Last week, I mentioned how excited I was for the big games that were on the upcoming schedule, with Purdue taking on both Ohio State and Michigan State. Luckily, we were treated to two really good games.
All three of those teams have second-weekend potential (at minimum) in March, but after that what else is left?
Well…Michigan (despite a setback last week) has proven themselves to be a worthy contender. Nebraska has done everything they’ve had to do so far. Even Penn State is rounding into form at the right time.
Outside of that, it’s fair to say the cupboard is pretty bare.
Barring a miracle, those six schools will be the only ones considered for a spot in the dance less than a month from now. So the conference’s hopes for memorable March moments in 2018 are now in the hands of that group.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
1. Michigan State
The Spartans almost got caught in a trap game against Iowa on Tuesday, but managed to sneak out with a win. They then rallied past Purdue on Saturday for their eighth win in a row. And just like that, they’re back at the top of these rankings.
Upcoming: at Minnesota / at Northwestern
2. Ohio State
I can’t emphasize enough how good of a job Chris Holtmann is doing for the Buckeyes. This is a team that fell apart last season, capped off with an unceremonious exit in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Less than a year later, they just beat the #3 team in the nation and are now 13-1 in the league.
Upcoming: at Penn State / at Michigan
I have been high on the Boilermakers for quite some time and recently said they had a chance to be the “runaway favorites” at the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. At that time, they had won 19 games in row and were 12-0 in conference. But they came back to Earth a little last week, losing to hard-fought games to two really good teams. Let’s see how they regroup this week.
Upcoming: at Wisconsin / vs Penn State
Last week, I said I’m ready to pencil in the Cornhuskers, and they took care of business with two more wins. And I stand by that. But amazingly, there are rumors in the bracketologist circles that they may still have quite a bit of work to do, considering how bad their conference schedule has been. Four more games left to prove that they belong in the field.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Illinois
The week got off to a rocky start for the Wolverines, as they stumbled in the rematch with Northwestern. But they bounced back with a strong effort against Wisconsin on Sunday. When Moe Wagner is playing at a high level, and lately he has been, Michigan is a very hard team to guard.
Upcoming: vs Iowa / vs Ohio State
6. Penn State
Penn State continues to make a late run at the tournament, picking up their 5th win in the last six games on Sunday. But as I mentioned last week, the schedule gets a lot tougher in the coming days. All four of their final opponents are ranked in the Top 5 on this list. It’s going to take multiple upsets to get them in.
Upcoming: vs Ohio State / at Purdue
The Wildcats finally looked like last year’s version on Tuesday, using a dominant second half to knock off Michigan. But they dropped one against Maryland that they really had to have to even start dreaming about March Madness. The feel-good team from last year will not be making a second consecutive appearance.
Upcoming: at Rutgers / vs Michigan State
If Maryland would have beaten Penn State on Wednesday night, I could have envisioned a scenario for them to get an at-large bid. They recovered nicely to beat Northwestern on Saturday, but at this point, outside of a deep run in the conference tournament, the resume just isn’t there.
Upcoming: at Nebraska / vs Rutgers
Despite the subpar competition, it was two really strong performances from the Hoosiers last week. Archie Miller is slowly getting this ship moving in the right direction, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull an upset in the conference tournament. It’s too little, too late for this year, but there is plenty here to build on for next season.
Upcoming: vs Illinois / at Iowa
Wisconsin has now lost nine of their last 11 contests, and both wins during that time came against Illinois. It’s officially time to look to the future for the Badgers, but knowing this program, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this season is just an anomaly, and they are back in the top half of these rankings in 12 months time.
Upcoming: vs Purdue
The seat continues to heat up under Richard Pitino, who has had problems with off-the-court issues and now can’t find a way to win on the court. That makes 10 losses in the last 11 for the Golden Gophers, and Michigan State comes to town next.
Upcoming: vs Michigan State
The Hawkeyes probably deserved to win against Michigan State, but they couldn’t hang on. They were then tasked with going to take on the Buckeyes, and their tank ran dry in the second half. The tough run of games continues with a trip to Ann Arbor this weekend, but after that, the schedule eases up significantly.
Upcoming: at Michigan / vs Indiana
After winning two in a row in the Big Ten recently, the Illini have reverted back to their old ways, losing the last three games. On Sunday night against Penn State, they were run out of the gym in the second half. The game at Rutgers on the final day of the regular season will likely decide who finishes last in the conference.
Upcoming: at Indiana / vs Nebraska
I said last week that it would be tough sledding for the Scarlet Knights and tough sledding it has been. That was a forgettable week of basketball, with two losses and only 98 total points scored. I was thrilled to see Mike Williams and Eugene Omoruyi back in the lineup, but Steve Pikiell has his work cut out for him to try to finish this season with some positive momentum.
Upcoming: vs Northwestern / at Maryland