What a week last week! Until now the Big Ten has looked like it was going to be a two team race between Purdue and Michigan State. Instead, the Spartans dropped a pair of games and almost lost at home to Rutgers. Through six games everyone has at least two losses except for Purdue and Ohio State. Those two teams control their path to the crown and meet only once, in West Lafayette, on February 7th. Both may stay unbeaten until then too, as the Buckeyes somehow have four home games in a row after going to Northwestern and playing Minnesota in New York this week.
Of course, the Spartans and Michigan can’t be counted out yet, either. Beyond those four teams, however, does the Big Ten have another NCAA contender?
Championship Contender Tier
1. Purdue Boilermakers (17-2, 6-0) – Later today Purdue will officially be ranked in the top 4 nationally. The Boilers have won 13 in a row overall, 18 in a row at home, and during that streak have had just one game decided by a single possession. That was Tuesday’s win in Ann Arbor. They certainly look unbeatable in Mackey Arena, with the toughest games left coming against Michigan and Ohio State. On the road the Boilers have 6 games left, 5 against teams below 100 in the RPI. Oh, and they are 4-0 against teams in the top 100 on the road. They could possibly drop the game at Michigan State and be just fine. On paper this looks like an easy week, but Saturday at Iowa could be tricky because it is always tricky.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes (15-4, 6-0) – I was kind of doubtful about Keita Bates-Diop as Big Ten Player of the year, but the senior has been unstoppable of late. He is at 20.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 41% from three and scoring at the rim with impunity. At 1.8 blocks per game he is a defensive force, too. The 32 against Michigan State was impressive. He could have also been a Boilermaker too, as he strongly considered Purdue. Of course, had he committed we likely don’t get Vince Edwards, but it is an interesting “what if”.
3. Michigan Wolverines (15-2, 4-2) – The Wolverines are really close to an undefeated Big Ten record in their own right. They blew a 13-point halftime lead at Ohio State back on December 4th and then had the heartbreak of Tuesday against Purdue. Those are the only two losses since the beginning of December. I still think they are capable of winning in Mackey if they get hot from three and continue to exploit Purdue’s switching with Isaac Haas defensively. No team can expose Haas defensively like Michigan.
4. Michigan State Spartans (16-3, 4-2) – Just 10 days ago there was discussion about Michigan State going undefeated in the Big Ten. They had just obliterated Maryland by 30, but since then they are damn lucky they aren’t 0-3. They needed terrible shot selection by Rutgers on two straight possessions at the end of regulation to survive in overtime. Ohio State just spanked them. Mo Wagner had a dominant game against their vaunted frontcourt too. This is still the Big Ten’s most talented team on paper, but they really need to get it together. There is no valid reason for Myles Bridges to need more than 30 minutes to score his first points against Rutgers.
“They’re Within Two Games of First Place?:” Tier
5. Indiana Hoosiers (11-7, 4-2) – Remember three years ago when Purdue lost at home to North Florida and Gardner Webb at home, but still recovered to make the NCAAs? Indiana is trying to do that. Outside of the top four the Big Ten sucks this year, but there is something to be said for taking care of business against the rest of the suck. Indiana has won three in a row against mediocre competition and probably could have won in Madison if they had any interest in playing that game. Our friends at Crimson Quarry said it best: They are playing well enough that the Fort Wayne and Indiana State losses could really hurt in the end. I don’t think they are an NCAA team, but what if they go 11-7 in the conference and manage to shock Purdue or Michigan State in Bloomington?
6. Maryland Terrapins (13-5, 3-3) – The Terps have battled injury and illness, but they are hanging in there. Michigan State and Ohio State blew them out, but they still get a return game at home against the Spartans. Overall, they probably have the best chance at being the 5th Big Ten team in the NCAAs. After going to Michigan tonight the schedule gets much easier, with the toughest game left being a trip to Purdue. They are also the only team in the conference that has to play road games at Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State. They also get three of them at home.
Various Levels of Mediocrity Tier
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (13-6, 3-3) – Penn State has alternated wins and losses for a month straight. The home loss to Rider is a backbreaker for a team that had a real shot of 11-12 wins in a very down big Ten. They also lost to Wisconsin at home by a point. A 15-4, 4-2 Penn State is probably thinking Bubble. There is time though, and the last two home games against Ohio State and Michigan give them a couple of chances.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-7, 3-3) – You can excuse the loss at Purdue, but a two-point loss at Penn State and the missed chance at home against Kansas are missed opportunities. Tonight they get Illinois at home before an intriguing Thursday game against Michigan. They are awful on the road, but at home Nebraska is 9-1 with only a 1 point loss to Kansas. Michigan is their toughest home game left too, so an NIT berth is there for the taking if they just defend home court.
9. Northwestern Wildcats (10-9, 2-4) – The Wildcats forgot to pack their offense last night in the trip to Bloomington. They shot 25% from the floor and managed only 46 points against the Hoosiers. It is almost like everything that went right for them last season has come crashing down. Remember; at one point this team was a top 20 team. If they could play to their ability Wednesday night against Ohio State I would appreciate it though.
10. Wisconsin Badgers (9-9, 2-3) – The Badgers are Ethan Happ and a bag of crap. Coming to Mackey Arena after losing consecutive games to Rutgers and Nebraska is not a good look. Still, they at least play teams close. Of their nine losses, five are by five points or less. They are in the middle of a stretch where five games in six are on the road. Purdue should beat them handily tomorrow night, but stranger things have happened.
Ignore Them at Your Peril Tier
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-8, 1-5) – Ohio State handled them with ease last night, but this is statistically still the best defensive team in the conference and they almost pulled off the upset of the year in East Lansing. If they were something other than bad on offense you’re looking at a .500 Big Ten team. As bad as the rest of the league has looked is six wins outside the realm of possibility for them? What about seven? They are at least better.
Dead Team Walking Tier
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-6, 2-4) – The overall record is still okay, but the Gophers lost by a total of 57 points this week. They gave up 83 points to a Northwestern team that struggled to put the ball in the basket at all against Indiana and completely folded against Purdue. Somehow Reggie Lynch is still not officially banished from the team, which is a very bad look. Of course, I am just a blogger, not a basketball coach. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy are excellent, but Purdue absolutely embarrassed this team and I think they have quit.
We Played the Most Exciting Big Ten game of the Year Tier
13. Iowa Hawkeyes (10-9, 1-5) – Iowa has been bad this year. Still, they 104-97 win at Illinois on Thursday was fun as hell. They were down 20 at Illinois, recovered to take the lead, gave up a buzzer-beating tying three to Trent Frazier, then won in overtime. For two teams not going anywhere this year it was fun as hell.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (10-8, 0-5) – Illinois has not won a Big Ten football or basketball game since March 1st of last year against Michigan State. That’s 16 in a row. After flat out blowing against Iowa will they win one at all?