The Michigan men’s basketball team may have a fighting chance in the Big Ten after all.

The Wolverines started their conference slate with an 86-83 overtime loss to Iowa, before notching a come-from-behind victory against Penn State at Crisler Center on Wednesday night.

If not for a handful of wasted possessions in Iowa City, Michigan (1-1 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) could be sitting in a three-team tie for second place in the conference standings.

But the Wolverines don’t have the luxury of wondering what could have been, as they will play their third Big Ten game of this week against Maryland on Saturday.

Though the Terrapins boast a 13-2 overall record, the majority of those wins have come against inferior competition. And Maryland’s losses to Nebraska and Pittsburgh — the latter of which was a 73-59 blowout — have shown that it is vulnerable. 

Still, led by guard Melo Trimble, who is fourth in the Big Ten with 17.8 points per game, the Terrapins should prove to be a significant test for Michigan.

Maryland’s loss to the Cornhuskers is one example of an early and chaotic conference landscape, but it’s worth noting that Big Ten play only began Dec. 27.

Either way, those surprises have given Michigan a confidence boost that it can play with any of its opponents.

“We make sure we know that, we look at that,” said Michigan coach John Beilein on Tuesday. “…So I think the thing is that, you know, this is a long season and anybody can beat anybody, and that you better be ready for every game.

“And that there’s a lot of teams will start slow. Sometimes (it’s) just scheduling, sometimes it is just a matter of just not being ready or injury or something like that.”

Added redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson: “I think it just shows how good the Big Ten is, and there’s not really a big drop off from the first and last. It’s all kind of just even, and I think that’s something we just need to take our chances and kind of just attack it, get as many wins as we can and take advantage of it.”

While the Big Ten season is still young, the quest for the conference title is shaping up to be an unpredictable battle, and with that, the Daily breaks down what has happened across conference play so far.

Michigan State (3-0, 11-5)

Tom Izzo’s Spartans fell prey to tough scheduling in the early part of the season, as they dropped games against No. 2 Baylor, No. 6 Kentucky, No. 8 Duke and No. 17 Arizona before swallowing a bad loss to Northeastern.

The start of Big Ten play, though, seems to have helped Michigan State return to its expected form. The Spartans have rattled off three wins against Minnesota, Northwestern and Rutgers, a stretch during which they are averaging 76.3 points per game.

Through that three-game stretch, Michigan State has showcased an ability to score from anywhere on the floor. Forward Nick Ward posted 22 points against the Golden Gophers, guard Alvin Ellis III notched 16 against the Wildcats and guard Eron Harris recorded 24 against the Scarlet Knights.

Even more impressive is that the Spartans managed to start conference play 2-0 without their freshman phenom Miles Bridges, who sustained an ankle injury in the matchup against Duke that sidelined him for over a month. Despite the injury, the young forward is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

With Bridges healthy again, and a versatile offense coming into its own, Michigan State looks poised to maintain its status among the Big Ten’s best.

No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0, 13-2)

This season has gone as expected for the Badgers so far, as they have just two losses on the year.

The first was against then-No. 22 Creighton, but that loss looks a lot better now that the Blue Jays have jumped to 10th in AP Top 25. The second, a 71-56 blowout, came against then-No. 4 North Carolina.

But the Badgers dismantled Rutgers in their conference opener before beating Indiana in Bloomington.

Wisconsin returned all five starters this year, and through 15 games, each has continued to produce at a high level. Forward Ethan Happ is nearly averaging a double-double with 13.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, while guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes are averaging 14.3 and 13.7 points, respectively.

While it’s still early, it appears everything is going according to plan in Madison.

Nebraska (2-0, 8-6)

At the beginning of the season, the Cornhuskers were an afterthought in the Big Ten. As their non-conference schedule rolled on, that sentiment seemed to gain more validity.

Granted, Nebraska’s schedule was difficult — it faced No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 UCLA, No. 10 Creighton, No. 21 Virginia Tech and Clemson. But after losing each of those games, in addition to another against Gardner-Webb, the Cornhuskers certainly weren’t turning any heads.

Their start to Big Ten play, though, has made some noise.

Nebraska opened with a win at then-No. 16 Indiana, before toppling Maryland in College Park. While the Cornhuskers won both games by a combined margin of just nine points, those wins have been both impressive and unexpected.

Over the two contests, guards Glynn Watson Jr. and Tai Webster averaged 21.5 and 19.5 points, respectively.

There’s no way of telling if that kind of production is sustainable, but if it is, Nebraska may turn the Big Ten on its head.

No. 25 Indiana (0-2, 10-5)

The Hoosiers couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the season.

After winning two exhibitions, Indiana toppled No. 3 Kansas at the State Farm Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu and notched a win against then-No. 3 North Carolina on Nov. 30. But since those marquee victories, the Hoosiers have struggled.

They faltered against No. 18 Butler and are currently on a three-game losing streak — dropping two Big Ten matchups against Nebraska and No. 13 Wisconsin, and another against No. 9 Louisville.

Still, it doesn’t appear to be time for Indiana to hit the panic button.

Nebraska and Wisconsin are undefeated in the Big Ten, and guard James Blackmon Jr. is still sixth in the Big Ten in scoring with 16.8 points per game.

While their start has come as a shock, with guard Robert Johnson, center Thomas Bryant and forward OG Anunoby each averaging double digits surrounding Blackmon, the Hoosiers appear to have the pieces in place to right the ship. 

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