Big Ten Basketball gets going in full this week, as the first conference games take place tomorrow night. Right now, the Big Ten is limping. Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, and Nebraska all have some pretty nasty losses to their credit. It is not the same ridiculously strong Big Ten from the past few seasons, mostly because there are some young teams that are going through slumps.
Still, the conference will be tough. Wisconsin and Maryland appear to be the class of the conference, while Penn State has been surprisingly strong with a 12-1 non-conference mark. The conference getting seven teams into the NCAA Tournament is still a possibility, with even our Boilers having a small chance of getting in if they can turn things around.
As for Purdue in the NCAA Tournament I know the chances are small, but I am not the type to completely write us off, mostly because I am a masochist. After cooling off from the Gardner Webb loss I am back to not giving up on the NCAA Tournament until we're officially eliminated from consideration. Right now Purdue only has two ways to get in: Go 12-6 or better during the regular season (maybe 11-7) or win the Big Ten Tournament. We're only officially eliminated when we lose in the Big Ten Tourney.
So let's take a quick look at the 14 teams.
Wisconsin - 12-1 - The Badgers are still the favorite as we head into conference play. They have rolled over almost everyone and won the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. The lone loss was by 10 points to Duke in Madison, which is more evidence of how good Duke is rather than how bad Wisconsin is. The good news for Purdue is we only play them once. Since we can only lose six conference games (maybe seven) to have any shot at the NCAA Tournament it is good we will only lose to them once.
Maryland - 12-1 - The Terrapins are playing like they could be the lone team to challenge Wisconsin for the conference title. What makes things interesting is that the two only play once and it is at Maryland on February 24. Maryland's only loss was to Virginia by 11 at Maryland, which is not a bad loss at all considering that Virginia won the ACC a year ago and they are undefeated. Maryland also has nice wins over Oklahoma State, Arizona State, and Iowa State. With Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz back this is a really good team. Purdue plays Maryland once and it is in Mackey Arena. Upsetting them at home on January 10 would help A LOT.
Ohio State - 11-2 - I am not sold on Ohio State, as they really beat up on a ton of cupcakes and lost their only two challenging games to Louisville and North Carolina. That is why they only have an RPI of 64 and their best win coming over Marquette, who may not even be a tournament team. They are still going to figure things out and be a tournament team because that is what Thad Matta does. They are one of the five teams Purdue plays twice and Purdue probably has to beat them in Mackey Arena at minimum for any NCAA chances.
In good shape:
Penn State - 12-1 - Look at the Nittany Lions! If they even go .500 in conference play that is a 21 wins season and they would likely be in good shape for an at large bid. The one loss, to UNC-Charlotte, was costly because it cost them a chance to play a decent South Carolina team and a good Miami team. They got a good win over George Washington and will have some good chances in Big Ten play to make some noise. Purdue plays them once, in State College, and it is both a must win and a good chance for a quality road victory.
Minnesota - 11-2 - The Golden Gophers are a lot like Ohio State in that they lost the only two challenging games on their schedule to St. John's and Louisville. Their only decent win is over Georgia, but with no bad losses they are in good shape, unlike much of the rest of the conference. Purdue plays Minnesota twice and must beat them on Wednesday in Mackey Arena if only to turn things around and break the three game losing streak.
Illinois - 10-3 - The Fighting Illini lost to Villanova, Oregon, and Miami, which are all respectable losses. They also beat Baylor, which is a really good neutral floor win to give their non-conference schedule some heft. They enter with a strong RPI of 53, but their first two games are on the road at Michigan and Ohio State. As a team Purdue plays twice I think we need to sweep them, mostly because we have played pretty well in Champaign under coach Painter. We've also won 9 of 10 against them.
Work to do:
Indiana - 10-3 - Currently, the Eastern Washington loss does not look bad, as they are No. 48 in the RPI. It is certainly a better loss than North Florida and Gardner Webb. They also got nice wins over Butler and SMU, with the Georgetown and Louisville losses not being bad. The real question is how will Indiana fare on the road? They haven't played a true road game yet. If IU finishes above .500 in league play they are in. As for Purdue, we're not winning in Bloomington, but we need to win in West Lafayette.
Michigan State - 9-4 - Just what the hell happened in the loss to Texas Southern? Kansas, Duke, and Notre Dame are understandable, but that Texas Southern loss was one of the worst in a very long time for an Izzo coached team. Their only win over a top 100 team was over Loyola-Chicago. This is still a good team, but there is always that "Texas Southern" question. Purdue only plays them once, on March 4th, so we'll know a lot more by then on whether it matters or not.
Iowa - 9-4 - Iowa beat North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but did not do much else in the non-conference. They lost to Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Texas, and Syracuse. The rest of the schedule was very easy, even with a 10-point win over North Florida. Iowa is probably looking at a 10-win Big Ten slate to have a shot at the NCAAs. Purdue only plays them once, and probably has to win in Iowa City to have a chance.
In serious trouble:
Nebraska - 8-4 - The good news: They beat Cincinnati. The bad news: They lost to Hawaii and Incarnate Word. They also struggled big time in several other games like Loyola Marymount. Last season they wrote the book on how to recover from a bad non-conference with a good Big Ten season, so we need to emulate them. Purdue hosts them on February 15 and beating them in Mackey Arena would be critical to any NCAA chances.
Michigan - 7-5 - Michigan did beat Oregon, unlike Illinois, and Syracuse, unlike Iowa. That is what is keeping them afloat right now because the Eastern Michigan and NJIT losses really hurt. Their profile is a lot like Purdue's: They have some good wins, but some really bad losses. That is why Purdue has to beat them on Saturday.
Purdue - 8-5 - We've been over a lot of this before, but Purdue is quite schizophrenic. The Boiler shave good wins over BYU and NC State along with a respectable win over Missouri, but the North Florida and Gardner Webb losses cancel them out. I have seen that Purdue can play some good basketball and compete with anyone in the Big Ten, but it also can lay some serious turds. Purdue needs to go 12-6 in the Big Ten to have a chance, which is possible, though unlikely. Here is the road to 12-6:
Purdue must beat: Rutgers (twice), at Northwestern, Nebraska at Mackey, Iowa at Mackey, Michigan at Mackey, Illinois at Mackey, Indiana at Mackey, Minnesota at Mackey (9 wins),
Purdue needs three wins from: Ohio State at Mackey, at Penn State, at Minnesota, at Illinois, at Indiana, at Michigan State (if Texas Southern can do it we can)
If Purdue got even one of these it would be huge: at Wisconsin, Maryland, at Ohio State.
Northwestern - 9-4 - Other than a loss to Central Michigan, they haven't had a bad loss. They haven't beaten anybody, either, and they narrowly avoided losses to Elon, North Florida, and Western Michigan. This will be a team that won't make the tournament, but they'll probably spring an upset or two to really mess with teams. Purdue plays them once, on January 31, and has to win up there.
Rutgers - 8-5 - Unlike Purdue's 8-5, the Rutgers 8-5 does not have two good wins to offset the bad losses. And oh my, there are bad losses: St. Peter's and St. Francis. They also barely got past New Hampshire and Monmouth. It is going to be a long first season in the Big Ten, and Purdue has to sweep Rutgers to even make the NIT.