This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.
While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.
So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.
|1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3) • Even|
|Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56|
|This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm
The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday.
|2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even|
|Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
|This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm|
History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now.
|3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4|
|Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47|
|This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm|
Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).
|4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4|
|Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64|
|This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm|
Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.
|5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3|
|Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46|
|This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm|
John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.
|6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1|
|Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
|This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm|
When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.
|7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3|
|Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53|
|This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm|
All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.
|8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5|
|Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72|
|This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS|
The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.
|9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3|
|Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66|
|This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm|
Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.
|10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1|
|Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71|
|This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm|
Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.
|11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1|
|Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83|
|This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm|
Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.
|12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even|
|Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54|
|This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm|
Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.