There are only two weeks left in the Big Ten season. Everyone has four games left except for Ohio State and Rutgers, who each have three games left. They will be off this coming weekend to give everyone just two games going into next week. We’re also down to three contenders for the conference title. Northwestern’s loss to Maryland this week likely knocked them out of the title hunt, as they are two games back with four to play. Sure, one of those games is against Purdue in Evanston, but They would need Purdue to drop one other game, Wisconsin drop two, and Maryland drop one just to have a tie. That seems unlikely.
So Northwestern gets removed from the contenders list, but should still be in good shape for the NCAA Tournament. They will also battle Michigan State and Minnesota for the fourth bye. Of those three, Michigan State is a game back, but has the tiebreaker over both by going 3-0 against the Gophers and Wildcats.
League Title Contenders
1. Purdue Boilermakers (22-5, 11-3) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 20, KenPom: 11 – Purdue is looking like the best team in the Big Ten right now, which sends off all the warning bells for the diehards like me. On the one hand, it is awesome to watch this team humming on all cylinders. On the other, it’s Purdue. I can’t help but feel the banana peel/nut punch is coming (because it always does). Still, things look great right now. I thought the same thing about the Cubs right up to the very end. Purdue is four wins away from a Big Ten title and if someone can beat Wisconsin this week, the Boilers have the potential of clinching a share of the league title at home against Indiana in the last home game of the year. That would be pretty sweet.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (22-5, 11-3) Last Ranking: 2, RPI: 24, KenPom: 15 – The Badgers dropped the game we needed them to at Michigan this week, but recovered to hold off Maryland with a hot second half. Like Purdue, they need four wins for at least a share of the title. Ethan Happ is playing well enough to be runner-up for Player of the Year to Caleb Swanigan. This week is tricky one with road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State. If they drop one, Purdue will be all alone in first place if it wins both games.
3. Maryland Terrapins (22-5, 10-4) Last Ranking: 3, RPI: 19, KenPom: 31 – For a half on Sunday it looked like Maryland was going to earn a valuable road sweep at Northwestern and Wisconsin. They were impressive in dismantling the Wildcats during the week. Melo Trimble will very likely be the Player of the Week. He scored 59 points in two games on the road and pretty much single-handedly beat Northwestern. The major downside of losing in Madison, other than falling out of first place, is that the Terrapins now do not have the tiebreaker against Purdue or Wisconsin for Big Ten Tournament seeding. They led Purdue, Nebraska, and Wisconsin all at halftime before losing.
NCAA Tournament Teams
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-7, 8-6) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 23, KenPom: 39 – The Gophers have now won five in a row after losing five in a row. It wasn’t pretty. They edged Indiana by a point at home and needed overtime to beat Michigan, but they are one of the hottest teams in the league and the RPI is looking great for an at large bid. If not for two point losses to Penn State and Wisconsin they would be legitimately in the race for the league crown. They can still get a piece with help. If they win their last four games they will hand Maryland and Wisconsin an additional loss. They would then need a second Wisconsin loss and two Purdue losses.
5. Northwestern Wildcats (20-7, 9-5) Last Ranking: 4, RPI: 37, KenPom: 33 – When Bryant McIntosh hit the late go ahead three Saturday to beat Rutgers it may have been the biggest shot in Northwestern basketball history. The next victory will establish a school record for wins in a season. It will also assure the Wildcats will play in their first ever NCAA Tournament. They have won nine conference games for the first time since 1933, when they went 10-2 to win the conference. The win over Rutgers was also huge because Northwestern dodged an absolutely horrific loss for their profile. They are probably okay regardless of what happens, but one more victory has to make them a lock.
