In the two weeks since I last did these power rankings Purdue is the only team among the contenders that has had a major stumble. It knocked off two of the title contenders in Northwestern and Maryland, but that came off of the now infamous loss in Lincoln that might cost the Boilermakers a piece of the title. Since then, however, Michigan State has quietly emerged as a strong spoiler in the race. In their last five games they player Purdue, Wisconsin, and Maryland, so they will have a say with how this whole thing finishes. They probably won’t win it because they would need to win out and get a lot of help, but they will definitely have a say in who wins this thing.
As Purdue fans, we should be huge Michigan State fans in every game except when they come to Purdue on February 18th. If Purdue sweeps Michigan State and the Spartans win the rest of their games it becomes a very strong win for Purdue’s NCAA profile. If they can beat Maryland and Wisconsin too we only need Maryland to then win at Wisconsin for Purdue to have a chance at the Big Ten title.
With about a month left, here are the biggest games left when it comes to determining the Big Ten title:
February 12: Northwestern at Wisconsin
February 15: Maryland at Northwestern
February 18: Michigan State at Purdue
February 19: Maryland at Wisconsin
February 26: Wisconsin at Michigan State
March 5: Michigan State at Maryland, Purdue at Northwestern
Those are just the biggest games. What about Wisconsin at Michigan after the Wolverines came close to a win in Madison? What about Wisconsin at Nebraska when the Cornhuskers have already beaten Purdue and Maryland? Purdue still has two bitter rivalry games against a weakened Indiana that cannot be taken for granted. Minnesota has already won at Purdue and had narrow home losses to Maryland and Wisconsin, but gets a road rematch in each case.
It’s going to be a fun final month.
League Title Contenders
1. Wisconsin Badgers (20-3, 9-1) Last Ranking: 1, RPI: 17, KenPom: 11 – The Badgers are now all alone in first place, but in their only game against the top 4 teams they lost by 11. They keep winning brutally ugly games with defense. Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Indiana all pushed them, but Wisconsin prevailed in the end. They are just the team that won’t die. The offense has looked horrid for three straight games, but wins are wins. This week they go to Nebraska and host Northwestern. Both teams are capable of beating them.
2. Purdue Boilermakers (19-5, 8-3) Last Ranking: 3, RPI: 22, KenPom: 12 – Purdue stayed alive by pulling out a hard-earned win in College Park. If it weren’t for the three inexplicable losses to Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska they would be in contention for a No. 1 seed. They now have clinched the tiebreakers with Maryland and Wisconsin, but they have to stay clean in the final seven games and get help. This week we go to Bloomington, and even with Indiana missing key guys (James Blackmon is still a question mark) you can never take anything for granted there. The excellent 2010 team went down there and a deplorable Indiana team played them to a one-possession game.
3. Maryland Terrapins (20-3, 8-2) Last Ranking: 2, RPI 21, KenPom: 35 – The Terps are a really, really good team and the margin between them and Purdue is extremely close. I recognize that we stole won on the road. You don’t lead for only 59 total seconds without realizing you stole one. Now we need them to keep playing well for NCAA purposes, win in Madison, and lose somewhere else along the way. Losing at Northwestern next Wednesday would do nicely.
4. Northwestern Wildcats (18-5, 7-3) Last Ranking: 4, RPI: 33, KenPom: 30 – Northwestern took its beating at Purdue, but it had the weekend off to get Scottie Lindsay healthy. For this to be the Year they need three more wins and they should get one this week at home against Illinois. As far as the Big Ten title goes, they can still get it. Winning Saturday at Wisconsin would be a huge step towards it.
