Many reasons to be smiling in West Lafayette this year.
There are three things that all fans in the Big Ten can agree upon on Groundhog Day. First, Iowa is going to finish in the basement. Two, Ohio State with at least one win over Wisconsin will win the Big Ten Championship outright. Three, Punxsutawney Phil better not see his shadow today as we are all tired of shoveling snow in the Midwest.
In honor of the world’s most famous groundhog, the current power rankings for Big Ten Basketball:
Iowa (8-13) (1-8) – The Hawkeyes finally got a victory when they defeated the Hoosiers 91-77 in Iowa City on January 23. On Wednesday, Iowa takes on Michigan State in Iowa City; the last time that the Hawkeyes beat the Spartans was in December of 2007 when Iowa beat then ranked No. 6 Michigan State 43-36. An upset victory over the Spartans and the Hawkeyes might win more than 10 games this season.
Northwestern (13-8)(3-7) – The Wildcats had No. 1 Ohio State on the ropes for the entire game but unfortunately could not pull off the upset and ultimately lost 58-57 on January 29 in Evanston. Northwestern has failed to beat a ranked team this season. Is Northwestern a contender or a pretender? Northwestern has 13 victories but the Wildcats sole road victory in Big Ten Conference play came against the last place Hawkeyes. A win over No. 24 Illinois on February 5 would put the Wildcats back on track for a NCAA tournament bid.
Indiana (11-11)(2-7) – The Hoosiers may have turned a corner as they beat No. 21 Illinois 52-49 on January 27 and lost a hard fought game to Michigan State, 84-83 in Overtime on January 30. All 11 victories for Indiana this year have occurred in Bloomington. Hoosiers fans that hope that playing at home continues to be a good omen as the Hoosiers next two games are home games against Minnesota and Iowa. Unfortunately, Indiana received some recent bad news as forward Christian Watford recently broke his hand and is out indefinitely.
How many teams will make to the NCAA Tournament?
Michigan (13-9) (3-6) – The Wolverines pulled off an impressive upset on January 27 of in-state rival Michigan State in East Lansing 61-57. This game could be viewed as the game that turned around the Michigan program as the Wolverines have no seniors and no underclassmen that will be declaring for the draft. If Michigan can pull off an upset over one ranked team during the stretch and win two games in the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines could sneak into the NCAA tournament.
Penn State (12-9) (5-5) – The Nittany Lions are the proverbial poster child for teams on the NCAA tournament bubble. Penn State will likely fall short of winning 20 games as they only have eight remaining games and two games are against Minnesota, one is against Ohio State and they have a road tilt left against Wisconsin. Penn State however has three victories over ranked teams that will bolster their NCAA tournament resume. Could the Nittany Lions get in with 18 wins?
Michigan State (13-8) (5-4) – Could this be the year that the Spartans fail to make the NCAA tournament? The Spartans have lost four of their last seven games; in the three games Michigan State won during this past seven game stretch they needed overtime to get the job done. Coach Izzo likely has time to turn the ship around but the Spartans can ill afford any upsets otherwise Michigan State is going to need a deep run in the Big Ten tournament to be dancing in March.
Do you think Northwestern will make it to the NCAA tournament?
Illinois (15-7) (5-4) – This weekend, “We’ve hit a bad stretch,” Coach Bruce Weber said in pondering who would start for the Illini against the Nittany Lions. “I don’t know if we’ll do anything, but it has been talked about among our staff.” Ultimately, Coach Weber inserted freshman Jereme Richmond last night into the starting rotation and the move paid dividends as the Illini rebounded against the Nittany Lions 68-51. An Illini victory over Northwestern in Evanston on February 5 should propel the Illini to 20 wins on the season, a loss and the Illini will need a road upset over a ranked opponent to get to the magic number of 20.
No. 20 Minnesota (16-5) (5-4) – The Gophers have played well after losing senior point guard Al Nolen. Minnesota however appears to catch a break tonight getting to play Indiana without Watford. The Gophers may have the “easiest” remaining schedule in the Big Ten given that they get to play all of their remaining ranked opponents at home down the stretch. Minnesota could be a dangerous team in the NCAA tournament if the trio of freshmen guards getting playing time continues to play well.
No. 18 Wisconsin (16-5) (6-3) – The Badgers appear to be the last remaining roadblock to the Buckeyes claiming an outright Big Ten Championship this year. Wisconsin plays Ohio State in Madison on February 12 and then they end the season playing the Buckeyes in Columbus on March 6. The name of the game in Madison is defense. Wisconsin has allowed only two Big Ten opponents to break the 60 point barrier this season and one of them, Michigan State, needed overtime to score more than 60.
No. 10 Purdue (18-5) (7-3) – Purdue is a very well coach team and with E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson it is very difficult to put away the Boilermakers. However, questions remain as to exactly how good the Purdue Boilermakers are as a team. Purdue lead for a good portion of the second half in their recent 66-59 loss to Wisconsin but down the stretch they could not execute their offense and struggled to get good shots. Against Ohio State on January 25, Purdue trailed by 20 at halftime and never made it a ball game.
No. 1 Ohio State (22-0) (9-0) – The Buckeyes last 58-57 win against Northwestern is very puzzling. Northwestern played without John Shurna, their leading scorer and best offensive player, and most fans envisioned a 20 point win. How can Ohio State shoot 57 percent from the field, commit only six turnovers and hold Northwestern to 39 percent shooting from the field but yet not destroy the Wildcats? The Buckeyes had the Wildcats down by 12 points with less than eight minutes to play in the game yet the Wildcats had the last possession and an opportunity to upset Ohio State. Is this a wake-up call game for Ohio State?