Is the Big Ten the toughest conference in the nation or the most evenly balanced? It looked for awhile as if Michigan and Michigan State were going to go run and hide, then today happened. Now, I have no idea what to think about this league. Here is what has happened:
- The worst team is Illinois, who was once 13-2 and ranked in the top 25 before losing 10 of their last 11.
- Northwestern looked like they would be lucky to win a Big Ten game, but have won five including at Wisconsin and Indiana, where they almost never win.
- Wisconsin and Ohio State were both among the final undefeated teams in the nation. They have a combined 11 conference losses.
- Defending champion Indiana is 4-8 and may have the trifecta of losing at home to Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State.
- Penn State blew a game in the state of Indiana by one at Purdue, but then stole a game at Indiana.
- Nebraska is scratching and clawing its way to at large consideration and is 6-6, and could be 8-4 if not for road losses to Purdue and Penn State.
- Iowa has the longest streak of not making the tournament for a team not named Northwestern or Nebraska and hasn't won the Big Ten in 35 years, but will control its destiny to win the conference with a loss by Michigan.
- Minnesota has played 95 minutes of basketball against Purdue and is tied 169-169 with the Boilermakers.
The only thing I know is that the Big Ten Tournament looks like it will be a hell of a lot of fun in about three weeks.
1. Michigan St. Spartans (21-5, 10-3) - Has there been a more surprising result in big Ten play this year than Nebraska waltzing into the Breslin Center and winning with the ease they did today? Strangely, the Spartans have three home losses this year, but only lost away from home at Wisconsin. Sometimes they simply do not have it at home. I still think they are the Big Ten's most complete team and best shot at reaching the Final Four.
2. Michigan Wolverines (18-7, 10-3) - Michigan feels a little bit like 2007-08 Purdue, which didn't have a strong non-conference season but roared out of the gate to contend in the Big Ten with a hot start. The loss to Indiana is starting to look bad, but at least it was on the road. It looked like their battle this weekend with MSU was going to decide the conference before both lost today. However.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes (19-6, 8-4) - Iowa has not won the Big Ten since 1979, a streak only broken by Northwestern's last title in 1933 (Penn State and Nebraska have never won. It is there for the taking as they have probably the easiest remaining schedule of the title contenders and they really don't have a bad loss, either. Three of their final six are against Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois, which helps.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (21-5, 8-5) - If Wisconsin was defending its home court with its usual ferocity they would be out in front in the league. They have heated back up with four straight wins, but that followed a stretch of five losses in six games. That included losses to Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota. This team can beat anyone or lose to anyone.
5. Ohio St. Buckeyes (20-6, 7-6) - This is another team good enough to win on any night but inconsistent enough to lose on any given night. They have a great chance for a late season run with Northwestern, Minnesota, Penn State, and Indiana in the next four, but they've already lost at home to Penn State. Their night often depends on how forgiving officials can be of Aaron Craft.
Welcome to the Bubble:
6. Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-9, 6-7) - Did Minnesota save itself today with a gritty win at Northwestern? It certainly wasn't pretty, but no win over Northwestern is these days. Minnesota is probably in the tournament with three more wins and they will be favored against Penn State and Illinois. A third win would have to come against Iowa, Michigan, or Ohio State and would be a nice late addition to the resume. They are in decent shape, at least.
7. Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-10, 6-6) - It is time to take Tim Miles' team very seriously. The RPI is climbing and if they stay hot to reach 10-8 (or better?) in the Big Ten they will at least be in the discussion. That discussion gets even louder with a win or two in Indianapolis. They get Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana in the next five games and are more than capable of winning all five of those. If they do, they're suddenly 19-10 and 11-6 heading into a regular season finale at home against Wisconsin.
8. Purdue Boilermakers (15-10, 5-7) - Had Purdue not lost in Evanston in double overtime they might be close to the Bubble. Right now that game, plus non-conference losses to Washington State and Butler, are killing Purdue. Purdue easily could be 18-7 right now and even at 6-6 in the Big Ten they'd be in a much better position. At least with another victory an NIT bid is virtually assured, as that would have Purdue 16-15 at worst heading to Indianapolis. The finishing slate is brutal, however, with four ranked teams and a suddenly hot Nebraska squad on its home floor. I guess the good news is that if good Purdue, which finally showed up yesterday, is here to stay Purdue could make a stunning late season run.
The 2012-13 Purdue Memorial CBI under-.500 bid
9. Northwestern Wildcats - (12-14, 5-8) - After some early blowouts Northwestern is at least exciting now. The Wildcats are about as fun to play as a colonoscopy. They drag you down to their level and make you win a bloody, bare-knuckled fight to the death. We should know. Purdue hit two field goals in about 24 minutes of basketball and it still took double-overtime to lose to them. Would it surprise anyone if Northwestern won four games in Indianapolis to steal the automatic bid without scoring 50 points in any of the games?
10. Penn St, Nittany Lions (13-13, 4-9) - Penn State is fighting for an NIT bid at 13-13 overall, which is quite impressive. They flat-out stole a win at Indiana and that kept them alive for some sort of postseason berth. Getting to the NIT would require a 3-2 finish, which seems unlikely, but not impossible.
11. Indiana Hoosiers (14-11, 4-8) - It is hilarious today that the Indianapolis media is discussing IU's NCAA chances still, but Purdue, a team that just beat them and is ahead of them in the standings, has no chance in their eyes. The loss to Penn State was a straight up choke and Kevin Ferrell was the only IU player aware a college basketball game was going on yesterday. Indiana has four of their last six against ranked teams and likely needs to win at least three of them to have any NCAA chances. They are done after this week.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini (14-12, 3-10) - The first team to clinch a losing record in conference play is technically still in NIT position, but in reality they have been in a coma with family members filling out paperwork to pull the plug since starting the Big Ten 2-0. Of their three Big Ten wins they at least swept Penn State, which is more than Indiana and Purdue cane say, but given the way that the Illini have played it is probably worse news for Penn State, who could really use a win or two over the worst team in the league. How on earth did this team nosedive? They could have entered league play undefeated with some very good wins as it lost late at Georgia Tech and Oregon. Now they might be lucky to win another game.