I’m a bit short on time this week, so the rankings will have to carry a lot less commentary than usual.
1. Indiana (24-3 / 12-2) W @ Michigan State 72-68
A very impressive road win has the Hoosiers on the verge of clinching at least a share of the regular season conference title. A win at Minnesota, who has been struggling, would be a huge boost to push the rest of the conference further back in their rear-view mirror.
2. Michigan State (22-6 / 11-4) L v. Indiana 68-72, L @ Ohio State 60-68
These have to be the two most understandable back-to-back losses in some time for coach Izzo (Maybe since last year’s season opening losses to Duke & UNC, going out of conference). I love how Gary Harris is adapting to the college game, and I’m not worried about Keith Appling’s performance just yet. He just faced the two toughest defenses in the conference outside of Wisconsin.
3. Michigan (23-4 / 10-4) W v. Illinois 71-58
I’m not sure if the Wolverines are really in a slump or not. They’ve got to redeem themselves against the Spartans for that humiliating loss if they want to get their proper respect from the NCAA tourney seeding committee.
4. Wisconsin (19-8 / 10-4) W @ Northwestern 69-41
Bo Ryan cruelly crushes another short-handed Big Ten squad on their own floor. Hoosier fans remember how you feel, Wildcats. It wasn’t that long ago our own Hoosiers were being ground into the dust by the Badgers, and we were left to wonder if having Maurice Creek or Guy-Marc Michel would’ve help at all.
5. Ohio State (20-7 / 10-5) W v. Minnesota 71-45, W v. Michigan State 68-60
Noone had a better week than Ohio State, who had looked toothless in the last week or so of play previous to these two wins. While it would take a minor miracle for the Buckeyes to snag a piece of the Big Ten title, at least they have a chance now.
6. Illinois (20-9 / 7-8) W v. Penn State 64-59, L @ Michigan 58-71
The Illini’s revival cooled off, but they still took care of business. They avoided disaster in a tough contest at home versus the Nittany Lions, and lost by a not-terrible margin in Ann Arbor. They must beat Nebraska at home, however, for they close the regular season with trips to Iowa and Ohio State.
7. Iowa (17-10 / 6-8) L @ Nebraska 60-64
Some clever wags have dubbed this game as Iowa clinching a NIT bid. Let’s be real, this has been clinched for a while. Although they didn’t have any truly bad losses, going 1-5 in conference games decided by four points or less had decided their fate before they ever traveled to Lincoln. Oh, the one win? A two-point white-knuckler at Penn State.
8. Minnesota (18-9 / 6-8) , L @ Ohio State 45-71
Yuck. Plenty of people have said it, but what happened to Minnesota? Of course, this likely means that the entire roster has the game of their lives against the Hoosiers tonight. I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism of Tubby’s substitution patterns, and there’s an interesting breakdown of his unusual use of the bench here. A fairly standard pattern, except that he doesn't have a "sixth man." Anyone could be the first guy off the bench.
9. Purdue (13-14 / 6-8) W v. Northwestern 71-43
Good solid home win over Northwestern. Does it mean anything other than Northwestern’s broken? I don’t know, but credit to Painter for sitting a slumping Hammons in favor of Sandi Marcius. I always like to see coaches who are not afraid to bench clearly superior talent, no matter the circumstances.
10. Nebraska (13-15 / 4-11) W v Iowa 64-60
Hello, Dylan Talley! Talley broke a tie late in the game with a 24-footer, and it was nice to see the kid finally having some success after playing much of last season injured and being forced to shift to point guard this season. Noone can expect much out of their trip to Madison tonight, but they’ve got a small chance to actually end up with .500 record overall (who would’ve thunk it?). Wins at Illinois and Iowa, and home victory over Minnesota are all still somewhat unlikely, but they look a lot more possible now than they did a couple of months ago.
11. Penn State (8-18 / 0-14) L @ Illinois 59-64
How on earth are the 0-14 Nittany Lions not the worst team? Well, I wanted to reward them for a couple of strong weeks of performances against much better foes, and the per-possession efficiency margins gave me a method with which to do so. PSU has actually been outscored by its conference foes at a lower rate than the four-win Wildcats. Unbelievable. We’ll see if Swopshire-less Wildcats are actually worse when they host Penn State on March 7th.
12. Northwestern (13-15 / 4-7) L vs. Wisconsin 41-69, L @ Purdue 43-74
Northwestern without Swopshire is just a sad shell of a team. If you somehow haven’t seen Rodger Sherman’s clever exploration of their bad-luck phenomenon using a rather famous television episode, go check it out post-haste.