Last week was another strange week in a what has been a thoroughly entertaining conference season, but you won't hear me complaining! Without further ado, the rankings:
1. Indiana (25-4 / 13-3) L @ Minnesota 73-77, W v. Iowa 73-60
Clinching the regular season title sure takes the sting out of a rather mediocre week. I don’t think any IU fan with a reasonably long memory is particularly despondent about losing in Minny’s Barn. Defensive rebounding will be an issue to watch in the postseason, and certainly there’s some fine-tuning to do on the part of the coaching staff, but I’m not worried. Minnesota was the top-ranked offensive-rebounding team in the nation before they got into conference play, and were leaving it all on the floor in an all-out effort to secure that season-saving win. It was rather predictable that the Hoosiers got their butts kicked on that end. I’m a little more worried about the offense, as Cody Zeller bounced back nicely to help secure that home win over Iowa, but Hulls, Watford, and Oladipo’s offensive production levels have been really uneven recently. The Hoosiers need those guys back on track for a strong finish.
2. Ohio State (21-7 / 11-5) W @ Northwestern 63-53
It’s not that I think OSU is truly the second-best team in the conference, as I believe that rank should still belong to Michigan State. Should. I mean, just the way that OSU keeps letting a terrible NU team hang around means that probably both Michigan schools will go further in the postseason tourneys than the Buckeyes. But here’s the key thing, OSU has revived itself down the stretch, and takes a conference best three-game winning streak into Assembly Hall on Tuesday. They are the closest thing the conference has to a "hot" team, and the only team that can create the scenario for a shared regular-season title. With the Michigan schools looking vulnerable and Wisconsin ruining their own senior day, Matta’s team should get some recognition for the good run they’re on right now.
3. Michigan (24-5 / 11-5) L @ Penn State 78-84, W v Michigan State 58-57
Again, I’m almost certain that MSU is the better team, but you have to credit the Wolverines for getting the win over their rivals. They can still get a piece of the title if OSU notches the road win, and then the Wolverines triumph over the Hoosiers at home. Trey Burke probably cemented his B1G POY status with those late steals and go-ahead dunk. The rest of this team, well, I find a bit lacking. Maybe this victory will rekindle their confidence, etc. And while I watched the game, but I’m still not sure how Michigan managed to beat the Spartans by getting 44 points in the paint and zero from beyond the arc. And, if you haven’t seen it, the image of the match can be found here.
The expressions are pure gold.
4. Michigan State (22-7 / 11-5) L @ Michigan 57-58
The Spartans aren’t in bad shape, per se, but the rough stretch of schedule combined with their ability to rally late but fall against quality foes is really delivering a hit to their perception. The only thing this will likely affect is their NCAA seed, but they can boost that with a good performance in the Big Ten Tourney. And I generally don’t complain about this sort of thing, especially after what appears to be an inadvertant hit on Nik Stauskas (a bloody 12-stitch inadvertant hit, tho), but Izzo really needs to do something about Branden Dawson before he really hurts someone (else), or at least the Spartans’ chances. Dawson has already punched at least two players (Travis Carroll and Adreian Payne, off-court) in the last two months, and is starting to get a reputation. You don’t want to go into the postseason with a guy who’s perceived as a thug, or it could cost you at key junctures. Just ask John Calipari about Joey Dorsey. Also, that Michigan game could’ve been a pretty bad loss, but MSU had a bit of good luck in that the Wolverine threes were just not falling.
5. Wisconsin (20-9 / 11-5) W v. Nebraska 77-46, L v. Purdue 56-69
So, the Nebraska game went as one might think, with the exception of Ryan Evans unveiling a jump-shot free-throw technique. But the Purdue game.... I really don’t know what to think. Wisky lost badly on Senior day, and tanked what was a small chance to seize a piece of the regular season title and the overall #1 BTT seed. They didn’t just get outshot, they got out-rebounded, couldn't get to the free-throw line, and they couldn’t turn Purdue over. That’s not the sort of performance you want to see from your team down the stretch. Now they travel to face a pissed-off Michigan State team in Breslin, and that’s never good.
