So far it has been 12 up and 12 down for Purdue. The Boilers have run through the Big Ten with a perfect record, with the toughest two games coming against Michigan. Purdue won both of those by five total points, and with so few definite NCAA teams coming from the league this year those look like really good wins. For good measure, Purdue also beat Maryland twice, who is the 5th best team in the league by many computer rankings.
It has all been a setup for this week.
Judgement week is finally here, and it is the week that will go a very long way in deciding the Big Ten title. Because of Purdue’s 12-0 start to league play seven teams (Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Rutgers) have already been mathematically eliminated from getting even a share of the title. Penn State and Northwestern already have the maximum number of losses Purdue can get, so they are also well out of it. Nebraska and Michigan have each lost four times in conference play, and it seems unlikely that Purdue is going to go 2-4 down the stretch to keep them in it.
That leaves Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan State. With Purdue’s last four games coming against teams currently below 100 in the RPI a split this week would go a long way toward repeating as Big Ten champs. It is not a guarantee though. Let’s take a look at each team’s final six games:
Purdue (23-2, 12-0)
2/7 Ohio State, 2/10 at Michigan State, 2/15 at Wisconsin, 2/18 Penn State, 2/22 at Illinois, 2/25 Minnesota
Purdue already beat Wisconsin by 28 and Minnesota by 34, but Minnesota looks dangerous if their guards are hitting. That game will be senior day in West Lafayette, however, and asking them to beat this group of four seniors in their final home game is a tall task. The Penn State game suddenly looks kind of tricky now, especially since the Nittany Lions did win in Columbus. Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Vince Edwards, and P.J. Thompson seem to have zeroed in on the venues they have not won in, giving them a great chance at Illinois.
Of course, that is all after this week. With only one chance against Ohio State, and it coming at Mackey, Purdue needs to take care of business. Beating the Buckeyes Wednesday night gives Purdue a two game lead on the entire conference with five to play. They could then drop the game Saturday in East Lansing and still win the league outright without help.
I still don’t think anyone goes through the Big Ten undefeated, but if Purdue gets through this week it would almost be a disappointment if it didn’t go 18-0, because at 14-0 the hardest tests would already be passed.
Ohio State (20-5, 11-1)
2/7 at Purdue, 2/10 Iowa, 2/15 at Penn State, 2/18 at Michigan, 2/20 Rutgers 2/23 at Indiana
The Buckeyes almost got to 12-0, but a last second three by Tony Carr allowed the Nittany Lions to pull off a stunning upset. Ohio State has earned its No. 2 spot. It beat Michigan State handily in Columbus. It came back at against Michigan after trailing in December. They absolutely have a chance to win in Mackey Arena, too. They are 4-0 in true road games, but have not played a road game in an on campus arena since January 14th against Rutgers.
With a win at Purdue, Ohio State will have the toughest road victory in the entire conference. If they win in Mackey they can absolutely win at the Mausoleum against Penn State or in Crisler against Michigan, where the Wolverines seem to have narrow escape after narrow escape. Their chances hinge on winning in West Lafayette, because the closing stretch of 4 road games in the last 6 is not easy.
Michigan State (22-3, 10-2)
2/6 at Iowa, 2/10 Purdue, 2/13 at Minnesota, 2/17 at Northwestern, 2/20 Illinois, 2/25 at Wisconsin
With two losses already the Spartans need the most help, but they see Purdue’s game with Ohio State as a way to open the door before the Boilermakers come to East Lansing on Saturday. A Big Ten title for Michigan State probably is not happening if the Boilers beat the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State wins Sparty would only need one more Ohio State loss to get right back in it.
The thing is, Michigan State has been through a series of escapes lately. They needed a big comeback to win at Maryland. They struggled to put away Penn State and Indiana. I don’t expect much out of Wisconsin or Iowa, but trips to Northwestern and Minnesota could be dangerous.
What Does it Mean for Purdue?
Purdue needs a win this week, preferably at home against Ohio State. Since they are closer to us in the standings we need a little more breathing room, and we have to defend home court. If Purdue wins Wednesday night against Ohio State the Michigan State game suddenly does not matter much. Purdue could lose that one, win its last four regular season games, and still be the Big Ten champion at 28-3, 17-1 and likely in possession of a No. 1 seed. Ohio State is another top tier win and Michigan is strong enough that it can finish in the top 30 and count twice as a top tier win.
The Big Ten tournament may not even matter much, then. If the season ended today Purdue would open the Big Ten Tournament against either Indiana or Minnesota, then face probably Michigan in the semifinals. At this point securing a no. 1 seed is more about avoiding a bad loss. Winning at least one game in New York negates the chance at a bad loss. Yeah, things have been a little shaky in the last few games, but we have still found a way to win. Now we need to keep it going in Mackey. As long as we win Wednesday we’re in really, really good shape to repeat as B1G champs and get a No. 1 seed, no matter what happens in East Lansing.