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B1G Weekly Conference Review 1/24: the race takes shape

It's true! The Big Ten is a really tough conference, from top-to-bottom. Coaches are noting that there are no "get-well games" and that teams are truly beating up on each other. Don't celebrate your big win over a ranked team too much, for another ranked awaits right after your trip to Evanston, or Happy Valley, or Lincoln - where a capable team is waiting to ruin your week. So, will this constant competition breed toughness in March? Let's hope. Rankings, commentary, and conference Statistics of Intrigue await below the jump:

1. Ohio State (5-2) W @ Nebraksa

Clearly a step above at this point. It took a Herculean effort from Brandon Paul to squeak out a home victory over the Buckeyes, and a rare turnover-fest in Bloomington for the Hoosiers to upset OSU. OSU seems unlucky to have lost a couple of games, but last season they seemed very lucky in winning a lot of close ones. It all comes around, I guess. OSU has Penn State and Michigan at home, and both should be wins, before visiting Wisconsin in a real test of the mettle of both teams.

Statistic of intrigue: Lenzelle Smith Jr is shooting 50% (10-for-20) on attempts from downtown, but Jared Sullinger is shooting 6-for-8 (75%) on threes!

2. Michigan (5-2) W v. MSU, L @ Arkansas

I'd love to penalize the Wolverines for a two-point loss at Arkansas, but the one-point win over the Spartans boosts them up to the second slot. That said, if this team was a stock, I'd be selling now. Michigan goes into Mackey arena tonight, where the Boilers are smarting from a smack-down in Lansing, and then to Columbus. Things don't get easier after that, with the return game to MSU scheduled. Tonight may be the best chance for a win for a couple of weeks for Beilien's crew.

Statistic of intrigue: Michigan is shooting a mere 29.5% from 3-point territory in conference play.

3. Wisconsin (5-3) W v. Northwestern, W @ Illinois

With four straight wins and a road victory at Illinois, the Badgers appear to be back to pre-conference form. If they keep shooting at a reasonable rate, they'll be hard to beat down the stretch. Looking at the remainder of their schedule, I think they actually have a real shot at threatening OSU for the title at this point. The home game with the Buckeyes on Feb. 4th is probably circled in red for both teams.

Statistic of intrigue: The Badgers' conference foes are shooting a lot of threes, but connecting on a mere 29.5% of them. Is this a result of a good defense or a lucky coincidence?

4. Michigan State (5-2) L@Michigan, W v Purdue

Coming out of a two-road-game losing streak, the Spartans demolished the Boilers by 25 points. Do I actually think that this is the fourth-best team in the conference because they lost in Ann Arbor by one point? No, I actually think that MSU is starting to rival OSU for one of the Big Ten's best post-season hopes, but I felt I had to make allowances for good stretches of play by the above teams.

Statistic of intrigue: The shooting across the board is very, very good for MSU. 73.5% on free-throws, 44.8% on threes, and 50.9% overall! I just don't remember many MSU teams who shot this effectively to win conference games. Rebounding on both sides of the court, turnovers given and forced, and hard fouls are what I tend to think of when I think of Izzo teams.

5. Indiana (4-4) L@Nebraska, W v. Penn State

The Hoosiers appeared to be back on track for most of the game in Lincoln, before the wheels came off over the last six minutes. At least the Penn State game showed that the Hoosiers are still a basketball team. I'd say the Hoosiers aren't really as good as their quality wins, but they aren't as bad as they've looked over the past couple of weeks. The primary thing the Hoosiers need to do is start turning the ball over less than their opponents, but if Christian Watford started shooting better than 36% on two-pointers (he's shooting 45.5% on threes) in B1G games, that would also help a lot.

Statistic of intrigue: Big Ten opponents are shooting more threes, more field-goal attempts overall, and more free-throws than the Hoosiers.

6. Purdue (4-3) W v. Iowa, L @ MSU

After nabbing one of the first sweeps of the conference season, the Boilers got creamed at Michigan State. I've seen some soul-searching about leadership, etc., on Purdue blogs, but really - there's not too much to worry about. I thought Purdue was a little under-rated by the national media last Fall, but I also didn't think they'd seriously threaten OSU for the Big Ten title. The Boilers are right in the middle of a very tough conference - no shame there.

