The major theme from the last seven days of Big Ten action was that anything can happen, even the things you least expect.
For example, was anyone really expecting Purdue to lose to Wisconsin? This was a Boilermakers team that won their first 12 games against Big Ten competition and was a legitimate Final Four threat. But they suffered their third consecutive loss in Madison.
And how about Michigan State? Down by 27 at Northwestern in the first half before storming all the way back to get another win. It was the biggest comeback in the history of the Big Ten.
The upcoming week will close the book on the Big Ten regular season and there is still plenty to be decided.
Will the unexpected outcomes continue, or will the conference restore some order entering the Big Ten Tournament?
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
After a rocky stretch in the beginning of the new year, Michigan State is officially back. A 30-point win at Minnesota on Tuesday was a great sign for the Spartans, as they finally remembered how to dominate lesser-quality opponents. Then they mounted that monumental comeback against Northwestern. They control their own destiny for a 1-seed at this point.
Upcoming: vs Illinois / at Wisconsin
2. Ohio State
After jumping to the top of the Big Ten standings a little more than a week ago, the Buckeyes lost two in a row, both by double digits. I’m guessing that’s not the response that Chris Holtmann was looking for. Technically, they’re still alive for the regular season title, but they’re going to need Michigan State to slip up.
Upcoming: vs Rutgers / at Indiana
The Wolverines picked up two more wins last week, making it five of the last six for them. This is a well-coached team that’s getting hot at the right time, a dangerous proposition for potential opponents in March. They still have a shot at a double bye, but play their final two conference games on the road.
Upcoming: at Penn State / at Maryland
Ever since I put the kiss of death on Purdue by calling them the best team in the country, they’ve gone in the opposite direction. It started against Rutgers, where a shaky performance from the Boilermakers nearly led to one of the biggest upsets of the season. They then lost 3 in row, including one against a struggling Wisconsin team. Getting back on track with a win over Penn State was absolutely vital for this team.
Upcoming: at Illinois / vs Minnesota
5. Penn State
The Nittany Lions made a statement with a blowout win over Ohio State on Thursday. Then traveled to Purdue and took the Boilermakers down to the wire on Sunday. In last week’s column, I said it would take multiple upsets to get them in the field. They already picked up one, almost had another, and have two more chances this week. Their fate is still up in the air.
Upcoming: vs Michigan / at Nebraska
Well, that was unexpected. When it’s all said and done, the loss to Illinois could be the one that does in the Huskers. For all the big steps forward they’ve taken, they had to avoid the bad upset over the last few weeks of the season. Now, they’ll probably need to make it up with an upset of their own in the Big Ten Tournament.
Upcoming: vs Indiana / vs Penn State
The Hoosiers are doing everything they can to keep things interesting, winning their fourth in a row on Saturday. I still think they’ll come up short, but it’s always a good sign to be playing your best ball at this time of year. Robert Johnson just put up a career high 29 points as well, a nice parting gift for the Senior.
Upcoming: at Nebraska / vs Ohio State
The Terps were just 2-5 in their previous seven games before beating Rutgers on Saturday night. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little too late, considering their 7-9 conference record. On an individual level, Bruno Fernando is heating up. He went for 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists against Nebraska, then followed it with 18 points and 16 rebounds against Rutgers.
Upcoming: at Northwestern / vs Michigan
The Badgers claimed what was easily their best win of the season on Thursday night, upsetting Purdue after holding them to only 53 points. Now that’s the type of Wisconsin basketball we’ve become accustomed to. The win also means they’re nearly assured a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
Upcoming: vs Minnesota / at Northwestern / vs Michigan State
If there was any doubt about Northwestern’s fate, it was put to bed on Tuesday night after an overtime loss to Rutgers. Despite Bryant McIntosh leaving with an injury, the Wildcats still had a 6-point lead with less than a minute to play, which means there was no excuse for not leaving the RAC with a win. To make matters worse, they blew a 27 lead against Michigan State on Saturday. Not a great week for the Cats.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / vs Wisconsin / at Iowa
Brad Underwood finally got his signature Big Ten win on Sunday, potentially costing Nebraska a chance at the dance. Leron Black led the way with a career high 28 points in that one. Amazingly, despite their 3-12 conference record, they are now tied for 11th place in conference and are still in play for a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament.
Upcoming: at Michigan State / vs Purdue / at Rutgers
A 30-point loss to Michigan State was just another step backwards in the Golden Gophers’ season. They’ve lost 11 of the last 12 games and Richard Pitino may not make it out alive. That thought was unheard of about 3 months ago. If they keep losing, there’s a chance they could actually finish last in the conference standings.
Upcoming: at Wisconsin / vs Iowa / at Purdue
An up and down week for the Scarlet Knights, who picked up a comeback victory over Northwestern but followed it up with a lifeless performance at Maryland. They’ve had too many lifeless performances this season in my opinion, especially after some of the bigger wins. That has to be a point of emphasis for the coaching staff in the off-season.
Upcoming: at Ohio State / vs Illinois
For the second time in as many games, Iowa let a conference home game slip away on Saturday, this time losing to Indiana. The Hawkeyes have solid building blocks for the future, and I think they’ll bounce back to respectability fairly quickly, but this season has been a bumpy ride to say the least.
Upcoming: at Minnesota / vs Northwestern