clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This is no longer just a cute story

I long ago promoted the Baby Boilers to Toddler Boilers, even though that really isn't a very catchy phrase. The players themselves have used the moniker of Baby Boilers as motivation by those that continue to use it. It's fine with me because it continues to work, but it is also clear they are no longer even Toddler Boilers. Therefore, I am not sure what term to apply to them. I can't call them fully grown because it would imply they have reached a ceiling for their abilities. Should they continue to grow and progress it is clear the only ceiling they will have is an eventual NCAA championship. Right now that is at least a year or two away, but with the way they keep growing and surprising people you just never know.

For now though I will be content to simply call them the Boilers. They are no longer a cute story that is expected to fade down the stretch of the Big Ten race. They are a serious contender and one of just two teams (along with Indiana) that control their own conference destiny. I ranked them as a prohibitive #1 in last week's edition of the power rankings, but I fully expected a loss in Madison this past weekend. My colleague over at The Hoosier Report said it best this morning, there is little choice but to put the Boilers as the #1 team in the conference at the moment. They have swept the supposed "best team" in the conference, they have a chance to draw a split with another favorite tomorrow night, and a chance to beat the third favorite next week. John also reported that Purdue is the only team in the top four to win on the opposing floor of another top 4 team, though there are plenty of chances in the next 10 days for that to change.

The world has turned upside-down when Indiana fans are giving us praise and beginning to cheer for us to make the rivalry even better. They want us to do well not just to clear a path for their own team, but to make next week's matchup in Bloomington the best it can possibly be. Some have even come out to say they like watching our style of basketball because it reminds them of Knight's best teams. They appreciate the team-oriented style more than even their own current team. They also appreciate that we are getting it done with home grown talent and that the team is built on hard work and discipline rather than individual talent. What is going on here? I am going to have to check the book of Revelation to see if this is a sign of the apocalypse. If this continues, then the Cubs win the World Series this year on the 100th anniversary of their last title I am going to start stockpiling canned goods and waiting for the end.

As I said, this is no longer a cute story. We are now a threat, and this week's rankings will show it. I am having trouble coming up with a theme, so we'll just go with a straight 1-11 comparison and save a theme for next when I come up with a better idea. Wisconsin was #1 in last week's collective poll, while Purdue came in third. The winds of change are blowing though, and there will likely be a new #1 this week.