Statistic of intrigue: Purdue is shooting more attempts from the field and from the free-throw stripe than their conference opponents. Still, they're scoring less points than those same foes.

7. Illinois (4-3) L@PSU, L v. Wisconsin

Two losses, in what looked last week to be fairly winnable games, should greatly concern fans of the Orange. Just a week ago, Illinois was sitting on top of the rankings looking at two winnable games. And then they actually had to go and play them. Illinois still looks for the field of 68, but they actually have to win some of their upcoming games. Also, Sam Maniscalco is not the player that shone in the pre-conference, and his injuries have made Tracy Abrams the de facto point guard a little ahead of schedule.

Statistic of intrigue: Featured scorers Brandon Paul & DJ Richardson are both shooting exactly 40% on two's in conference play. That's not awesome for a duo that accounts for 35% of their team's two-point attempts.

8. Minnesota (3-4) W v. Northwestern

The Gophers look like a team that's actually putting together an at-large bid resume. The destruction of Northwestern may be the stake in the Wildcats slim-to-none NCAA tourney hopes, to boot. One question I have is - who's playing point? It looks like Julian Welch starts there, and Maverick Ahanmisi sees 20+ minutes at the position off the bench, sliding Welch to off-guard for long stretches.

Statistic of intrigue: Minnesota's defense has gifted their conference opponents 27 more free-throws than they themselves have shot (about 4/game), but their opponents have shot at a low 67.7% rate. It's not the lowest in the conference (hello, Michigan), but given a large number of free throws attempted, it does seem especially fortunate for the Gophers.

9. Northwestern (2-5) L @ Wisconsin, L @ Minnesota

It wasn't like anyone should've expected NU to pick up two wins this last week, but Minnesota and Wisconsin both made the Wildcats look mild. Carmody called out everyone in the last loss except Reggie Hearn, but really NU just needs some capable depth.

Statistic of intrigue: NU appears to be mix it up as well as anyone on defense, getting essentially as many blocks and steals as their opponents in conference play. That has a lot to do with John Shurna's presence in the paint.

10. Iowa (3-4) L @ Purdue

Iowa's per-possession scoring numbers look considerably worse than a team that's won at Wisconsin, at Minnesota, and beat Michigan by 16. Still, the Hawkeyes schedule looks favorable to notching up to seven or eight conference wins - which was just unthinkable in December. They didn't do themselves any favors in the ranking by getting swept by Purdue, but they remain a dangerous team.

Statistic of intrigue: The Hawkeyes are shooting about 33% on their 79 three-point tries. Their opponents have attempted 149 threes and only hit 42, for a mere 28.2%!

11. Penn State (2-5) W v. Illinois, L @ Indiana

The Nittany Lions took down the puffed-up Illini, bedeviling the Orange for what seems like the umpteenth year in Happy Valley. Then the Hoosiers pummeled them in a chippy second half in Bloomington. And as everyone else in blog-landia has been saying, there's really no need to spend any more thought on the end of the game - IU wasn't trying to show PSU up anymore than PSU was dragging the game out. It was just a hard foul and some jawing - it's good to see players on both teams care, frankly, and that's all that needs to be said.

Statistic of intrigue: PSU is known for offensive rebounding, but they also actually have pretty decent steal numbers, too. On offense, their free-throw shooting looks very solid in conference (up to 74.6%), despite their lousy shooting from everywhere else on the floor.

12. Nebraska (2-6) W v. Indiana, L v. OSU

Court-storming has swept the conference! The Huskers had a major let-down at home against Ohio State, just getting outright stomped, but they made their mark in the conference with the upset of Indiana. There's been some criticism from IU circles that the Hoosiers gave this one away, rather than the Huskers winning it - but give Doc Sadler's crew credit - they scrapped pushed, and hit shots (and crucial free-throws) down the stretch. Noone will overlook them now.

Statistic of intrigue: I've made a rather big thing of Diaz and Talley returning, but consider that in just four games back from injury, they've collected a combined 8 blocks and 7 steals. These guys not only provide some offensive options, but they get stops, too.