Big Ten Standings
Last week's game of the week
Ohio State 74, Minnesota 72 (2OT)
It was as competitive as anticipated, but uh... it wasn't pretty. Or good. Marc Loving hit the game-winner with 5.6 seconds in the second overtime as OSU reasserted its place in the Big Ten race, while Minnesota is the sole resident of the Big Ten cellar as of today. The Buckeyes are now only a game back of the Big Ten lead right now and are projected just two games behind Wisconsin for the title when it's all said and done. And if Wisconsin's injury problems linger... well, we'll get to Wisconsin in a second.
Joe Lunardi is releasing updated brackets on Thursdays this year, which does a Monday column little good, but fortunately Jerry Palm at CBSSports.co has a sparkling new bracket out today.
(6) Michigan State
PLAY-IN: (11) Indiana
FIRST FOUR OUT: Ohio State, Illinois
It seems odd to see Ohio State there—we know that's a good team—but man, the Buckeyes need to beat someone awfully soon. An OT win at Minnesota looks decent, but that can't be the best you've got by the middle of January. At any rate, I expect Ohio State to wedge itself comfortably into the mix by the time the conference schedule is said and done, particularly if the Buckeyes meet that 12-6 mark Ken Pomeroy is projecting for them.
Michigan State 75, Iowa 61
Iowa led by 12 at the half, man. Twelve dang points. But give MSU credit—they kept running the "hit the 3" play, and the Hawkeyes had no answer. More teams should run the "hit the 3" play more often, IMO. At any rate, the Spartans are healthy and an absolutely legit contender for the Big Ten crown now. Traipsing into Iowa City and winning big isn't necessarily the end-all, be-all for tourney resumes—hell, even Iowa State did it—but it sure doesn't hurt.
Rutgers 67, Wisconsin 62
I thought this was the kind of game a conference champion wins, even without concussed Frank Kaminsky and (for the last 12 minutes) Traevon Jackson, who's probably going to be dinged up for a while with a turned ankle. But man, give Rutgers some credit: the Scarlet Knights stared a double-digit deficit to the best team in the conference straight in the face and then roared back for a win on their home court. Is Rutgers still the worst team in the Big Ten? Yes, probably, but more results like this from the basement and we're getting into some Blood And Spiders territory.
Iowa: at Minnesota, vs. Ohio State
Iowa's still bouncing around the 8-seed area, as it has for most of the season, and we're getting to the point where the Hawkeyes are going to need more big wins just to maintain this spot in the pecking order. Iowa still doesn't have a remotely bad loss on its docket—Syracuse is the closest thing, and that was on a neutral court—but a serious 8-or-better seed probably wins at least one of these games. They're both challenges, to be sure; Minnesota is still eminently dangerous, and only one spot below Iowa in the KenPom ratings, while Ohio State is more than happy to exact its revenge on the Hawkeyes on their home floor. But these are both entirely winnable games too, and if Iowa picks up at least one, its docket will look even better. Two? Well... let's hold off on that fantasizing for now.
Less Important Things
Minnesota: vs. Iowa, vs. Rutgers
I'm not throwing shade at Iowa here; that this is the easiest slate any Big Ten team faces this week speaks far more to how evenly this week was scheduled than anything about Iowa. STAND DOWN. But for real, the Gophers will be favored in both games, especially against Rutgers (the same Rutgers that currently sits two games above Minnesota in the standings, yes), and it won't be much of a surprise to see Minnesota sitting at 2-4 in conference play a week from now—nor will it be much of an indication that the ship's been righted in Minneapolis, either.
Movin' on up!
We mentioned them earlier, but Michigan State was a play-in candidate in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology just a week ago and now Sparty looks capable of moving into a 4- or 5-seed by the time March rolls around. It is worth noting that we're celebrating a team that has gone 3-1 thus far with three home games and still faces eight Big Ten roadies, including at Maryland (more on that game in a second, obviously) and at Wisconsin. But that's pretty much it in terms of frightening games for MSU. The record (and ranking) will fall closer in line to MSU's talent in due time.
Movin' on out!
Penn State had one game this past week—a home contest against reeling Michigan—and the Nitty Kitties never so much as led in the second half, losing by seven points and firmly cementing their basement status. Please defend the Big Ten's honor in the CBI with aplomb, PSU. No no, not the NIT—hands off the NIT, please—just—DON'T MAKE US CALL THE POLICE—yes please just go to the CBI and do well there, please.
This week's game of the week
Saturday, 3 p.m., CBS: Michigan State at Maryland
Arguably the best game of the young Big Ten slate gets an early rematch in College Park as Michigan State tries to avenge its loss to Maryland in East Lansing to open conference play. There's no disaster for the loser, but the winner's every bit as legitimate a contender for the Big Ten crown as Wisconsin, who's now saddled with a loss much earlier than the Badgers would have bargained for. So now it's a race!