College Basketball: Projecting the Final Big Ten Standings

Tim Lewis@timdlewiContributor IJanuary 28, 2012

College Basketball: Projecting the Final Big Ten Standings

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    With the Big Ten basketball season just about at the halfway point, we can reasonably start to project how things will shake out in early March based on the first half of the conference season.

    The Big Ten is easily the nation's toughest conference this season with four of the top 11 and eight of the top 45 teams, according to Jeff Sagarin's NCAA Basketball Ratings.

    Many analysts are predicting the Big Ten will send nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, which would represent 75 percent of the field.

    This feat would be considered even more impressive than the record 11 teams (out of 16) the Big East sent dancing last season, or just under 69 percent of its membership.

    Let's reveal what the Big Ten standings will look like on Sunday, March 4th.

12. Penn State (4-14)

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    The Penn State Nittany Lions boast one of the nation's top point guards in Tim Frazier and own wins over Purdue and Illinois this season.  

11. Nebraska (5-13)

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    The Nebraska Cornhuskers avoid the basement in their first season as a member of the Big Ten thanks to a surprise 70-69 home win over the Indiana Hoosiers.

10. Iowa (6-12)

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    The Iowa Hawkeyes are a tough team to figure out with road wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota and a home loss to Nebraska.

9. Northwestern (6-12)

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    The Northwestern Wildcats have made it an annual tradition to be on the NCAA Tournament "bubble"—will this finally be the year they break through?  

    Not likely if they don't figure out a way to win a couple of late-season road games to finish better than 6-12 in conference play.

8. Minnesota (7-11)

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    The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be another NCAA Tournament "bubble" team.

    Back-to-back road games at Nebraska and Iowa could send them dancing if they somehow manage to win both.

7. Purdue (9-9)

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    The Purdue Boilermakers have lost three out of their last four games and are just now entering the difficult portion of their conference schedule.

    With no wins over ranked opponents to date, the Boilermakers will find themselves firmly on the bubble come March and may be NIT-bound.

6. Illinois (9-9)

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    The Fighting Illini got off to a fast start (4-1) in conference play, but a closer examination reveals a double-overtime win over Minnesota, a one-point win over Northwestern, a five-point win over Nebraska and a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Brandon Paul.

    Illinois has come crashing back to earth since, with back-to-back losses against Penn State and Wisconsin and will be underdogs in four of their next five games.  

5. Indiana (11-7)

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    The Indiana Hoosiers are just 4-5 in conference play, but they have played the toughest schedule in the Big Ten to date.

    IU will likely be favored in eight of their final nine conference games and should be able to go 7-2 over that stretch.  

4. Wisconsin (12-6)

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    The Wisconsin Badgers have hit their stride, winning five in a row after losing three straight conference games (including back-to-back contests at home) earlier this month.

    Once again, the "best-worst team" in America, the Badgers will likely flame out early in the NCAA Tournament (as usual) due to an overall lack of talent on their roster.

3. Michigan (12-6)

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    The Michigan Wolverines currently sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-2 record and should be able to close with a 6-4 record over their last 10 conference games.  

    A road win at Purdue and an overtime win versus Northwestern are why the Wolverines aren't sitting at 4-4 right now.  

2. Michigan State (13-5)

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    The Michigan State Spartans have the look of a Final Four team and will contend with Ohio State for the Big Ten title this season.

    With five difficult road games still left on the schedule, I'm projecting the Spartans to go 2-3 in those games—resulting in a second-place conference finish.

1. Ohio State (14-4)

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes just might be the best team in the nation and should be a No. 1 seed come tournament time.

    Their conference season comes down to three road games—at Wisconsin, at Michigan and at Michigan State—on the last day of the season.

    I project the Buckeyes to win one of those three road games while finishing atop the Big Ten with an 14-4 record.