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Big Ten Power Poll: The Penultimate Stretch

A quick run-down of the Big Ten basketball teams, with recent results and commentary

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

1. Michigan (19-7, 11-3) W v Michigan State 79-70
After completing the sweep against Michigan State, Michigan has to stay focused if it wants to walk away with the regular season conference title.  However, there are two concerns that I have despite the fact that the Wolverines will play four straight games against four (essentially) 5-9 teams to close out the season. 1) The Big Ten is full of blood and spiders this year. Don't try to predict what will happen. And 2) Michigan is playing .500 ball for the month of February. Yes, it's been a brutal schedule, but they've looked human as much as they've looked anything like the conference's best team. Also, I've been looking through some of the conference-only stats, and found something absolutely eye-popping in the first ten conference games: Spike Albrecht has 22 assists and only 1 turnover. For the rest of the season, he has a very impressive 4:1 (36:9) assist/turnover ratio. If he didn't have some problems defensively, I would be openly questioning why he isn't the starting point guard.

2. Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) W @ Purdue 94-79, L @ Michigan 70-79
It is unlikely now, although technically possible, that the Spartans will rally to snag a piece of the Big Ten conference title. Tom Izzo's focus now has to be getting Brandon Dawson and Adriean Payne used to playing again, and the team used to getting them the ball. Payne had like, 2 post-ups against Michigan? When the Wolverines clearly couldn't handle him down low? There is so much talent on this team, but I'm not sure that the players always know how to maximize each others' strengths.

3. Wisconsin (22-5, 11-5) W @ Iowa 79-74
After a brief slump, the Badgers are back to being one of the more impressive squads in the country. We saw them march undefeated through a solid non-conference schedule, before (of all people!) Tom Crean exposed their  defensive liabilities. They've now won five straight games, and notched back-to-back road wins against teams ranked #15 in the country (Michigan before Iowa). The only remaining scheduled game that's even somewhat likely to end up as a loss is the season-ending trip to Nebraska. And should Michigan choke down the stretch, Bo Ryan is well-positioned to grab a piece of the regular season title.

4. Iowa (19-7, 8-5) L v Wisconsin 79-74
To be fair, the Badgers shot the ball incredibly well when they came in and stole one away in Iowa City.  But the Hawkeye team just cannot seem to impose their will on other teams and grind out wins like great teams do.  They seem much closer now to my preseason estimation of them: good, not great. Despite having a lot of good talent on hand, I think the major  drawback on this squad is turnovers. Roy Devyn Marble certainly has a penchant for coughing the ball up, and thats really hurting his effiency. Of course, Wisconsin came in and won the rebounding while losing the turnover battle. There's just no telling what will happen in this year's Big Ten.

5. Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) W v Northwestern 76-60, W v Minnesota 64-46
The Buckeyes have put together a nice little recovery, but I'd be surprised if they get to the Sweet 16. You never know, though, and Sam Thompson had a pretty good week, scoring 30 points and draining 5-of-9 threes in the two blowouts. I don't have a lot to say about the Buckeyes, as think they had a softer non-conference schedule than it seemed at the time, but getting to 9 wins in this conference is a solid accomplishment. Nonetheless, if I were an opposing coach with less talent, I'd still try to pack the paint and let anyone not named LaQuinton Ross (44.4% in conference play!) beat me from the three-point line.

6. Nebraska (16-10, 8-6) W v PSU 80-67, W v Purdue 76-57
The 'Huskers avoided any letdown after their biggest B1G conference victory ever in East Lansing. Right now, finishing at 9-9 in the conference looks like the absolute worst case scenario for Nebraska, with 11-7 seeming just as likely of an outcome. Before the season, Tim Miles seemed a little brave for saying that he didn't think his team would finish 12th, as picked in the informal Big Ten coaches' poll. I gotta say, looking at who he had coming in and who he had coming back, I would've sided with the coaches. And now, If I had a vote, I would be naming Tim Miles as coach of the year.

7. Minnesota (17-11, 6-9) L v Illinois 49-62, L @ OSU 46-64
The Gophers might well have burst their own NCAA tourney bubble last week. They desperately need the home win tonight against Iowa to stop the bleeding, and assuming a split in their last two games (@Michigan, v. PSU), Minny will still probably need a decent run in the Big Ten Tourney to assure themselves a spot. Still, even being in the bubble conversation is a much better start to the younger Pitino's tenure than I anticipated.

8. Purdue (15-12, 5-9) L v MSU 79-94, L @ Nebraska 57-76
The Boilers only hang onto 8th because of their win over the Hoosiers. Now, with Sterling Carter injured and out for the rest of the season, I really feel like Purdue is positioned for a slide. However, I think they've got a really good shot at beating Michigan tomorrow night, as the Wolverines are coming off a highly emotional win over their in-state rivals.  

9. Indiana (15-11, 5-8) W @ Northwestern 61-56
So, after one the worst weeks in several years, the Hoosiers found some salve on the road by grinding out a solid win over the Wildcats.  Now, they face an extremely unpleasant task of playing three ranked teams in six days. They've got to win two of those games if they want to climb back on that bubble, at all. One quick fix (outside of simply hitting all of your threes) would be to simply stop turning the ball over. Only Yogi and Sheehey have more assists than turnovers in conference play (before the NU game) and Hanner and Noah combined for an assist/turnover ratio slightly worse than 1:10. Ugh.  If Crean manages to pull out a sweep of Wisconsin tonight, I wonder if the conference-wide criticism of him will fade a bit?

10. Illinois (15-12, 4-10) W @ Minnesota 62-49
Huh, I guess there's a little life left here after all. After looking essentially hopeless since the beginning of January, the Illini found a team they could jump on when they went into Minnesota and came out with a 13-point win. They could even clinch a winning overall record if they beat visiting Nebraska tomorrow night.

11. Penn State (13-14, 4-10) L @ Nebraska 67-80
If (big, big if) the Nittany Lions can finish strong, they could put themselves above .500 overall and in position for a NIT bid. They'd have to upset OSU and Wisconsin at home first, which while I can definitely see this squad getting one upset, two seems too much to ask. They close with road games to Evanston and Minneapolis, and both of those clubs are limping to the finish, so maybe a 3-1 stretch run is possible? It'd be a pretty big step for Pat Chambers' efforts in Happy Valley

12. Northwestern (12-16, 5-10) L @ OSU 60-76, L v. Indiana 56-61
Jershon Cobb is done for the year. Alex Olah is doing a marvellous job staying upright on two busted wheels. A couple of months ago, I would've said that these last three games (@Neb, v PSU, @Pur) were three of the Wildcats' best chances to get some wins, but I wouldn't be surprised if they lost all three.