6. Michigan State Spartans (16-11, 8-6) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 42, KenPom: 54 – Purdue is a horrible matchup for this Spartan team, so they were probably losing in West Lafayette on Saturday anyway. Losing Eron Harris for the season was the real blow. He is their No. 3 scorer and they will also miss his senior leadership. A soft bubble will help. The Spartans are helped by two wins over Minnesota, one over Northwestern, and they still have games against Wisconsin and Maryland. The chances are there, but Michigan State might need to go 3-1 in the last four to feel totally safe.
7. Michigan Wolverines (17-10, 7-7) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 55, KenPom: 27 – The overtime loss on Sunday at Minnesota wasn’t a bad one, but it would have greatly improved the Wolverines’ profile. The three straight wins over Michigan State, Indiana, and Wisconsin pulled them back into the field in my mind. They have three of their final four games on the road, but they are at Rutgers, Northwestern, and Nebraska. There is also a golden opportunity (and a dangerous one for us) against Purdue. A 2-2 finish might be enough, but 3-1 definitely is. Let them go 3-1, losing to Purdue, because then it likely becomes a top 50 road win for us.
In Limbo for No NIT
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-14, 6-8) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 75, KenPom: 79 – The Cornhuskers have won two in a row and it should have been three, but missed free throws against Wisconsin cost them. Normally, they would be in the running for an NIT bid, but they would have to get over .500 overall to get there. That seems unlikely at this point. They do have three conference losses by one point (Rutgers, Ohio State, and Wisconsin). Give them those, and they would be 15-11, 9-5. That’s a fringe NCAA team.
9. Penn State Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 73, KenPom: 80 – Penn State is another team with some missed opportunities. Theirs were both games against Indiana and a home loss to Rutgers. This is a young, promising team that could be pretty good next year. They have enough talent for Tuesday night to be a concern, especially if we fall into a coma at the Bryce Jordan Mausoleum.
10. Illinois Fighting Illini (14-12, 5-9) Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 67, KenPom: 72 – The computer numbers are still good enough that if Illinois won its last four games it could punch its way out of the coffin and make the tournament. That would give them a sweep of Northwestern, a win over Michigan State, and wins over Nebraska and Rutgers. They have the talent. The two toughest games are at home. They just don’t have any consistency.
11. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-13, 5-10) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 83, KenPom: 65 – Talk about agonizing losses at home. Ohio State has lost at home to Florida Atlantic by 2, Purdue by 1, at Virginia by 2, and at home to Nebraska by 1. That’s four losses by 6 points, and given that Purdue and Virginia were missed as good wins, it is the difference between the NIT and the NCAA. If they could beat Wisconsin this week it would be great.
12. Iowa Hawkeyes (14-13, 6-8) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 120, KenPom: 78 – Iowa has now lost three in a row to Minnesota, Michigan State, and Illinois. Like Penn State, they are young and they fight hard. Peter Jok gives them a shot against anyone. To make the NIT they need to win two of their last four, but they have home games against Penn State and Indiana to do so. They are 1-6 on the road in conference play, but 5-2 at home with a win over Purdue.
Dead Team Walking
13. Indiana Hoosiers (15-12, 5-9) Last Ranking: 11, RPI: 91, KenPom: 45 – On paper, Indiana is still very much alive. The wins over Kansas and North Carolina have them just barely out of the tournament in some brackets. The RPI is the only blemish that shouldn’t have them considered. They are still in a good spot record-wise for an NIT bid. That’s only on paper though. In reality, this team is done. James Blackmon Jr. responded with a good game at Minnesota, but they have now lost six of seven. If they don’t win Tuesday at Iowa there is a very good chance this team doesn’t win another game at all this season. They visibly quit against Michigan and the near miss at Minnesota might have merely been the spasming of their corpse.
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-15, 2-13) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 152, KenPom: 126 – Rutgers nearly ruined Northwestern’s season on Saturday, but came up short. There is little question they are much better than last year though. Even then, they are still the worst team in the conference. They are just a lot closer now than they were. Their reward after a rough year is three straight home games to close the year against Michigan, Maryland, and Illinois. I think they get that Illinois game.