Like Purdue's trip to Northwestern, my weekend of preparing to move was a complete disaster. It was such a disaster I am not going to be able to move until the end of February. I won't be the only one that needs to make a major move in February. Many people thought that the Big Ten was capable of seven or eight teams in the NCAA tournament, but three of those possible teams are already eliminated in Nebraska, Penn State, and Northwestern. Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois have not played like they are interested in playing in a tournament in March not named the NIT. That leaves six teams that are left in good position as of right now.
1. Michigan Wolverines - 15-4, 7-0, RPI: 13 - Entering the Big Ten I thought Michigan would be on the bubble. They had four non-conference losses and Mitch McGary was lost for a significant amount of time. They were nearly knocked off on the road at Minnesota and Nebraska, but are now on fire after knocking off Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in a row. Two of those were on the road too. Now, instead of being on the Bubble, they could earn a Number 1 seed and they are in total control of the Big Ten race. They can easily get to 10-0 with Purdue, Indiana, and Nebraska next before consecutive games at Iowa, at Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Get through that and the rest of the conference schedule is far easier.
2. Michigan St. Spartans - 18-2, 7-1, RPI: 9 - The Spartans are also in line for a number 1 seed despite battling so many injuries they might fall apart at the Final Four like the Bluesmobile. They face a critical game at Iowa that they can't afford to lose because Michigan could move ahead by two full games in the loss column. I feel like Michigan State could lose the battle (the Big Ten) but is best equipped for winning the war, which is the NCAA Tournament. All they need to do is make sure North Carolina does not make it.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes - 15-4, 5-2, RPI: 21 - Iowa is in great shape to win the Big Ten, but have already lost on the road at Wisconsin and Michigan. They do get both in Iowa City, however, and those are chances to make up serious ground. Their biggest problem is only getting Penn State and Nebraska once. That means if they win the league, they will earn it. Roy Devyn Marble might even win Big Ten POTY if they win it.
4. Wisconsin Badgers - 17-3, 4-3, RPI: 3 - The Badgers are in a solid position for a great seed in March and played a dominant second half against Purdue on Saturday. In n interesting note, they once again have Senior Day against Purdue, who ruined their chances of winning a Big Ten title last season. Against the Boilers on Saturday their defense returned, however, and that is a dangerous sign. Even three games back in the loss column they are good enough to make up that ground.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers - 14-6, 4-4, RPI: 27 - If I had a vote for Big Ten Coach of the Year I think I would give it to Richard Pitino. I didn't think much of Minnesota this season, but here they are, solidly in the Big Ten race before the loss at Nebraska over the weekend. That was far from a backbreaker though. They get three straight now against Northwestern, Purdue, and Indiana, where a pair of wins is more than enough for them to stay solidly in the field.
6. Ohio St. Buckeyes - 16-4, 3-4, RPI: 18 - The four game losing streak wasn't fun, but all it did was knock the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten race. They are still a solid NCAA team capable of making a run to the second weekend because of the way they play defense. There is really no shame in who they lost to, either, even Nebraska, who has played tough at home all year. In fact, the most surprising thing is that during the four game losing streak Aaron Craft was actually called for a charge, which might be the most stunning thing of the season.
You can't spell misused talent without NIT
7. Indiana Hoosiers - 13-7, 3-4, RPI: 66 - There is a huge gap right now between the NCAA tier of teams and everyone else. Minnesota is almost 40 spots higher in the RPI as the worst team in the top half than the best team, Indiana, in the bottom half. It is also an embarrassment that Indiana is on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament. Last year's recruiting class was supposed to be the greatest ever and it even had a season to grow behind a loaded roster ahead of them. Instead, they have Jeff Howard, a walk-on from Westfield, and some guy named Jonny Marlin playing big minutes. There is far too much talent on this team for Indiana to not be an NCAA team.
8. Purdue Boilermakers - 13-7, 3-4, RPI: 106 - Speaking of misused talent, Purdue is in a similar boat. A program like Purdue should expect to be in the NCAA Tournament every season. The Boilers are not bulling in NBA lottery picks, but the freshmen and sophomores were both members of solid recruiting classes and a guy like Terone Johnson should be a solid senior leader. Of the 11 scholarship players eight were a four-star recruit by at least one service. Purdue should be much better, but they lack toughness, consistency, and they don't play the lockdown defense Purdue is known for. Now the seat is heating up for coach Painter. The thing is, I don't think he is doing much wrong. I have no doubt he is preaching the toughness and fundamentals Purdue is known for, but this group just does not get it like his first teams at Purdue did. It is terribly frustrating and Purdue now needs to go a minimum 7-4 in the last 11 games, seven of them against the top 30 in the RPI, to have even an outside chance at the NCAAs. They'll have to do it with a broken offense and a defense that cannot get the stops that it has been known for since Gene Keady took over. I just don't get it with this team. When they play hard, like Purdue should always play, they can beat anyone. Unfortunately, that effort is there maybe 25% of the time. It is not a fun group to watch because so much talent is flat out wasted because it is not working as a group. Keady's teams always played better than their individual parts. Purdue plays far worse this year.
9. Illinois Fighting Illini - 13-8, 2-6, RPI: 62 - It wouldn't be January without the Illini completely falling apart after a solid November and December. They are now on six straight losses and it looks like it could very easily reach eight, which is a death knell to their NCAA hopes. How on earth can Rayvonte Rice be one of the best scorers in the conference, but be held scoreless like he was against Ohio State? They have topped 60 points only once in their last five games.
The CBI is really an option for them?
10. Northwestern Wildcats - 10-11, 3-5, RPI: 124 - Northwestern went through a stretch where they simply dragged teams down to their level of offensive ineptitude. It worked for wins over Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue, which likely torpedoed any NCAA chances for those three teams. Now, could they play in a postseason tournament? Purdue went to the CBI with a losing record last season and that could be beneficial for Chris Collins' team. They could even get to 6-7 Big Ten wins with two games against Nebraska, a game against Penn State, and games against Purdue and Indiana. Don't count them out at all.
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers - 10-9, 2-5, RPI: 74 - The Cornhuskers aren't going to the NCAA Tournament, but they are going to be tough for anyone to beat in Lincoln. They already claimed two good wins over Ohio State and Minnesota. An NIT bid is possible with six more wins when you consider a win in Indianapolis would also help. They can get five if they simply win their next five home games against Indiana, Illinois, Penn State, Purdue, and Northwestern. Nebraska's next step is to win on the road.
12. Penn St. Nittany Lions - 10-10, 1-6, RPI: 121 - At least Penn State finally got a big Ten win with the home victory over Nebraska. The way Purdue is playing right now and after they needed a miracle to win in West Lafayette, No. 2 could come this weekend. They would need to go 6-5 down the stretch to reach the NIT, but they don't have the consistency to do so.