We are two weeks in to the Big Ten season and only Rutgers and Minnesota have yet to win a game. They are both solidly entrenched in the basement of the league and are already playing out the string. Everyone else has some form of postseason to play for, be it NIT or otherwise. Can the Big Ten get 12 postseason teams? Well, speaking as a team that has played in it, the CBI is a fate worse than death. The NIT can be dicey, as smaller conference champs that don't win the conference tourney can steal bids. The CIT is explicitly for mid-majors. This season also has the brand new Vegas 16, which is somehow a step below the CBI. At least it has the intrigue of being a 16-team, 5-day tournament all in one spot.
So far the league has had some bumps. Purdue stumbled at Illinois as the Illini showed they will be a tough team for anyone going forward. Iowa continues to play pretty well. Ohio State, despite losing at Indiana, has done well. Four teams are ranked (with a fifth, Indiana, in one poll) so this could be a fun race.
1. Iowa (12-3, 3-0) - Yeah, I am keeping the Hawkeyes here for now because they are the only team with wins over two ranked conference opponents. Thursday's game at Michigan State is pretty big because if they secure a sweep of the Spartans they are in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. Iowa has the three preseason favorites five times in its first eight games and none in the last 10. They are already 2-0 against those three.
2. Maryland (15-1, 4-0) - So far Maryland has not played a team in the top 100 from the B1G. That changes tonight when they go to Michigan. As a Purdue fan with two losses already, we could really use an upset in Ann Arbor tonight. The Terrapins haven't been dominant, but 4-0 is 4-0.
3. Michigan State (16-1, 3-1) - Denzel Valentine is coming back and Sparty can get revenge for its only loss this week. They were able to blast Penn State and Illinois without him, too. Things should be fine in East Lansing, but they have one of the tougher road slates left with trips to Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue, and Ohio State.
4. Indiana (14-3, 4-0) - I am going to say it: Indiana is better without James Blackmon. It sucks he went down with an injury, but Indiana lost a player that refuses to play defense and has never met a bad, selfish shot he didn't like. They actually played a little defense against Ohio State and Wisconsin and it resulted in wins. The remaining schedule is squishy soft until February 2nd at Michigan, when Indiana should be 9-0 in the league. That alone makes them a contender.
5. Purdue (14-3, 2-2) - The loss to Illinois was bad, but at least it came because Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm hill went crazy. That is cold comfort though. Conference title contenders don't lose at mediocre Illinois by 14. There is no question has all the pieces needed to get hot in Big Ten play, but after dominating in November and December Purdue needs to figure out some January things. Penn State and Rutgers in the next two games are the perfect medicine for that.
6. Michigan (12-4, 2-1) - When is Caris LeVert coming back? Michigan was competitive at Purdue, but didn't have enough offense. This is probably an NCAA team, but can they spring an upset or two in Ann Arbor to show they are worthy of more? We're going to see what the Wolverines are made of this week with a Maryland-Iowa double.
7. Ohio State (11-6, 3-1) - the Buckeyes got their asses kicked in every way, shape, and form Sunday in Bloomington. This was just as they were rounding into form and looked like a surprise contender. Overall their RPI is at 65 and 10-12 wins in league play will help them a lot towards getting in. After Rutgers on Wednesday they go to Maryland and Purdue.
8. Northwestern (14-3, 2-2) - Just get to 10 wins, Wildcats, and you'll be okay. That would put them at 22 wins overall and 20 in a conference that looks like it has at least 7 legitimate NCAA teams. Can they be the 8th? Their RPI is at 113 and they could get set 7 more wins to get to 21 without having a single top 100 win. They could really use a win in Bloomington on January 23rd. This week they get Wisconsin and Penn state at home and cannot lose either one. If they are 22-9 and 10-8 going into the Big Ten Tournament is that enough? That can happen even without a single top 50 win.
9. Illinois (9-8, 1-3) - Kudos to the Illini for shaking off three disappointing defeats to start conference play and coming back to beat Purdue soundly. They earned that win. So far they might have had the toughest league schedule, too. They don't play again until Saturday against Nebraska.
10. Penn State (10-7, 1-3) - Operation "Make the NIT" is in full effect in Happy Valley. The schedule does not do them a lot of favors, however. This week they go to Purdue and Northwestern where both teams need a win for different reasons. Purdue needs to show it is figuring some things out and can still contend while Northwestern can't afford a loss to Penn State if this is to be the year.
11. Wisconsin (9-8, 1-3) - The Badgers haven't been that bad in league play. Their M.O. is to drag you into a rock fight, but it has almost worked. They have lost to Purdue, Indiana, and Maryland by 10 total points. Northwestern needs to watch out tonight. The remaining games in Madison are traps too. They are 1-2 at home with Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois, and Michigan still to come. They are taking at least three of those.
12. Nebraska (9-8, 1-3) - Nebraska is bad, but they can at least cling to their lone conference win and feel good about not being Rutgers. They won by 34 at Rutgers, which is two things: 1. their biggest road win in 95(!) years and 2. a sad, sad indictment of Rutgers. Tonight they get Minnesota in a game to clinch not being 13th or 14th in the league.
13. Minnesota (6-10, 0-4) - The Gophers challenged Michigan State and won their ACC/B1G game, but that is about all we can say for them. As bad as they are I am still afraid of our trip to play on the Demon Wood of Xibalba on January 27. The Barn is a Place of Fear.
14. Rutgers (6-11, 0-4) - How did this team play Indiana to a 7 point game? This is one of the worst Big Ten teams in decades. No one has gone winless in conference play since Northwestern dropped a 5-25, 0-16 bomb in 1999-2000 (for good measure they had a non-conference loss to Nebraska, so 0-19!). Indiana in 2008-09 and Northwestern in 2007-08 were 1-17, with Indiana being worse overall at 5-25. Northwestern submitted an 0-fer in 1990-91 (5-23 overall), but you have to go back to 1943-44 for the last time a non-Northwestern Big Ten team went 0-fer (that was Chicago, who was 0-9 and 1-19) Remember this: one of Rutgers' wins is over non-DI Rutgers-Newark, where they trailed at halftime.
Those two (yes, there are two) Minnesota-Rutgers games are going to be thrilling, including one on the season's final day!