I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get really excited about some of the potential matchups in the Big Ten Tournament.
This coming week, we get two intriguing appetizers, with Purdue facing off against the #2 and #3 teams on the list. Can the Boilermakers make it 21 in a row?
Meanwhile, some teams that are currently sitting squarely on the bubble will have a chance to break away from the pack in the coming days. I’m looking directly at Maryland here, as the Terps will take on fellow bubblers Penn State and Northwestern.
The calendar just turned to February, but it already feels like March.
Remember, these rankings are based on the current strength of the teams, not necessarily where I expect them to finish. Here we go…
It’s fair to start wondering if the Boilermakers will lose another game before the NCAA Tournament. They have two marquee matchups upcoming this week, but if they get through that stretch with two more wins, they’ll be the runaway favorites to win the first-ever Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Upcoming: vs Ohio State / at Michigan State
2. Michigan State
The Spartans used a balanced scoring attack to beat Indiana on Saturday for their 6th consecutive win. After a rough patch in early January, they’ve steadied the ship for the time being. Their ability to grind out wins lately, as opposed to the blowouts they were racking up earlier this season, will help them in March.
Upcoming: at Iowa / vs Purdue
3. Ohio State
Ohio State rebounded well after losing to Penn State at the buzzer last week, leading for the final 38 minutes in a win over Indiana. They followed that up with victory over Illinois, and now stand at 11-1 in conference play. The Buckeyes can make a shocking jump to the top of the Big Ten standings by beating Purdue on Wednesday night.
Upcoming: at Purdue / vs Iowa
The Wolverines faced some adversity last week, but managed to come through it with two more wins. Against Northwestern, Michigan was held to 42% shooting, 28% from 3-point, and -6 on the glass. They still won by nine. Against Minnesota, they fought from behind all day to pull out an overtime win. I like the way this team is trending.
Upcoming: at Northwestern / at Wisconsin
The Cornhuskers continue to prove that this is not a fluke. Against Wisconsin, they closed out the game with a 30-8 run to win their 10th game out of the last 13. The remainder of their schedule is light, so barring a complete collapse, I’m ready to pencil them in to the field of 68.
Upcoming: at Minnesota / vs Rutgers
6. Penn State
The Nittany Lions are turning it on at the right time, winning three of their last four to get to 16-9 (6-6). But the schedule is about to ramp up. They have two winnable games this week before closing out the regular season with a 4-game stretch that includes three currently-ranked teams. If they’re called on Selection Sunday, they will have earned their spot.
Upcoming: vs Maryland / at Illinois
Northwestern’s offense was basically non-existent against Michigan on Monday night, as they went several long stretches without scoring. They took out their frustration on Thursday against Wisconsin though, opening the game on an 18-1 run and never looking back. They get a chance for redemption against the Wolverines this week, in what amounts to a must-win game.
Upcoming: vs Michigan / at Maryland
The Terrapins ended a 3-game losing streak on Sunday by knocking off Wisconsin. There’s no way around it, they’ve been one of the more disappointing teams in the conference. They actually still have a chance to control their own destiny though, but they need to just about run the table.
Upcoming: at Penn State / vs Northwestern
The Hoosiers have lost four in a row and all but fallen out of the bubble picture at this point. They have talent, and Archie Miller is laying the foundation for the future, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The schedule should help them pick up some late momentum though, as Indiana should be favored in their next four games.
Upcoming: at Rutgers / vs Minnesota
With two more losses last week, Minnesota has now lost eight of their last nine games. They put up a great effort against Michigan and led most of the way, but they just couldn’t close it out. I feel bad for Jordan Murphy, who is having an excellent Junior season (averaging 18 and 12) despite his team’s tailspin.
Upcoming: vs Nebraska / at Indiana
For the most part, the teams in the bottom half of these rankings continue to rack up the losses, so for this week, Wisconsin is staying put despite losing their 5th in a row. On the bright side, they finish the regular season with four of their last six in Madison.
Upcoming: at Illinois / vs Michigan
I’ve been saying all season that the Illini, despite some early slip-ups, were never as bad as their record indicated. And on Tuesday night, they proved that they don’t belong at the bottom of these rankings with a 31-point drubbing of Rutgers. After starting 0-8, they’ve now won 2 out of 3 in conference play.
Upcoming: vs Wisconsin / vs Penn State
The Hawkeyes picked up a much-needed win against Minnesota on Tuesday night, then followed it up with their second-lowest point total of the season in a loss at Penn State. In that game, they shot 38% from the field, 10% from 3-point range, and 68% from the foul line. For a team that relies on their offense, that’s not going to get it done.
Upcoming: vs Michigan State / at Ohio State
The Scarlet Knights might be short-handed, but they still managed to battle until the end against Purdue. That was an impressive performance. Having said that, there’s absolutely no excuse for losing by 30+ to Illinois. Slowly but surely, progress is being made with this program for the future. But with two key rotation players missing, it may be tough sledding for the remainder of this season.
Upcoming: vs Indiana / at Nebraska