  1. (1) Purdue (19-5, 10-1) – Is there any doubt that at the moment this team is the best in the conference? Things could change quickly when a tough Michigan State team comes to town tomorrow night, but a win over the Spartans would be doubly positive. First it would put us even more solidly in the driver's seat for the conference title. Second, it would deliver a severe blow to Michigan State, as they would be two games back with six to play (seven for MSU). In that closing seven are two games with Indiana, trips to Wisconsin, dangerous Illinois and Ohio State, and home games with Iowa and Penn State who have already beaten the Spartans.
  2. (3) Indiana (20-3, 9-1) – Indiana had a very impressive week in grabbing a pair of tough road wins. I agree the atmosphere in Champaign was a little too hostile, but I don't feel sorry for poor Eric Gordon in all this mess. Dealing with hostile crowds is what you have to do as a player. He folded at first and that is his fault. Yes Illinois was overacting and went too far, but good players deal with that. Gordon was unable to do so at first, but his clutch three to send it to overtime is what great players do. It was a dagger at just the right time under pressure. The win at Ohio State yesterday was very impressive as well, but the next three games are the toughest stretch of anyone in the conference as they get all three contenders in a row. This stretch will decide IU's fate.
  3. (2) Wisconsin (19-4, 9-2) – If this were a poll for whining Wisconsin would be hands down number one. They can make all the excuses they want for the loss in West Lafayette, but when they had all the major advantages at home that they had and still lost those excuses go out the window. The Badgers are still unbeaten against everyone else, but Purdue is the better team with the sweep. They controlled the entire game despite hitting barely more than 50% of their free throws, getting outscored by 18 at the line, and getting out-rebounded by 20. Whine all you want, Badger fans. Purdue has gotten you twice now. If you want a beef then get better and beat us in Conseco in a month.
  4. (4) Michigan State (20-3, 8-2) – The Spartans had to sit on the Penn State loss for a week, but they took care of business against Northwestern. As mentioned in the Purdue evaluation, they have the hardest schedule remaining, so if they win the conference title from this point they will have earned it. It also may make them the best prepared team from the Big Ten for the NCAA's. So far they are just 3-2 on the road in conference play with the toughest trips remaining. Beating Purdue tomorrow night is absolutely essential to keep hopes alive, otherwise they could be in for a rough ride.
  5. (5) Ohio State (16-8, 7-4) – Other than probably Northwestern, no team is more locked into its place right now than the Buckeyes. Ohio State is clearly ahead of the bottom six, but against the top four they have gone 0-3. They still get Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Purdue at home for their final three home games to play the role of spoiler, but they are probably out of the title chase right now. For now Ohio State is also safe for the NCAA's, especially with its body of nonconference work. If they lose a game or two that they aren't expecting, however, they could slide back to the bubble. They should be fine as long as they don't blow any games they should win.
  6. (7) Minnesota (15-7, 5-5) – Much like Ohio State is the only team that can slide onto the bubble, Minnesota is the only team in the bottom six with a somewhat realistic chance of getting NCAA consideration. For everyone behind them it is Big Ten tournament or bust to get into the NCAA's. The Gophers blew chances at a signature win against Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin at the Barn, but they still have a couple of chances at Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin to make a case. It would probably take winning two of those three and not losing any other game, but it is a chance and that is all you ask for.
  7. (6) Iowa (11-14, 4-8) – A team that plays as hard as Iowa but suffers from a lack of overall talent is going to be up and down. That is the case for Iowa, but their remaining schedule, aside from a trip to East Lansing, is about as easy as it can get. They have a realistic chance of getting to 9-9 in the conference and doing so would put them at 16-15 overall. They would then need a win against a lower seeded team in the first round of the Big Ten tourney to secure an NIT bid, and that would be a great win for this program at this point. They still could make life hell for Michigan State too in East Lansing, but a closing schedule of home games against Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern with trips to Penn State and Northwestern can't get easier.
  8. (8) Penn State (11-12, 3-8) – Penn State goes here this week based on overall record, but there is another large dropoff between them and Iowa. Because of the overall body of work Penn State still can play for an NIT bid, but it is much tougher with three of their remaining seven games against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. Two of those are on the road as well, where if not for opening wins at Illinois and Northwestern with Geary Claxton Penn State would be pitching an 0-fer right now. Should the Nittany Lions get to the NIT it would be an even larger victory than for Iowa.
  9. (9) Illinois (10-14, 2-9) – I get sense that Illinois expended so much energy in the double overtime loss against Indiana that they have nothing left for the rest of the year. This team still has a ton of talent, but the free throw shooting is absolutely atrocious and it has killed them in multiple games this year. Their home court mystique is certainly broken at this point, and they have very little to play for. I can see them completely falling apart the rest of the way. Home games remain against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan State so they could play spoiler, but this team is done.
  10. (10) Michigan (6-17, 2-9) – Michigan stays in the #10 spot this week, but it is a higher 10 spot after the win over Penn State. As bad as Michigan has been this year any win conference play is a step forward. They still get home games against Northwestern and Illinois plus a roadie at Penn State, so the potential for three or even four conference wins is still there. I am also not a big fan of Purdue finishing the conference season at Michigan, as that could be a major spoiler game with the Big Ten title on the line for the Boilers.
  11. (11) Northwestern (7-14, 0-10) – Combined with their women's team, which is currently 4-20 overall and 0-12 in Big Ten play, the Wildcats may have the worst division 1 basketball program combined in the country. Ouch! The best hope for a win on either side may be women's home games with Penn State and Wisconsin who also reside at the bottom of the standings. Since they lost both on the road by more than 19 that is not even likely. Any win for the men's program in conference play would be a major upset at this point except for maybe the game at Michigan. Even then that is a stretch. Can The General change things in Evanston?