How did that song go? You know, the one by that band. Something like, "I get a little help from my friends." Well, Boilermaker fans, you should truly appreciate the Penn State Nittany Lions right about now. Back-to-back upsets against ranked Big10 opponents Michigan State and Illinois make the face of the conference race look very different. Imagine what this face looked like at the beginning of the year; let's face it, she wasn't pretty. A bruise over her left eye, a chipped tooth, and some of the cheapest makeup you've ever seen.
These days however, things are looking more like Olivia Wilde, or even Scarlett Johansson. It's a great image, and you can see more of it after the jump.
Ohio State remains as the only other team undefeated in Big10 play, but they have been tested by teams that Purdue has seemingly handled with ease, including Northwestern and tonight against Michigan. Hell, Jared "The Infallible" Sullinger looked anything but immortal tonight, fouling out down the stretch and finishing with 12 points against the Wolverines.
Then there's Michigan State, the other favorite to win the conference crown by virtue of Tom Izzo and a host of returning starters. Well, we see how that's working out. It's understandable, 10-5 and 3-3 against the AP's top 25, but you have to beat great teams to be a great team. Their aforementioned loss to Penn State and the atrocious first 37 and a half minutes against Wisconsin has to have the Izzone scratching their heads.
Who's next, then? Oh, right, Illinois, who is also .500 with AP ranked teams, with wins against Gonzaga and Wisconsin and losses to Texas and Mizzou. However, this is a team that ALSO lost to Penn State, and fell to University of Illinois-Chicago - I am pretty sure Big10 title contenders don't pull shenanigans like that. With the size that they have, you'd think they'd have a pretty decent time rebounding, but they're 165th overall in the country. Yikes.
Wisconsin looks pretty good, aside from throwing away two leads in different halves and not being able to put away a frustrated Spartan squad. They don't play like they have any experience, and it's almost hard to watch. For as bad as Illinois is at rebounding, Wisconsin is even worse... much worse (257th). They topped Minnesota, but fell to Illinois a game later. With the loss to MSU, they are 2-2 in the Big10, but this is kind of an aberration, considering their early Big10 schedule. It doesn't look to get too much easier for the Badgers, though.
Minnesota, oh Minnesota. There's a win against then-ranked UNC, but since then only losses to all other ranked opponents (3), resulting in a 1-3 conference record. Trevor Mbakwe gets arrested, Devoe Joseph transfers, and they've never really been known for great discipline, anyways. It will continue to stifle them, especially when they face three of the conference's best (PU, OSU, ILL) over a two week grind at the end of January.
Finally, we come to the wildcard: Penn State. The Nittany Lions' statistics are abhorrent: they are ranked 230th or worse in PPG, RPG, APG, and shooting percentage. Their worst loss is to Maine, but they are hitting their stride with their back-to-back wins against ranked foes (the first time since 1954). They are currently 5th in the Big10 standings at 3-2, ranked above Wisconsin (2-2) and Minnesota (1-3). They have the potential to make some noise and are likely to play spoiler to a number of teams in their upcoming schedule - one laden with 9 more opponents currently ranked in the top 25.
So where does that leave poor, defenseless, Robbie-Hummel-less Purdue? Tied for first with Ohio State at 4-0 at the top of the conference, possessive of a host of scoring options, playing some of the best defense in the country (see: Michigan game, late), and with all the confidence in the world. Granted, the early schedule was cushy, but Purdue is the only team that has exceeded its (tempered) expectations in the Big10 thus far. The Boilers have handled every conference opponent as they should have, with double-digit wins over all of them.
The future looks bright for the Boilermakers as things start to get more difficult and the machine starts firing on all cylinders. The re-addition of John Hart will be the final cog in this train on its way to domination. I'm excited to see what happens from here on out, and you should be, too.