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Purdue Is Back in the Big Ten Race

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After beating Michigan State Purdue has moved back into contention for a 24th Big Ten title.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mackey Arena is the home to 23 Big Ten championships, and with good reason: It is really, REALLY hard for other teams to win there. That is normally the case in any year, but recently Mackey has been a veritable fortress where it is almost impossible for the opposition to win. Since January 1, 2015 Purdue is 65-5 at home. Here is how the 5 losses happened:

1/10/2015 Maryland 69, Purdue 60 – Because A.J. Hammons was limited to only 6 points.

1/3/2016 Iowa 70, Purdue 63- Because Purdue completely collapsed in the second half.

11/14/2016 – Villanova 79, Purdue 76 – They’ve only won two of the last three national titles and survived two late three attempts.

1/1/2017 – Minnesota 91, Purdue 82 (OT) – Because Nate Mason played out of his mind

2/7/2018 – Ohio State 64, Purdue 63 – Because we couldn’t get one rebound.

We may have only won one Big Ten title in this run (so far), but we have definitely had a say in who would because almost everyone loses when they come to West Lafayette. We’re a rebound away from consecutive titles and after today we’re right back in the race thanks to Mackey Magic.

That turnaround this season has been incredible because after losing to Notre Dame in Indianapolis 43 days again we looked dead. In that particular game we looked pretty awful and we lacked any wins of substance from our non-conference schedule. Coach Painter had one of the calmest dressing downs you will ever see in the presser after that game and the team responded. It really got going by surviving in overtime in Madison a few weeks ago, which seemed to really ignite this crew. With 11 games left we just took down the hottest team in the league and suddenly a 24th Big Ten title is possible.

Most of the conference has 11 league games to play, and I am betting that 16-4 is going to be the bare minimum it will take to get a chance. I say 16-4 because both Michigan and Michigan State are really, really good and have only one loss. I don’t see either of them losing more than three the rest of the way barring a catastrophic injury or something. Michigan State is in especially good shape because they have already played half their league schedule, so 7-3 or better is more than reasonable for them.

That leaves only six teams with four losses or less still in contention for the league title: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota. That leaves your standings as follows:

Michigan State 9-1

Michigan 8-1

Purdue 7-2

Maryland 7-3

Wisconsin 6-3

Minnesota 5-4

Obviously the other eight teams will play a role because this league is so tough that there will be upsets. You only needed to see Illinois beating Maryland yesterday to see that. Most likely, however, our league champion(s) will come from these six. Let’s take a look at all of them and what they have left.

Michigan State Spartans

Schedule: Indiana, at Illinois, Minnesota, at Wisconsin, Ohio State, Rutgers, at Michigan, at Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan

The Spartans are still in great shape to repeat. They have been lights out at home and as long as they get at least a split with Michigan they should be pretty good. Those two games are two of the biggest games left in the conference. Their trip to Wisconsin will not be easy, as they were nearly tripped up on the final day of the season there last year. Aside from going to Wisconsin and Michigan they are probably going to be heavily favored in the other eight games. They get an advantage by dodging a trip to Maryland, but they already won at Ohio State, Nebraska, and Iowa. There is certainly no shame in losing at Mackey. We could definitely use Michigan beating them in East Lansing, but I think they go unbeaten at home. At Indiana on March 2 could be tricky, but

Predicted Final Record: 17-3

Michigan Wolverines

Schedule: Ohio State, at Iowa, at Rutgers, Wisconsin, at Penn State, Maryland, at Minnesota, Michigan State, Nebraska, at Maryland, at Michigan State

The Wolverines have a back heavy schedule with three of their toughest games in the final four. The trip to Minnesota won’t be easy, either. They have not been playing as sharp of late. They barely got past Minnesota at home and after building a big lead early at Indiana they struggled the rest of the way. This week’s game at Iowa is a big one, but they arguably have the toughest remaining schedule having to play Michigan State twice and Maryland twice with trips to Minnesota and Iowa. They also have to host Wisconsin, which is not easy.

Predicted Final Record: 16-4

Purdue Boilermakers

Schedule: at Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, at Maryland, Penn State, at Indiana, at Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Northwestern

The good news is that Purdue is done with the two best teams in Michigan and Michigan State. The schedule is pretty favorable with the toughest game by far being the trip to College Park on February 12. On paper playing winless Penn State twice is a gift, but someone is going to be bitten by them in State College because it ALWAYS happens, and they did beat the same Virginia Tech team that beat us. I am always wary of going to Indiana as well, but there is the possibility that Indiana is just done on the season right now. In terms of playing at Mackey Ohio State may have the best chance, but after today it really looks like an undefeated home season is possible.

Predicted Final Record: 16-4

Maryland Terrapins

Schedule: Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at Nebraska, Purdue, at Michigan, at Iowa, Ohio State, at Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota

The Terps were rolling until dropping both games this week. Losing in East Lansing is not bad, but losing to Illinois is. The Illini have been mostly awful all season and Maryland lost to them by 11. That was their third loss and I don’t see them navigating trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, and Iowa with only one defeat. They will have a big say in who wins with home games against Purdue and Michigan though.

Predicted Final Record: 14-6

Wisconsin Badgers

Schedule: at Nebraska, Maryland, at Minnesota, at Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, at Indiana, Penn State, Iowa

Again, Wisconsin already has three losses. Can they navigate trips to Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska while losing no more than once? We had better hope they are done losing at home, too. The win over Michigan at home was very nice, but it would help us a ton if they can repeat that against Michigan State in a few weeks.

Predicted Final Record: 14-6

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Schedule: Illinois, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Michigan State, at Nebraska, Indiana, Michigan, at Rutgers, at Northwestern, Purdue at Maryland

If 16-4 is the magical mark you’re basically asking the Gophers to run the table the rest of the way., winning at Purdue, Michigan State, and Maryland while beating Michigan at home. That’s probably not happening. Instead, they can play spoiler for Michigan and Purdue in Minneapolis. This is a good enough team to easily make the NCAAs, but winning the league is probably going to be a stretch.

Predicted Final Record: 13-7

It is going to be a fun ride, but Michigan State is in great shape having already played the extra game. I think they are the favorite the rest of the way, but Michigan is right there with them. If you assume a split there is a very good chance they share the league title. It is also possible they share it at 18-2 because both are good enough to beat everyone else. As well as Purdue is playing I just don’t see us running the table to keep pace in that regard.

That means we’re going to need help. We’re going to need Wisconsin to beat the Spartans in Madison or have Michigan State not come back after falling behind like they have done so well. We’re going to need Michigan to lose at Minnesota or Maryland (or both). Of course, we’re going to have to keep winning too.

Yeah, a 24th Big Ten title is still a longshot, but we’re almost halfway through the season and we at least have a shot.