I'm sorry. I can't even look at Bo Ryan the same anymore. Not after this. Let's just move on.

3. Michigan State
I'm willing to overlook the GVSU debacle for now--to a point. Drew Neitzel as the preseason Big Ten POY? Really? First of all, what a ridiculous award to give out. What's the point? Second, I'm not totally sold on their front court. Goran Suton is routinely hilarious in his ability to give the ball up under no duress whatsoever. If you ever want to watch a 6'11" man dribble a ball off his own foot or blow two straight layups with nobody around him, Suton is your man. Then there's Marquise Gray, who's supremely athletic on each side of the ball but utterly clueless with the ball in his hand. Those two aren't even the worst of MSU's offenders; Idong Ibok (giggle) was matched only by Minnesota's Kevin Payton in terms of giving the ball up. The Wonk covered their turnover woes extensively last year, and I imagine that the pages of Basketball Prospectus will be similarly pre-occupied this year. Shame, really; they're talented enough to run away with the conference.

4. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are probably too young to be any higher than fourth right now, and even this seems like a bit of a stretch. You can't lose three first-round guys (#1, #3, and #21) and still be a well-oiled machine, right? Um, right?

While noting that doubting Thad Matta is always a dangerous prospect, it just seems like Jamar Butler and Othella Hunter are solid seniors, but nowhere near as capable as Oden, Conley, or even Daequan Cook. They'll also be missing Je'Kel Foster, and I'm not sold on where ALL those perimeter points are coming from. Is Butler giving the Bucks 20-25 a game? Doesn't he sort of have to, at least early on?

5. Illinois
Bruce Weber's a fine coach, but isn't his recruiting a bit suspect at this point? They're three years removed from being runners-up to the title, and all they've got on their roster to show for it is Shaun Pruitt, Brian Randle, and that's about it. Even Chief Illiniwek is gone, angering hundreds of xenophobic frat boys dressed in neon orange. Who's going to score on this team?

6. Purdue

invisible basketball

The fact that a team as underexperienced as Purdue can be at the middle of the pack in this conference is more a testament to the Big Ten's woeful glut of mediocre teams, ranging from a likely 10 seed in Illinois to a slew of stay-at-home-in-March types. There could be three teams that don't even crack .500 on the season. Purdue will not be one, however; they're very young, but it's hard not to like guys like Chris Kramer and the superbly-named JaJuan Johnson. 9 wins in the conference ought to be enough to get them to sneak into the Dance again.

7. Minnesota
Okay, so Tubby Smith's up there now. Um, so? He'll have less talent than at any point in his Kentucky career. Granted, the argument there is his UK rosters are indicators of his stellar record as a recruiter, and there's some merit to that. Nonetheless, Kentucky's a far easier school to recruit to than Minnesota is. It's time for Tubby's first rough test as a coach: can he do it with an undertalented squad? All he's got to work with is Kubiac from Parker Lewis Can't Lose Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman, a 6'9" forward who misses far more shots than he should. Their guard play is nearly non-existent, and that'll have to change before they move into the upper echelon of the conference.

8. Michigan
I like John Beilein a lot, but I have a nagging suspicion that he, like Lickliter, doesn't have the personnel necessary to run his system effectively. Not yet, anyway. While we're deprived of the sheer comedy that would be Brent Petway in a perimeter-oriented offense, there just aren't enough accurate long-range bombers for 2007 Michigan to resemble early-decade West Fuckin' Virginia.

9. Iowa
3-0! 3-0! Homerism! Homerism!

10. Penn State
Quoting directly from The Wonk:

Worst Big Ten defenses, 2005-07
Opponent points per possession, conference games only
Penn State, 2007     1.19
Penn State, 2005     1.14
Penn State, 2006     1.13

Northwestern, 2007   1.10  

In its way, this was a remarkable performance. No other major-conference team last year exhibited, for good or ill on offense or on defense, the same level of across-the-board consistency that Penn State demonstrated--for ill; very, very ill--on defense. Looking at the six major defensive categories, we find that over the course of the conference season the Nittany Lions ranked either ninth (opponent turnover percentage), tenth (defensive rebound percentage) or dead last (opponent points per possession, opponent effective FG percentage, opponent 2FG percentage, and opponent 3FG percentage) in every category.

Sorry, but as much as I like Geary Claxton (he's only a junior still eligible? isn't he, like, 30?) and Jamelle Cornley, there's not much to suggest that the defensive woes won't continue to submarine the Nits' hopes.

11. Northwestern
The Cats have a legitimate ballplayer in Kevin Coble. He rebounds, shoots, and passes well. And that's all that's good about the Cats this year. Still, those readers of ours in the Chicagoland area should think about picking up some tickets at Welsh-Ryan Arena. You'll inevitably find yourself thinking, "What a tenacious rebound! And that bounce pass was perfect! Imagine if Sterling Williams hadn't thrown the ball over the backboard!" Yes, the Wildcats are still terrible, and as long as Coble is at home with his gravely ill mother (a far more noble decision than any that can be made on a basketball court), they must occupy the lowest rung of this ladder.

*(DISCLAIMER: Rankings are wildly premature, given scant seconds of thought, and subject to gross amounts of change. If you disagree, you are probably right.)