Big Ten Standings
Last week's game of the week
Sunday, February 8: Iowa 71, No. 16 Maryland 55
Whewwww, that was satisfying, wasn't it? Iowa didn't play a perfect game (season-high 19 turnovers, Maryland cut the lead from 25 to 12) and still just absolutely manhandled the Terrapins. As you can see above, Iowa's now projected to finish 12-6 in Big Ten play, and if the KenPom projections hold up throughout the conference, Iowa gets the 2-seed and wouldn't have to face Wisconsin until the Big Ten Tournament finals (if the Badgers get there at all, but who are we kidding?). For as much bubble handwringing as the Iowa season has forced upon us, it looks like Iowa's poised to make a finish that should make for a very low-stress Selection Sunday.
As always, many thanks to Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com for putting his weekly Bracketologies out on Mondays and not Thursdays like known heathen Joe Lunardi.
(8) Ohio State
(12) Illinois (play-in vs. Texas A&M)
First four out: Michigan State
Obviously, there's a lot of basketball left, and these seeds can change substantially in the next five weeks. That said, with two-thirds of the season in the books, it's not like Iowa's going to move up to a 1-seed or Maryland's in any danger of falling all the way out; this is a settling-in period. I'm a little surprised Maryland still gets a 4-seed after five straight wholly lackluster games—more on the Terps later. Iowa looks awfully nice at a 7, particularly with a potential matchup against Kansas (who is very reminiscent of UNC: athletic, not particularly big, prone to cold snaps) waiting in the second round. I'd still much rather have Iowa rise to 6 (or better), obviously, but this is a safe spot to be in. Interesting to see Illinois essentially take MSU's spot in the bracket, but that's a fair reward for beating the Spartans in East Lansing.
Purdue 60, Ohio State 58
Purdue continued its climb to unlikely contender status by knocking off Ohio State in West Lafayette on Wednesday, using its familiar blend of size and defensive aggression to push itself into sole possession of second place in the Big Ten at 7-3. It didn't last, obviously; Minnesota knocked the Boilermakers off at the Barn on Saturday (and hey, the Gophers have stormed back to 4-7) and Purdue's back in the four-loss muck with a host of other B1G teams. But for a few sunny days in February, Purdue could once again feel so, so alive.
Illinois 59, Michigan State 54
This was just a brutal loss for Michigan State to take, especially with Teddy Valentine's shenanigans giving Sparty a chance to come back at the stripe in the last minute... only for MSU to biff that opportunity, capping a nightmarish 7-for-18 day at the line. This is the first time where I've seriously wondered whether the Spartans might miss the NCAA tournament; their resume wasn't great to begin with, and while Illinois isn't bad, it's certainly a team Sparty should beat in East Lansing.
Indiana: at Maryland, vs. Minnesota
This is a critical week for the Hoosiers, who still have tourney credibility thanks to some nice wins but are starting to slide closer to the bubble, especially with four double-digit road losses in B1G play. Maryland would like to make that five. Minnesota may not be the "wow"-type win that's going to push Indiana's seed up, but the Gophers are still a mighty tough opponent who, if nothing else, have a way of making opponents work for their victories. Maryland's much tougher at home than on the road, so Indiana has an enormous challenge heading to College Park, but that's sort of the point of the basketball season, isn't it? At any rate, it'll be interesting to circle back and see where Indiana's tourney stock is seven days from now.
Less Important Things
Wisconsin: at Nebraska, vs. Illinois
Wisconsin makes a lot of games look easy, but this is a cakewalk of a week by most B1G contenders' standards. Nebraska is one of the least efficient offenses in the power conferences (though the Huskers are, at least, outpacing Rutgers in B1G play), while Wisconsin has the single most efficient offense in the country. Nebraska has been tough to beat in Lincoln this year, but Wisconsin is really, really good no matter where it plays. Meanwhile, Illinois is outmanned without Aaron Cosby and Rayvonte Rice, and regardless of their status the trip up to Madison is usually a brutal one; Wisconsin is 6-0 in B1G play at the Kohl Center, winning by an average of nearly 17 points per game. The Badgers' schedule kicks up for a tough finish after this week, at least, but Wisconsin should cruise here.
Movin' on up!
This award has to go to Iowa, who rattled off consecutive double-digit wins against notable foes and now sits solidly in the second tier of Big Ten squads alongside Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and I guess Purdue? Sure, why not Purdue? At any rate, Iowa's KenPom ranking has responded quite well to the resurgence, rising from 47th in the nation to 28th, and while KenPom rankings aren't terribly good barometers for tourney seeds, they're much more accurate predictors of future results than anything else available.
Movin' on out!
Lord, I hate to do this so soon after wondering aloud if they were the actual best team in the Big Ten, but the Maryland Terrapins have a lot of soul-searching to do after yet another whipping on the road. Maryland has now lost three straight road contests, and the 16-point margin at Iowa was the closest of the bunch. It's not time to panic in College Park quite yet, but at the same time, Maryland's 11 games into the Big Ten slate and its only two wins of note are sweeping (a suddenly mediocre) Michigan State. Maryland's not on the bubble unless absolute disaster strikes, but we're getting to the point where it's fair to question what differentiates the Terps' tourney resume from the rest of the second tier of the Big Ten.
This week's game of the week
Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN: Ohio State at Michigan State
Sparty needs a resume-building win in a bad, bad way right now, and Ohio State still has its own work to do in order to stay away from facing a 1- or 2-seed in the second round of the NCAA tourney. We're also running low on opportunities to watch the absolutely stellar DeAngelo Russell at the collegiate level, so take every opportunity to see that before he goes pro and then he's backing up Andre Miller for a year or whatever. Both of these teams are well off their peaks (we are talking about two national championship-winning coaches, after all) but still capable of greatness on any given night. KenPom's basically calling this a coin flip, giving MSU a 54% chance, and if we're lucky it'll come down to the wire.