6. Minnesota (21-9 / 8-8) , W v. Indiana 77-73 , W v. Penn State 73-44
The difference a week makes, huh? Last Tuesday, the Gophers were reeling from blowout losses to Iowa and Ohio State. This week, their position in the NCAA tourney looks secure going into their final two road games. Nebraska and Purdue await, both of which are games that Minny should win, given the way they are playing the last couple of games, but they’re also games that could easily be lost. I imagine a split will leave Tubby happy enough.
7. Illinois (21-9 / 8-8) W v. Nebraska 72-65,
Take two on this line: "The Illini’s revival cooled off, but they still took care of business." They’ve got two interesting road games to wrap up the season, one a winnable affair at Iowa before a rather tough outing to Ohio State in the finale. The Illini are probably safely in the NCAA field, but they should go ahead and pull out all of the stops to win at Iowa. I don’t see this team going very far in the postseason, but just getting to the big dance is a huge win for Coach Groce.
8. Iowa (18-11 / 7-9) L @ Indiana 60-73
I’m sure Big Ten coaches would love to bottle whatever defensive magic Iowa has against Jordan Hulls. The Hawkeyes would have an excellent chance to get to .500 in the conference with only home matches against Illinois and Nebraska left, but I’m dubious about their ability to win both without Mike Gesell. While it took a little while, the defense did improve and the offense did suffer a bit, as I expected. Last season, the Hawkeyes posted 1.03 points per possession in conference play, but suffered a terrible 1.09 ppp against. This season, Iowa is much improved in terms of efficiency margin, via their current posting of a very nice .98 ppp against, even though the offense has fallen to .99 ppp. Fran McCaffrey looks to be building a nice team for next season.
9. Purdue (14-15 / 7-9) L @ Iowa 48-58, W @ Wisconsin 69-56
Painter finally appears to be on track for building some momentum going into next season. Sure, the difference in three-point shooting was probably the key reason for the most surprising result of the week (PU went 6-for-12, UW went 6-for-28). But the Boilers were able to make that be the deciding factor by beating the Badgers on the boards (solidly, too), keeping them off the line (only 8 free-throws attempted in the Trohl center? Unthinkable!) and keeping the turnover rates relatively even. What looked like a brutal final two home games now look positively winnable against struggling Michigan and inconsistent Minnesota. Could the Boilers go into the BTT at .500 overall and on a three-game winning streak? It’s possible... but naw. I don’t see it. Even with improvement, they need DJ Byrd to go off to win big games, and that doesn’t happen very often.
10. Nebraska (13-16 / 4-12) L @ Wisconsin 46-77, L @ Illinois 65-72
Well, they scared the Illini during their senior game. That’s something, at least. The Huskers could conceivably make some noise by upsetting Minnesota at home and taking advantage of a short-handed Iowa team in their final home game, thus building some momentum going into the tourney.... but that’s not really likely. Overall, it was a nice job by new coach Tim Miles to stay out of the cellar with what was (at least pre-Tim Frazier injury) the least amount of talent on a Big Ten roster. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes in the next couple of years, and how he replaces Doc Sadler’s guys, like Brandon Ubel and Dylan Talley.
11. Penn State (9-19 / 1-15) W v.Michigan 84-78, L @ Minnesota 44-73
Thank you Penn State. I called put them above Northwestern last week, and they went out and shocked Michigan. I thought the lone win for this team would come this week over Northwestern. But having discovered in the loss at Ann Arbor that the guards could drive at will on the Wolverines, Jermaine Marshall joined DJ Newbill in the lay-up line in the second half. I can believe that a previously winless-in-conference PSU beat Michigan (the Big Ten is no joke), but I am still shaking my head that Michigan gave up 48 points in the second half to Penn State. I’ve seen prognostications that PSU will finish at least .500 in conference play next season, but even with the return of Frazier, I think that’s a stretch.
12. Northwestern (13-16 / 4-12) L v. Ohio State 53-63
Northwestern, regardless of the talent on the floor, hangs with Ohio State seemingly every year in Welsh-Ryan arena. I’m of the opinion that Bill Carmody should’ve probably been let go years ago, and was simply lucky to get to this point. However, I’m also of the opinion that you don’t fire a guy who might be putting together his most talented roster for the next season, on the grounds that too many guys got injured this season. I do think it’ll be tough to replace the grittiness of some of these seniors, though. Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn really helped the Wildcats surprise some teams this year, and Jared Swopshire really had a nice run in conference games before his injury.