If the outcome of Sunday night's basketball game between No. 4 Michigan State and Northwestern is any indication, life in the Big Ten might be even more difficult this season than it was last year. The Wildcats, who were predicted by many to finish at or near the bottom of the league standings, knocked off the Spartans 79-65 in convincing fashion to kick off league play for both teams.
The Wildcats led by as much as 21 points in the second half and cruised to their first win over a top-five team since 1979 behind a career-high 30-point outburst from Boo Buie. The sophomore guard hit 5-of-6 attempts from 3-point range, and the Wildcats shot 53% from the field as a team while sending the Spartans to their first defeat of the season.
After starting the season ranked No. 13, Michigan State quickly cracked the top-10 and then the top-five with wins over Notre Dame and Duke during a 6-0 start. It seemed they were establishing themselves as the frontrunners in a loaded league until Sunday's shocking result in the league opener.
Northwestern won just three conference games last season during an 8-23 season, and though they returned most of their key players from last season, little was expected from these Wildcats in what is widely regarded as the nation's top conference. The Big Ten was on track to send 10 of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament last season before the event's cancelation and placed 12 of its 14 teams in the top 60 of the final NET rankings.
With a ton of returning talent, the league placed Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois in the preseason top 10 with Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan also cracking the initial poll. Each of those seven were still ranked this past week as well.
But if anyone was expected the league to be overly top heavy, Northwestern sent a warning shot on Sunday night; even one of the few teams many thought they could pencil in as a win on the schedule can pull an upset and look like the flat-out better team in the process.