Big Ten hoops: 14 teams, 14 takes

Big Ten hoops: 14 teams, 14 takes

With conference play tipping off tonight, beat writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down all 14 league teams ...

ILLINOIS (2-5)

The Illini's best player so far is ... Trent Frazier. There's a reason he's had the ball in his hands with a chance to win the game against Gonzaga and Notre Dame. Brad Underwood has nothing but trust in his scoring, assists and steals leader.

Their big November moment was ... nearly taking down the No. 3 Bulldogs in Maui. Illinois was a serious underdog facing Rui Hachimura and Co., but a late second half rally made the idea of an upset nearly a reality. Any momentum from that near upset, though, proved fleeting.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... still a year away at best.

INDIANA (5-2)

The Hoosiers' best player so far is ... Romeo Langford. Archie Miller did what Tom Crean couldn't. Land Indiana's top talent. Langford is already rewarding the second-year coach, averaging 17.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.

Their big November moment was ... a top 25 win against then No. 24 Marquette in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, adding to the Big Ten's dominant run in this year's series. Langford had a game-high 22 points and was one of four players in double figures in the Hoosiers' 23-point victory.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... solid, should injury issues not worsen.

IOWA (6-0)

The Hawkeyes' best player so far is ... Tyler Cook. No surprise here. Cook took all of his feedback from the NBA pre-draft process and has used it to elevate his game. His scoring might be down a bit, but he's rebounding and facilitating more.

Their big November moment was ... winning the 2K Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project by taking down then No. 13 Oregon and throttling UConn at Madison Square Garden. That vaulted Iowa into the top 25, and the unbeaten Hawkeyes are now a top 15 team in their own right.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... solid unless their great November turns out to be unsustainable.

MARYLAND (6-1)

The Terrapins' best player so far is ... Anthony Cowan. He essentially had to be after Maryland lost Kevin Huerter and the oft-injured Justin Jackson to the NBA draft. The 6-foot-1 point guard is putting up 16.6 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game.

Their big November moment was ... jumping into the top 25 in the final week of the month, albeit with just a single top 100 win. Will that hold in the first week of December? Losing to No. 4 Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge doesn't help.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... good — especially if their strong freshman class continues to improve.

MICHIGAN (7-0)

The Wolverines' best player so far is ... Ignas Brazdeikis. Michigan had to replace both Moe Wagner and Duncan Robinson this offseason. Brazdeikis has arguably filled a combined role between the two as a scorer/rebounder.

Their big November moment was ... either getting some revenge on Villanova (on the Wildcats' home court no less) or beating North Carolina on Wednesday night. Take your pick.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... a lock.

MICHIGAN STATE (5-2)

The Spartans' best player so far is ... Joshua Langford. And that's exactly what Michigan State needed. His improvements in a year's time (scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting in particular) have made a difference.

Their big November moment was ... a tournament title in Las Vegas during Thanksgiving week with wins against a ranked UCLA team and an upstart Texas squad.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... without a doubt good.

MINNESOTA (5-1)

The Gophers' best player so far is ... Jordan Murphy. The 6-7 double-double machine hasn't changed — at all. Murphy has five double-doubles in six games this season, including a 15-point, 17-rebound and six-assist effort against Santa Clara.

Their big November moment was ... coming home from the Vancouver Showcase with a title after beating Washington, Santa Clara and Texas A&M.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... certainly better than last year's.

NEBRASKA (6-1)

The Huskers' best player so far is ... James Palmer. There have been moments where Palmer has been asked to do maybe too much, but he's producing at All-Big Ten levels for a second straight season.

Their big November moment was ... their last November moment with a 68-66 victory on Monday night at (just outside the top 25) Clemson.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... dependent on being the dangerous team everyone thinks it is.

NORTHWESTERN (6-1)

The Wildcats' best player so far is ... Vic Law. A healthy Law is a dangerous Law. The 6-7 power wing is averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists so far.

Their big November moment was ... Wednesday's Big Ten/ACC Challenge victory against Georgia Tech that was better than their 52-51 loss to the Yellow Jackets a year ago.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... probably disproportionate to their current record.

OHIO STATE (6-1)

The Buckeyes' best player so far is ... Kaleb Wesson. This is a fairly balanced Ohio State team, but Wesson's 14.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game are both team highs.

Their big November moment was ... winning away from home — twice — in their first three games. Those victories at Cincinnati and Creighton were directly responsible for getting Ohio State into the top 25.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... tied to how they finish the Big Ten season.

PENN STATE (4-2)

The Nittany Lions' best player so far is ... Lamar Stevens. Tony Carr's early departure to the NBA essentially made this Stevens' team, and his 23 points and 8.7 rebounds per game have solidified that notion.

Their big November moment was ... upsetting No. 13 Virginia Tech on Tuesday — especially after losing to both DePaul and Bradley.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... an uphill climb given the aforementioned losses.

PURDUE (5-2)

The Boilermakers' best player so far is ... Carsen Edwards. Duh. The 6-1 guard has the ball in his hands — a lot — and he's taking advantage as one of 13 players nationally to put up at least 25 points per game.

Their big November moment was ... beating Davidson on a neutral court? Their toughest nonconference challenges have been losses to ranked Virginia Tech and Florida State teams.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... just OK? Some elite Big Ten wins will help.

RUTGERS (5-1)

The Scarlet Knights' best player so far is ... Eugene Omoruyi. Geo Baker's been solid, too, but Omoruyi is bringing a little bit of everything to the table averaging 15 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

Their big November moment was ... getting a true signature win with a 57-54 victory Wednesday at Miami. It was Rutgers' first-ever victory in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... still in the planning stages at this point.

WISCONSIN (6-1)

The Badgers' best player so far is ... Ethan Happ. He's still the best player that can't shoot, but you can't argue with Happ's production (18 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and two blocks per game).

Their big November moment was ... a 20-point win against Oklahoma even if they only scored 46 points in their next game against Virginia.

Briefly, their NCAA tournament chances are ... better if Brad Davison snaps out of his current fun

.... and our college basketball writer offers up a few projections that may happen between now and March.

GAME OF THE YEAR — March 9: Michigan at Michigan State

It's not a stretch to think the regular season Big Ten championship could be decided on the penultimate day of the regular season in East Lansing, Mich. There's three-plus months for this not to be the case, but Michigan and Michigan State are fairly clearly the top two teams in the league right now. Michigan had the upper hand a year ago — beating the Spartans twice — so that only adds another wrinkle.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Archie Miller

The leap the Hoosiers will make in Miller's second season — i.e. 16-15 a year ago to a potential (likely) NCAA tournament team — is just the first note on Miller's candidacy for the Big Ten's top coach. Having Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan makes it easier, but Indiana is (mostly) winning now despite having as few as six scholarship players available at times in the first month of the season.

COACH WITH THE HOTTEST SEAT: Pat Chambers 

He might have received a contract extension through the 2020-21 season after guiding Penn State to an NIT title last season, but early losses to DePaul and Bradley have set the tone for perhaps another season without an NCAA appearance. That would be Chambers' eighth in (not so) Happy Valley. Mike Watkins' early season suspension certainly didn't help Penn State's chances in the first month.

BEST NCAA CHAMPION HOPEFUL: Michigan

It's hard to argue against the Wolverines at this point of the season given the wins John Beilein's squad have already put on the board. It's a prototypical Beilein team, too. There might not be that one guy who dominates the league, but that doesn't exactly leave Michigan wanting for talent. Plus, if defense wins championships, just give it to the Wolverines now. They're currently No. 1 in defensive efficiency.

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