The Big Ten is now Iowa's to lose.
The Hawkeyes have been impressive in the early going and have already gathers four wins over Purdue and Michigan State. The Boilers and Spartans have also dropped other games, meaning they both need a lot of help if they are going to get back into the race (and they still play each other once). Yes, Indiana is there, but I am still doubting things with them until they play an actual good team in league play. Yes, 7-0 is an inarguable 7-0, but there is very little question that theirs has been much easier to come by when they might have played one NCAA team in the bunch (Ohio State is bubble at best).
The Hoosiers are crushing teams in Bloomington, however, winning their last three by 25, 34, and 32 at home. Also, unlike Purdue, they didn't choke against a bad Illinois team.
1. Iowa (16-3, 7-0) - The Hawkeye shave certainly earned it. Not only are they 7-0, you could argue that they have had just one bad half all Big Ten season, and that was the first half at Purdue. I think a lot of their success comes from the 17-point second half comeback in that game. Yeah, Purdue fell apart, but the Hawkeyes were also shooting the lights out and played fantastic basketball there. There are definitely some spots where they could get tripped up, such as at Maryland, Indiana, and Michigan, but for now they are unquestionably the best team in the league.
2. Indiana (17-3, 7-0) - Indiana has a test tonight, as Madison has been a house of horrors for them and the Badgers only lost by 1 in Bloomington. This team is still a lot better without James Blackmon. Who knew that losing a streaky, me-first shooter with poor shot selection and absolutely no defense could be a good thing? Indiana has won 12 in a row overall and will stay in the hunt for a while just because they are already 7-0.
3. Maryland (17-3, 6-2) - The Terrapins don't have any more games in the state of Michigan, so that is the best news for them. Also, at home they get the benefit of referee protection of Diamond Stone. I swear, Stone gets more protection than Jared Sullinger ever did. That protection led to wins at home over Penn State and Northwestern. They can do the entire a conference a favor by beating Iowa on Thursday. Otherwise, this race might be over in a week.
Playing for an NCAA Seed
4. Purdue (17-4, 5-3) - Because Purdue was swept by Iowa and lost at Illinois it is likely out of the title race. The loss in Iowa City isn't bad, but Purdue will probably finish something like 13-5 and regret blowing the second half of the Iowa home game as well as the Illinois game, as 15-3 probably wins at least a share of the conference. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities left for quality wins to get a good NCAA seed. Finish in the top four of the Big Ten, get a 3-4 seed, and the Boilers are in a good position to do some damage in March.
5. Michigan State (17-4, 4-4) - The Spartans are in a similar place as Purdue. They probably won't win the conference now, but they can do a lot of damage and help decide who does. Like Purdue, they were swept by Iowa and have a bad loss (Nebraska at home), but they are a team that can see a larger picture and be ready for March. Next up are two relatively easy games before stern tests at Michigan and Purdue.
6. Michigan (15-5, 5-2) - The Wolverines are probably Indiana if the Hoosiers had played anybody in the conference yet. They got a nice home win over Maryland, but in trips to Purdue and Iowa they struggled. This week should be pretty easy with Rutgers and Penn State, but the back half of the schedule is pretty brutal. Their home slate alone is Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa.
Your Big Ten Bubble
7. Ohio State (13-8, 5-3) - The Buckeyes are 5-0 against teams outside the top 100 in Big Ten play, but 0-3 against top 100 teams. It doesn't help that they played on the road against Maryland, Indiana, and Purdue, resulting in losses by 25, 35, and 11. That changes this weekend when they host Maryland. If Ohio State can hold serve at home and win expected road games at Illinois, Nebraska, and Rutgers it might be enough to get them into the Tournament.
8. Nebraska (12-9, 4-4) - Do Tim Miles and Shavon Shields have the Cornhuskers on another run? Michigan cooled them off a little, but you can't deny what they did in East Lansing. Their next two games (at Purdue and home against Maryland) will likely determine if there is another run like two years ago or not.
9. Northwestern (15-6, 3-5) - The Wildcats have now lost three in a row, and only the heartbreaker at Maryland was close. They are definitely going to regret losing at home to Penn State, but at least they have a top 100 win over Wisconsin. It is a shame that they can still get to about 21 wins without beating anyone of note. With 10 games left they likely need to go 7-3 to have even a chance at an at large bid, and that means they would have to beat Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, or Michigan.
10. Wisconsin (11-9, 3-4) - I am going to put the Badgers here as a fringe bubble team because if they win tonight it will be a huge RPI boost for a team already at 83. It could also set up a nice little run that could see them kick open the coffin like the Bride in Kill Bill Part 2. If they beat Indiana they get at Illinois, Ohio State at home, and Nebraska at home. That could get them to 15-9, 7-4 in the league and everyone wondering how dangerous they are down the stretch. It will take a lot to get them back into the discussion, but we said the same of Purdue last year and Nebraska two years ago.
NIT or Bust
11. Penn State (11-10, 2-6) - The Nittany Lions are not a good team by any measure, but they haven't had their signature "home upset because the opposition fell asleep in the Bryce Jordan Mausoleum". Normally it is Purdue or Michigan State that falls victim there, but Illinois and Iowa are the only teams left that could fit into that category.
12. Illinois (10-10, 2-5) - Purdue's loss in Champaign is going to be the crippling blow, because aside from that game the Illini have looked awful in league play. At least they got past Minnesota on the road, though it did take overtime. They also get Rutgers twice and Minnesota at home for a few more wins, but unless Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill can replicate their performance against Purdue this team won't beat anyone else.
13. Minnesota (6-14, 0-8) - The Gophers stay out of the basement because they at least beat a Clemson team that has been playing great basketball this month. I am also still terrified of going to Xibalba tomorrow night because nothing good ever happens there for Purdue. I just want to get out of there 100% healthy and with a win. We've lost two in a row up there and, well, there was That Game.
14. Rutgers (6-14, 0-7) - The Scarlet Knights hung with Iowa pretty well for a half, which is a good moral victory. Playing both Michigan schools on the road in their next two games is not conducive to a win, but they get Illinois at home next Wednesday. We also can't forget February 23rd in the Barn, when Rutgers goes to Minnesota for the first of two games.