5. Michigan State Spartans (14-9, 6-4) Last Ranking: 7, RPI: 48, KenPom: 49 – I will move MSU onto the fringe of contenders just because they still have so many games left against the top 4. After the Purdue loss they recovered to beat Michigan and Nebraska. They also have three relatively easy games (at Michigan, home for Iowa and Ohio State) before going to Purdue. They can be 9-4 in the league before that closing stretch, so with some help they can still be in this.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (15-9, 5-6) Last Ranking: 5, RPI: 73, KenPom: 41 – Indiana is hanging on like Yoda at the end of his battle with the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith in terms of their NCAA hopes. The triple-overtime marathon win over Penn State was essential without James Blackmon Jr. If he comes back this Thursday they are very dangerous at home. It feels like they absolutely have to win these next two home games against Purdue and Michigan because of that 4 road games in 5 to finish the season.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers (16-7, 4-6) Last Ranking: 6, RPI: 24, KenPom: 37 – The Gophers are loved by the computers even after a five game losing streak followed their top 25 ranking. I really wish they had held court at home against Maryland and Wisconsin though. They get Iowa this week at home and then go to Rutgers, two games where they should be able to win and shore up their NCAA hopes. This is probably an NCAA team as long as it gets to 9-9 in league play because the computer numbers are so strong. Their win at Purdue looks gigantic for their profile.
Pain in the Ass Teams
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (14-10, 6-5) Last Ranking: 9, RPI: 100, KenPom: 70 – The RPI sucks (but at least is finally in the top 100), they aren’t going to win the Big Ten, and they probably won’t go to the NCAA tournament, but because of Peter Jok and a bunch of talented freshmen they are a pain in the ass for everyone to play. The downside is that they don’t get Maryland and Wisconsin in Iowa City. Their only three home games are Illinois, Indiana, and Penn State. Iowa is just 1-4 on the road in Big Ten play, winning at Rutgers.
9. Michigan Wolverines (14-9, 4-6) Last Ranking: 8, RPI: 79, KenPom: 40 – Since beating Indiana like they stole something Michigan lost two rivalry games to Michigan State and Ohio State. That’s not the mark of a tournament team, but you know they have that game in them where they hit 18 threes and surprise somebody. Let’s hope it is against Wisconsin at home and not Purdue.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes (14-10, 4-7) Last Ranking: 11, RPI: 68, KenPom: 60 – it still seems odd to have Ohio State this low because Thad Matta is not this bad of a coach. They have been won of the unluckiest home teams in the league though. They have lost to Purdue, Maryland, and Northwestern at home 11 total points (and I didn’t mention losing to 8-13 Florida Atlantic by one at home). There are a few opportunities to get back into it, but it is pretty clear they just don’t have it. They do have enough for an upset somewhere though.
Varying Degrees of Shitty
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-11, 2-9) Last Ranking: 14, RPI: 127, KenPom: 134 – Rutgers won a Big Ten road game! They have also quietly played some pretty good basketball in a few losses here. They should have beaten Wisconsin at MSG if not for some poor free throw shooting. They also weren’t awful at Maryland. Sure, they still aren’t “good” per se, but they are at least well above, “openly and abjectly terrible in every way.”
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-13, 4-7) Last Ranking: 13, RPI: 82, KenPom: 95 – This is probably Purdue’s worst loss because Nebraska is the only team in the conference with a losing overall record. If Purdue loses the Big Ten by a single game it will blame itself for this one. It was Nebraska’s only win in the last 8 games, but they still have two of the most absurd wins of the year at Maryland and home to Purdue. Can they get the trifecta Thursday night against Wisconsin? Please?
13. Penn State Nittany Lions (12-12, 4-7) Last Ranking: 10, RPI: 94, KenPom: 93 – What a bad week for Penn State. They lost a triple overtime marathon at Indiana thanks to poor free throw shooting and a ‘just barely” buzzer beater. Then they became the first Big Ten team ever to lose at home to Rutgers. Their reward? A home game Tuesday against a pissed off Maryland team.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (12-11, 3-8) Last Ranking: 12, RPI: 71, KenPom: 80 – This team has way too much talent to be this bad. They have now lost 6 of 7 and have often looked awful in doing so. In conference road games they have lost by 25, 16, 23, 9, and at Penn State. I have a feeling we will have a new coach in Chambana next year.