This is the time of year when many coaches in the power conferences tout their league as the toughest or the deepest or the most unpredictable.
Often, it's a lot of hooey.
But the Big Ten can lay legitimate claim this season to being all of the above. The rankings and results back it up.
Last week, the league earned props for having four of the nation's top 13 teams in the Associated Press Top 25 (No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan State, No. 7 Indiana, No. 13 Michigan).
Within a six-day span, all four lost to unranked conference brethren.
"It's just crazy,'' said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, whose team toppled Ohio State. "It's so hard to predict."
Northwestern ended Michigan State's 15-game winning streak, but had to stand in line to get attention along with previously winless Minnesota for toppling Indiana and Iowa for romping over Michigan.
"It is a little crazy,'' Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "Usually by now, you know who the best team is. But maybe it's going to take a little longer to find out.''
The topsy-turvy results haven't hurt the Big Ten's overall respect.
The league is No. 1 nationally among the 31 conferences by the ratings services that try to replicate the NCAA's ratings percentage index (RPI).
According to rpiratings.com, the Big Ten is the only league with nine schools in the Top 50 and all of its teams inside the Top 150.
In Monday's AP poll, five teams were ranked (No. 6 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 11 Indiana, No. 20 Michigan, No. 22 Illinois) and two others got votes (Wisconsin, Northwestern). And ESPN had eight of the 12 Big Ten schools in its projected NCAA tournament bracket Monday, tied with eight from the 16-team Big East.
"The league is the best it's been in years and years and years,'' said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, in his 17th Big Ten season. "Especially top to bottom.''
Into this cauldron stepped Nebraska. Its prior home — the Big 12 — for the three most recent seasons was No. 1 or No. 2 among all conferences.
Pardon coach Doc Sadler, who this week must prepare for Indiana and Ohio State, if he sounds a bit shell-shocked in trying to describe changing from one No. 1 league to the next.
"No disrespect to the Big 12 because I thought it was a great league,'' Sadler said. "But the home-court advantage and the coaching in this league to me is as good as it is in the country.''
Another difference is the star power of the two leagues.
"The past four or five years, the Big 12 had just unbelievable individual talent,'' Sadler said. "This league seems to have more maturity and more experience.
"In college basketball, maturity and experience is going to be a lot tougher than individual talent because you can always figure out a way to defend one person. In this league, it's going to be much more difficult.''
So what's the impact of all this? The Big Ten champion probably won't have a pretty record.
"That term 'beating up on each other' really has meaning this year,'' 11th-year Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "And this is just the beginning. Hold on to your hat.''
Izzo predicted before the season that the league champ could have four or five losses. He's sticking to that.
"The margin of error between two teams is very slim,'' he said. "You better bring it every day in our league or you're in trouble.''
Most coaches still pick Ohio State to claim the conference title. But Illinois' Weber said the names of the preseason favorites may not carry the weight many thought.
"It's not who you're playing,'' he said. "I think it's more when you're playing them, and who has that extra motivation and who is just coming off a loss and who just came off a big win.
"Ohio State is a very, very good team. There's no doubt about it. But I think we have a lot of good teams.''
Contact the writer: 402-444-1024, email@example.com