I've been traveling, so I don't have a lot to throw out here. I was happy to see my distrust of Illinois was born out last week, and very surprised to see Michigan State's success against OSU in Columbus. The race is wide-open again, and I'd be surprised if any of the top teams didn't take at least two more losses each in the backstretch. Rankings and minimal commentary is below the jump.
Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! I hope you are spending it with someone special.
1. Michigan State (9-3) W v. PSU, W @ OSU
Blowing out Penn State was no real surprise, but beating OSU in Columbus? That was eye-opening. Tom Izzo's club is in the driver's seat for the conference title now, but the only sure win among the last six season games is probably the home contest against Nebraska. Don't pencil them for the crown just yet.
2. Ohio State (9-3) W v. Purdue, L v. MSU
The Buckeyes just took a big step back in the conference race with the home loss against the Spartans. They could be even further back if they hadn't managed to eke/sneak out a home victory over Purdue. OSU is starting to look weak, just when road games against Minnesota and Michigan loom on the docket.
3. Michigan (9-4) W v Illinois, W @ Nebraska
Neither of the Wolverines' wins last week should qualify as a surprise, but they were losable games and Michigan is now only a half-game off of the conference lead. Still, a home game versus a Buckeyes' squad looking to rebound and a road contest against a rising Northwestern squad will be tougher challenges. I wouldn't buy stock in these guys just yet.
4. Wisconsin (8-4) W @ Minnesota (OT)
It's been a slow couple of weeks for Wisconsin, but they did nab (barely) a road win over the tough Gophers. Credit to Bo Ryan, after a brief slide, the Badgers have righted the ship and are lurking for a share of the Big Ten title yet again. Watch how they fare against a hot Michigan State team on the road this week before making any judgment, though.
5. Indiana (7-6) W v. Illinois
The Hoosiers are well-positioned to finish above .500 in the conference for the first time in the Crean era. Crean has got to keep the Hoosiers focused and ready to finish strong, because there are a lot of winnable games down the backstretch here. This is the first time I can remember since Dan Dakich was coach where the mental aspect is going to matter more than the physical in the coming games.
6 .Purdue (6-6) L @ OSU, W v. Northwestern
It was a great week for Purdue, holding off a hot NU team at home after the shouldawouldacoulda...didna game at Ohio State. Whatever the actual result from the game in Columbus, that effort clearly gave the fans and the team itself confidence that the Boilers could compete in the Big Ten and that they will probably make the NCAA tourney.
7. Northwestern (5-7) W v. Iowa, L @ Purdue
The once-moribund Wildcats have shown enough in their mid-conference revival that they are now being seriously considered as an at-large team. Aside from the game at IU, they really could win the rest their remaining games to wind up 10-8. I don't think that happens, and even given a relatively strong finish, let me just say that I don't believe it's going to happen for NU this year unless they win the conference tourney.
8. Minnesota (5-7) L v. Wisconsin (OT)
Let's make no bones about it - that OT home loss to Wisconsin hurts a lot. They've got home games against MSU, IU, and OSU left, as well as road games at Wisky and Northwestern, before hosting Nebraska on Senior day. These guys have to win a lot of big games at home just to get to .500 and be considered "on the bubble" before being dismissed for a terribly weak non-conference schedule. I think they need 10 wins, and some conference tourney success, before they can get an at-large bid,
9. Iowa (5-7) L @ Northwestern
I didn't expect the Hawkeyes to win at Welsh-Ryan arena, but I didn't expect them to get totally blown out, either. After a nice week with two home wins, Iowa suddenly looks like they could lose out. I doubt that they do, but their next three games (@PSU, Indiana, Wisconsin) could drop them below .500 overall, and out of NIT contention.
10. Illinois (5-7) L @ Indiana, L @ Michigan
Well, it's hard to criticize the Illini for losing on the road to two ranked teams, but then again, I doubted their abilities last week and was proven right. So until they start winning games, here they stay. The bad news for Hoosier fans is that rumors are starting to surface about Bruce Weber getting canned at the end of the season.
11. Penn State (3-10) L @ MSU, W v. Neb.
The Lions' lone starting big man for most of the season, Billy Oliver, hung up his shoes this last week after his concussion symptoms returned after playing a few minutes against Minnesota.PSU responded by absolutely torching the Cornhuskers at home. That snapped a 5-game losing streak, just when Pat Chambers' club was looking rather lifeless.
12. Nebraska (3-10) L v. Michigan, L @ PSU
Not a good week for Nebraska, who lost by 16 twice. The home loss against Michigan was understandable, I suppose, but getting thoroughly trounced at PSU was unfortunate. Not much more to say here, other than welcome to the Big Ten.