Not even 5 games into the conference schedule, the Big Ten men’s basketball race is already a fantastic mess.

Thanks to Michigan State’s 59-53 victory over Michigan on Saturday, a grand total of 0 teams are unbeaten in Big Ten play. College football season hasn’t even ended yet.

That’s chaos. And 2 more full months of it remain.

Figuring out how we got here is a great deal easier than predicting where we’re headed. It begins with a series of unexpected struggles for the preseason favorites.

Indiana: Bruised and battered

Indiana received 19 of the 28 1st-place votes in the Big Ten preseason poll, and for good reason. The Hoosiers are a rare commodity in major college basketball — a team laden with veteran talent.

The trouble for Indiana is that much of that veteran talent is now laid up due to injuries.

Point guard Xavier Johnson underwent foot surgery after getting injured in IU’s disastrous 84-62 loss at Kansas on Dec. 17. Now he’s joined on the shelf by fellow senior Race Thompson, who injured his leg in this week’s 91-89 loss at Iowa. On Saturday, Indiana announced that Thompson, like Johnson, is out “indefinitely.”

Suddenly, it looks like Trayce Jackson-Davis will need to become a 1-man wrecking crew.

It’s quite unlikely that Indiana will be able to live up to its preseason hype unless it gets Johnson and Thompson back by the Big Ten tournament.

Illinois: In-fighting Illini

The Illini were picked 2nd in the preseason poll, earning 6 1st-place votes. And after Illinois beat then-No. 2 Texas at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 6, it looked like the Illini were going places.

And they have gone places — straight into the toilet.

Illinois has double-digit losses to Penn State, Missouri and Northwestern. Brad Underwood’s response to the Penn State loss has seemingly set the tone for everything that’s followed.

The Illini finally got off the mat Saturday, beating Wisconsin to get to 1-3 in conference play. There’s no question Illinois has the talent to compete for the Big Ten title, but will this dysfunctional group come together?

Is Purdue coming back to the pack?

Purdue paints a good illustration of how things are shaping up in the conference race.

The Boilermakers were the next-to-last unbeaten team in the entire country but lost a Big Ten game before Wisconsin, Ohio State or Michigan did.

The Boilers bounced back from their 65-64 home loss to Rutgers with a gut-check 71-69 win at Ohio State. They also beat Nebraska in overtime last month, which begs the question of whether Purdue is actually the best team in the conference.

Outside of an 89-70 win over a genuinely bad Minnesota team — though the Gophers are playing better in January — Purdue’s other 3 Big Ten games have been decided by a combined 6 points.

If every game is going to be a toss-up, it’ll be tough to remain at the top of the table.

Rutgers: A study in Scarlet

Rutgers has won a single Big Ten title in any men’s sport since joining the conference in 2014 — the 2022 soccer tournament.

Maybe these things come in bunches.

The Scarlet Knights are looking more than capable of winning the Big Ten, with their lone conference setback being a 1-point loss at Ohio State. In addition to beating Purdue at Mackey Arena, Rutgers already topped preseason favorite Indiana by 15 when the Hoosiers still had Johnson and Thompson in the lineup.

The addition of Loyola (Maryland) transfer point guard Cam Spencer has Rutgers fans asking, “Geo who?”

OK, so they aren’t actually saying that about program legend Geo Baker, who left a considerable void upon graduating. But Spencer has been everything you want in a point guard.

He’s 2nd in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. Defensively, Spencer leads the league in steals per game.

And he can shoot. Spencer has made 44% of his 3-pointers and missed only 1 free throw all season.

The adage is that you need a point guard to win in March. Rutgers has a point guard. And the Scarlet Knights are poised to win plenty of games before March, too.

Buckeyes ready to surprise?

With its transfer- and freshman-laden lineup, Ohio State entered this season as the Big Ten’s great unknown. If everything came together, the Buckeyes loomed as a legitimate dark horse title contender. And if it didn’t, well, maybe Ohio State would be an NCAA Tournament bubble team.

It looks as if the Bucks could shape into being the team to beat. They’re about equal with fellow contenders Rutgers and Purdue, beating the Scarlet Knights by 1 and losing to the Boilers by a bucket.

Forward Brice Sensabaugh is developing into the top freshman in a veteran-heavy league, ranking 6th in the conference with 16.3 points per game. Justice Sueing, who redshirted last season due to injury, is providing veteran leadership to bookend the talent of Sensabaugh and freshman point guard Bruce Thornton.

According to, Ohio State has the best offense in the country — typically a distinction held by Gonzaga. The Bucks may have to keep it up, though, as the metrics also label them with the Big Ten’s 3rd-worst defense.