With less than one month left in the Big Ten regular season, it’s time for the teams in the middle of the pack to either make their move or fade off into the sunset.
Some teams took a big step forward in the last seven days while others stumbled.
As we enter the homestretch, every win carries added significance. The selection committee takes into account how each team is playing as the tournament begins, so a winning streak now can be a lifesaver for a potential bubble team.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
17 in a row for Purdue. It’s the nation’s longest winning streak and the longest winning streak in the history of their program. Isaac Haas was the deciding factor against Indiana, with a career high 26 points, but it seems like it can be anyone on any given night for the Boilermakers. Their last loss came on Thanksgiving Day.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Rutgers
2. Michigan State
Despite the turmoil surrounding Michigan State last week, the Spartans managed to take care of business on the court. Look through the current NCAA team statistics and you’ll be amazed at how omnipresent they are. They lead the nation in Rebound Margin, Assists Per Game, Blocked Shots Per Game, and Field Goal Percentage Defense, and rank 2nd in Field Goal Percentage. That’s not bad.
Upcoming: vs Penn State / at Indiana
3. Ohio State
After beating Nebraska early last week, the Buckeyes fell at the buzzer against Penn State for their first Big Ten loss of the season. Keita Bates-Diop has been one of the best stories in college basketball this season, and currently stands as the league’s scoring leader. His team gets two more at home this week.
Upcoming: vs Indiana / vs Illinois
Michigan has now lost twice to Purdue by a combined five points. I’m not one for moral victories, but that’s not too shabby. And here’s a bold statement - despite being outside the Top 3 all season, I think this Wolverines squad actually has a decent chance to repeat at the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Upcoming: vs Northwestern / vs Minnesota
With every week that passes, the Huskers look like more and more of a lock to make the field of 68. They lost a tough one at Ohio State on Monday night, but rebounded to finish the week 2-1. Their upcoming schedule is extremely favorable, so if they can keep the momentum going, they’ll have a chance to pick up their first-ever NCAA Tournament win in March.
Upcoming: at Wisconsin
6. Penn State
The Nittany Lions did everything they needed to do last week, as they try to make a push for a spot in the dance. The unbelievable finish against Ohio State was a significant victory for their resume, and they followed it up two days later by beating Rutgers. Tony Carr ranks second in the Big Ten with 19.4 PPG.
Upcoming: at Michigan State / vs Iowa
The Wildcats won the Battle For Mediocrity with a comeback victory at Minnesota on Tuesday night. They’re currently sitting at 4-5 in conference and play four of their next five games on the road. Simply put, that upcoming stretch will define their season.
Upcoming: at Michigan / at Wisconsin
Maryland sputtered last week, going 0-2 and falling to 4-6 in conference. As a reward, they get to travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue on Wednesday night. I said it in last week’s column but it’s worth repeating – they’re putting far too much pressure on Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter to carry them every night.
Upcoming: at Purdue / vs Wisconsin
The good news for Indiana is they have found a legitimate star in Juwan Morgan, who is averaging a shade under 26 PPG in their last 3 games. The bad news is that they followed up a really solid win over Maryland with two more losses. Dropping a game to Purdue is understandable, but losing to an Illinois team that was winless in the Big Ten shows how far the Hoosiers still have to go.
Upcoming: at Ohio State / vs Michigan State
Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe Minnesota basketball this season. This was a team that was ranked in the Top 15 coming in, and they’re now 3-7 in the league. I don’t see the downward spiral ending anytime soon, especially with three of the next four on the road.
Upcoming: at Iowa / at Michigan
In last week’s column, I mentioned that Wisconsin was entering a tough stretch of games. Two played so far…two losses. It’s been a throwaway season for the Badgers as they struggle to find replacements for guys like Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. They currently rank outside the Top 300 in Scoring Offense.
Upcoming: vs Nebraska / vs Northwestern / at Maryland
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, it was a disappointing week for the Scarlet Knights. It doesn’t move them anywhere on this list, but in terms of the benchmarks for this season, the two losses represented a setback. Rutgers now has to split their last 8 games in order to finish above .500 this season.
Upcoming: at Illinois / vs Purdue
Iowa finally managed to play some defense against Wisconsin on Tuesday night (or was it just a lackluster Badgers offense?) and picked up their second conference win. But their true colors showed through on Saturday, giving up 98 to Nebraska.
Upcoming: vs Minnesota / at Penn State
Well it finally happened. Illinois survived Wednesday night against Indiana to pick up their first conference win of the season. For now they stay in last place here, but I’ll be interested to see if Brad Underwood can use this to build some momentum with Rutgers coming to town on Tuesday.
Upcoming: vs Rutgers / at Ohio State