Much like the ACC, I don’t believe the top of the power structure in the Big 10 has changed too much. Michigan State is still the odds-on favorite, and I still regard Maryland and Ohio State as their biggest challengers. However, beyond that? Identifying favorites is a complete nightmare, as results have varied greatly. Here’s a look at who is boosting their stock, and who is struggling in the conference.
Biggest Risers: Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State
- Iowa has soared into the national picture courtesy of the potential Big 10 player of the year in Luka Garza. Garza continues to put up monster numbers and has essentially put the Hawkeyes on his back. After a disappointing loss to Nebraska 16 days ago, Iowa has won four straight, including wins over Rutgers and Maryland. This team has the skill and star power to make a little run in March.
- Rutgers is one of the hottest teams in the country, even with their close loss to Iowa last night. They are propelled by their 13-0 record at home, and they are extremely close to making a breakthrough on the road, having lost several tight ones to ranked opponents away from home. They’ll need to improve in that area to push themselves into true Big 10 title contention, but the Scarlet Knights are surprisingly relevant in their conference right now.
- After a tough start to Big 10 play, Penn State is starting to get hot. They put together an impressive performance to beat Ohio State at home. The Buckeyes had beaten the Nittany Lions by 30 points earlier in the year. They then went to Ann Arbor and took down a solid Michigan squad, 72-63. After their slow start in conference games largely negated their impressive 10-1 non-conference record, the Nittany Lions are playing their way back into the Big 10 conversation.
Biggest Fallers: Purdue, Michigan
- Last week, I was praising Purdue for their ability to win at home. After a 71-42 throttling of Michigan State, they looked like a team that could stay relevant due to their home-court advantage. However, they followed up easily their most impressive result of the year with a road loss to Maryland and then a 79-62 flop at home to Illinois. Maybe that was a blip on the radar in the big picture, but the tough loss did a lot to damage the perception of Purdue being extremely tough to beat in their own house.
- Michigan has now lost three straight and four of five in Big 10 games, as the Wolverines seem unable to keep up with their conference foes. Last night’s home loss to Penn State was the most concerning, as the Wolverines looked extremely flat at times on their own court, outclassed by an unranked opponent. Michigan is hardly looking like a Big 10 contender, and they certainly don’t resemble the national contender they were heralded to be during the preseason.
- My current prediction is that 8 teams in the Big 10 make the NCAA Tournament field, but I could see that number fluctuating as the surprising results pour in. Currently I predict Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Rutgers to secure tournament berths.
- I believe four Big 10 teams are still very much in the picture, and they have a lot to play for down the stretch: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota.
- I’m declaring 2 teams officially dead in the Big 10 picture, and those teams are Northwestern and Nebraska, who have combined for a 3-13 mark in Big 10 play.
Biggest Upcoming Games
- #17 Maryland @ Indiana
- #11 Michigan State @ Minnesota
- Wisonsin @ #19 Iowa