FORT WAYNE — Three Big Ten teams shared last year’s regular-season conference title with five losses.
Michigan coach John Beilein sees a similar scenario unfolding this season.
“The Big Ten is going to be so strong this year with so many high-level teams. Last year, we were a champion with a 13-5 record. That record, even 12-6, may be a Big Ten title winner,” Beilein said during the Big Ten teleconference Monday.
“It’s going to be very challenging.”
Thrilling games this past weekend in Bloomington and Columbus, Ohio, back up Beilein’s statement. In both instances, the home teams (Indiana and Ohio State) held off rallies from the visitors (Minnesota and Michigan).
The Wolverines, Ohio State and Michigan State each went 13-5 in the conference last year. Two weeks into Big Ten play this season, Indiana and Wisconsin are the only teams without a conference loss.
Wisconsin faces the Hoosiers today at Assembly Hall.
“You look at last year, three teams won (the conference) with five losses. And it’s probably a little more competitive this year than it was last year, as scary as that sounds,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “First and foremost, you look across the board at college basketball and you see some of the scores, it shows you the parity. You couple that with the Big Ten and just how good this league is this year, if you have an off night, you’re not going to win.
“There’s no doubt about it. Maybe in the past, an off night you could still maybe squeak it out. That’s not going to happen this year. The competitiveness is at an all-time high.”
Six teams remain ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, with the Hoosiers leading the way at No. 2.
Michigan (No. 5), Minnesota (No. 9), Ohio State (No. 11), Michigan State (No. 18) and Illinois (No. 23) are also ranked in the poll, released Monday.
This week’s schedule includes Michigan at Minnesota on Thursday and Ohio State at Michigan State on Saturday.
“Everything is possible,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said of the chances of a six-loss champion. “I don’t think it’s happened any time since I’ve been here, but I can see it. There is a lot of balance in the league, but there are still two undefeated (teams) in this league. It’s a matter of who gets hot or who stays healthy through the course of the season or who is playing well.
“ … Every game is going to be tough.”