Yes, this is just another shameless ploy to write about how good Purdue is. It is also a slow news day until we play Maryland tomorrow night. When I last did a power rankings column there were only four title contenders and four NCAA locks. Now there are really only three title contenders because Michigan has four league losses and it seems very unlikely Purdue is going to lose four games. Purdue looks like a team that could join 1993 Indiana as the only 17-1 conference champ in Big Ten history. 2007 Ohio State, 2005 Illinois, and 1999 Illinois also had only one loss in league play, but those were 16-game seasons.
Of course, at 10-0, Purdue still has a chance to be the first team to go undefeated in Big Ten play since 1976 Indiana. I am not going to really start thinking about that unless we get through Michigan State to 14-0, but it is at least on the table and fun to think about. As far as the league title goes, I think it is Purdue’s to lose. All we need to do is stay undefeated in Mackey Arena. That ensures Ohio State gets a second conference loss. On paper, Ohio State and Michigan State are the only teams that should challenge us the rest of the way. A split of those two games probably assures a league title unless something crazy happens.
Can the league get more than 4 teams into the NCAA Tournament? Only once in the last 35 years has the conference gotten less than 5 teams into the NCAAs, and that was in 2008 when Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State were the only four entrants. That can hurt Purdue in the long run, because any loss outside of Ohio State and Michigan State would be a “bad” one except for maybe Maryland tomorrow night. That would be a huge boost for a terrapin team that needs one.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (21-2, 10-0) – There is not much of an argument here at No. 1. On a record 17-game winning streak Purdue is just rolling, and it should get two more wins this week against a Maryland team that has struggled on the road and at Rutgers. Purdue already won by 5 at Maryland when they were at full strength and they blew out Rutgers by 29 in West Lafayette. I don’t think Purdue overlooks either one, but next week is the most exciting week in a while with Ohio State coming to West Lafayette next Wednesday and Purdue goes to Michigan State on Saturday. That will likely decide the Big Ten title.
2. Michigan State (20-3, 8-2) – Yes, Ohio State has the better conference record, but I think Michigan State is the better team. As usual, they are building towards March. They stayed alive in the league race with a big comeback at Maryland. They may not win the Big Ten, but they are going to be a top 2 seed and I still think they beat us in East Lansing. We need to be careful because of their eight games left seven are against teams below the 100 line in the RPI.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (18-5, 9-1) – When Tony Carr banked in that three-pointer for Penn State it not only provided the Nittany Lions with a great win, it sent shockwaves through the Big Ten race. Ohio State still has to go to Purdue and Michigan, and now they probably have to win both to win the league. They cannot overlook a trip to Penn State later, either.
Definite NCAA Bid
4. Michigan Wolverines (18-6, 7-4) – With four losses already in league play it is doubtful that they can win the league, but there is no doubt they will go to the NCAAs. They are playing for a seed, and they can get on a run with only a home game against Ohio State and the season finale at Maryland as serious challenges. From a Purdue perspective we want to cheer for them. They are at 37 in the RPI, so if they can get in the top 30 BOTH of our wins over them will count as tier 1 wins.
Can Make The NCAAs, But Has Work To Do
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers (17-8, 8-4) – I am surprised that they have already played 12 conference games, but Nebraska is playing some very good basketball and racking up wins against the bottom of the league. They are the only team aside from Purdue that is undefeated at home in league play. The RPI is rising at 57. If they had beaten Kansas (1 point loss) and Penn State (2 point road loss) they would definitely be in. This team could easily go 13-5 in the league, and that would be enough. They don’t have to play Purdue, Michigan State, or Ohio State again.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions (15-8, 5-5) – The win in Columbus was a huge boost to their NCAA hopes. It might have even erased a bad home loss to Rider by a point. The anti-home court advantage of the Mausoleum has been a problem though. They lost at home to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Their RPI is also only 109. If they win at Michigan State tomorrow we’ll talk, but they have a lot to do.
7. Maryland Terrapins (15-8, 4-6) – I am only including Maryland because their RPI is still relatively strong and that erases a lot of things. They already have 6 losses in a very down Big Ten though. Even worse, they are 0-5 against the top 5 teams. The loss last week at Indiana was pretty crippling too. They are just 1-5 in true road games, with the only winning coming by a point at Illinois. I suppose if they drop tomorrow’s Purdue game as expected and win out they can make it in, but that would be 11-7 in a weak conference.
You Can’t Spell “Big Ten Basketball” Without N-I-T
8. Indiana Hoosiers (12-10, 5-5) – Indiana won’t make the NCAA Tournament, but they have shown Assembly Hall is still dangerous for top 5 teams. Michigan State needs to keep that in mind when they go to Bloomington on Saturday. I think they have proven they can play with anyone, but also lose to anyone. I was impressed with their intensity on Sunday, at least.
9. Northwestern Wildcats (13-10, 4-6) – It is hard to believe this team was ranked in the preseason. They are probably the most disappointing one in the league. They are 0-6 in tier 1 games and the closest they have come to a good win was the five point loss at Purdue. On the road they have been generally terrible, scoring only 47 points last night at Michigan and 46 at Indiana a few weeks ago.
10. Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-9, 3-7) – Minnesota has lost 6 of 7 since Reggie Lynch was suspended. The only win was at Penn state, which probably hurt the Nittany Lions more than it helped Minnesota. They could be an NIT team based on overall record, but they still need to win a few conference games.
Big Ten Pu-Pu Platter
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights – (12-11, 2-8) – Rutgers continues to be a stingy defensive team, but lousy offensive team. They are at least a tough out at home now, which is the first step towards becoming a decent Big Ten team. Do they get to six league wins? I could see them sweeping their two games with Illinois and beating both Northwestern and Indiana at home.
12. Wisconsin Badgers – (10-13, 3-7) – It is hard to believe their lengthy NCAA tournament streak will come to an end, but this team is various levels of ass outside of Ethan Happ. They can’t even win at home now. They are 1-6 in their last 7 with the only win coming over Illinois. Nebraska just got its first win at Wisconsin since joining the league.
13. Iowa Hawkeyes – (11-12, 2-8) – Iowa has only beaten Illinois and Wisconsin, and it took an epic collapse to beat Illinois. The worst may be yet to come with a three-game stretch coming up against Michigan State, Ohio state, and Michigan all in a row. Two of those are on the road, too.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (11-11, 1-8) – The good news is that they finally got a Big Ten win! They even have a really good win over Missouri. That is about it for good news in an otherwise dismal season in Champaign. I am hoping Purdue can get the job done February 22nd when it goes to Champaign in order to get a win in every Big Ten arena for these seniors.