The Big Ten is eating itself alive.
That’s clear to anyone who’s watching. Including Michigan coach John Beilein.
“There’s a little bit of cannibalism going on right now between the teams — it just happened Saturday with some of these away teams winning,” Beilein said on a conference call with reporters Monday. “That was something we wanted to stay from when we were at home, for sure.”
Those road wins on Saturday — Ohio State beating Nebraska and Rutgers beating Penn State — were far from the least-surprising results in the conference over the weekend. That same day, Illinois took down No. 13 Maryland, and the next day, No. 9 Michigan State went to Purdue and fell by 10 points.
One of few teams to stay removed from the chaos resides in Ann Arbor, as Michigan has started Big Ten play with an 8-1 record. And the Wolverines would like it to stay that way.
“I definitely would have taken that (at the beginning of the season),” Beilein said.
The other coaches in the conference can’t boast quite as sunny dispositions.
“Our team in general right now is soft,” Indiana’s Archie Miller said Friday night after Michigan went into Assembly Hall and blew out the Hoosiers, 69-46. “And we’re also for whatever reason right now scared, and you can just tell by the way that we played.
“The fight isn’t there right now, and the confidence isn’t there on either end of the floor to be able to capitalize on any type of opportunity that we have, to be honest with you. There’s nothing we’re doing well.
“You know, there’s nowhere to go. You just move on to the next step, try to figure it out, and you've got to find a way to get some confidence in yourself, which for us is a preparation to go on the road and play Rutgers, so that’s what we’re worried about right now. But playing against the level of competition in this league right now and what we’ve got going on, we’re just not playing at a high enough level, and that really, really to be honest with you, bothers me.”
But Indiana isn’t the only team that will look back at the month of January as one filled with squandered opportunities. The Big Ten can boast depth right now — only four of its teams are out of tournament contention — yet, outside of the Wolverines and Spartans, who suffered their first conference loss Saturday, no team feels like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament right now.
Things will be better for the conference, undoubtedly, than last year, when just four teams made it. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology on ESPN.com has 10 Big Ten teams making it, more than any other conference.
But cannibalism has its downsides, and discomfort is one. Well, for everyone but Michigan, that is.
Instead of fretting about actually playing in March, as the Wolverines were at this time last year, they can go into Tuesday’s contest against Ohio State — and the final five weeks of the regular season — worrying only about playing at their best when they get there.
“Sunday we had a really good workout,” Beilein said. “We spent some time lifting weights. Spent time on Michigan instead of worrying quite as much about the next opponent.”
Three days earlier, Beilein had been asked about the challenge in front of Miller — building Indiana back into a perennial contender, as Beilein had to do for Michigan. To some degree, though, you could replace the Hoosiers with 11 other Big Ten teams in that question.
But the Wolverines are above the fray.