As we enter the last two weeks of Big Ten action before the conference tournament begins, it looks like only a matter of time before Indiana clinches the outright Big Ten regular season title. The intrigue now sits in spots two through five in the standings. The top four teams during the regular season gain a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago. While it isn't impossible for a team from below the top four seeds to win the Big Ten tournament, the extra day of rest certainly improves a team's chances. Currently Ohio State sits fifth in the Big Ten standings but could make up some ground as Michigan and Michigan State have a number of tough games left on their schedule.
#6 Duke (24-3, 11-3): WIN @ Virginia Tech (88-56), WIN v. Boston College (89-68): Duke was happy to get a couple easy wins last week after having their previous three games decided by a total of eight points. Seth Curry, the son of Virginia Tech's leading scorer Dell Curry, left no doubt early for the Blue Devils as he poured in 19 of his 22 points in the first half. By halftime this game was pretty much over, as the Blue Devils went into the break up 48-28. Duke was lights out from 3-point range, hitting 12 of their 17 attempts. The hot shooting from Duke carried over into Sunday's game, where again Duke shot 54% from the field and raced out to a big lead a halftime. Rasheed Sulaimon scored a season-high 27 points while Mason Plumlee notched his fourth double-double in his last five games in the win against the Eagles. Duke travels to Virginia on Wednesday night before returning home for Saturday night's clash with Miami.
#9 Kansas (23-4, 11-3): WIN @ #14 Oklahoma State (68-67 2OT), WIN v. TCU (74-48): Kansas was able to avenge two of the four losses they have suffered so far this season last week when they beat Oklahoma State and TCU. Naadir Tharpe jumper with 16.5 seconds left finally ended the game for Kansas and allowed them to escape Stillwater with a victory. Jeff Withey scored 17 points and grabbed 14 boards in the tight game, which saw neither team lead by more than six points the whole game. After being shocked by TCU last month, Kansas left no doubt on Saturday, not allowing TCU to hit double-figures on the scoreboard until the 2nd half. Kansas will go on the road to Iowa State with Bill Self in search of win number 500 on his career on Monday, before returning to Allen Fieldhouse to face West Virginia on Saturday.
Nebraska (13-14, 4-10): WIN v. Iowa (64-60): Nebraska looked to be on their way to losing against Iowa after 20 minutes, but they clamped down on defense and earned a comeback victory. After trailing by 16 at halftime, Nebraska went ahead on a Dylan Talley 3-pointer with 9.2 seconds left. Talley finished with 18 points on the evening. Nebraska held Iowa to only 28% from the field in the second half, which helped them overcome the large deficit. The Cornhuskers hit the road this week, visiting WIsconsin on Tuesday night before a Saturday matchup with Illinois.
Illinois (20-9, 7-8): WIN v. Penn State (64-59), LOSS @ #7 Michigan (71-58): Thursday night's win over Penn State was helped by the number of times that Penn State sent Illinois to the free throw line. The Fighting Illini needed just about every free throw that they made against the Nittany Lions. D.J. Richardson's 18 points paced Illinois as they held off Penn State's fight to get their first conference win. The win gave Illinois their fifth straight heading into Sunday's game in Ann Arbor. Against the Wolverines, Illinois went into halftime with a lead but didn't have enough to close out Michigan and add to their tournament resume. Illinois will try and get back on the winning track on Saturday when they welcome Nebraska to Champaign.
Purdue (13-14, 6-8): WIN v. Northwestern (74-43): Coming into Sunday's game with Northwestern, Purdue had dropped five of their last six games. After losing their last two games by at least 20 points, the Boilermakers were able to take out some frustrations on the Wildcats, cruising to an easy victory. Purdue out-rebounded a struggling Wildcats team 48-23. Terrone Johnson was the leading scorer for Purdue with 22 points. The Boilermakers will try and build off Sunday's win when they hit the road this week to play Iowa on Wednesday and Wisconsin on Sunday.
#7 Michigan (23-4, 10-4): WIN v. Illinois (71-58): After a sloppy first half in Sunday's game against Illinois, Michigan used a 15-3 run in the second half to pull away from the Fighting Illini. In the victory sophomore Trey Burke eclipsed the 1,000 point mark in his career at Michigan. For the game Burke finished with 26 points and 8 assists. The Wolverines trailed 31-28 at halftime, but found their stroke after the break in their first game in a week. Michigan heads to Penn State on Wednesday before trying to get some revenge on Michigan State in Ann Arbor on Sunday.
#4 Michigan State (22-4, 11-4): LOSS v. #1 Indiana (72-68), LOSS @ #18 Ohio State (68-60): A pair of losses last week has dropped the Spartans closer to the rest of the pack in the Big Ten. On Tuesday night against the top-ranked Hoosiers, Michigan State had a chance to tie the game after Gary Harris was fouled on a 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left, but Harris only made one of the three free throws. Even with missing those free throws Harris led Michigan State with 19 points. In Sunday's game the Spartans looked primed to pull away from the Buckeyes before an early timeout in the second half by Thad Matta swung the momentum in the game. The Buckeyes were able to withstand Adreian Payne's 12 points and 15 rebounds to earn the much-needed victory. Michigan State will play their third straight game against a ranked team on Sunday as they head to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines.
Iowa (17-10, 6-8): LOSS @ Nebraska (64-60): The bubble that Iowa was on heading into the NCAA tournament may have popped on Saturday with a loss to Nebraska in Lincoln. At halftime Iowa looked to be in control, leading by 16 points, but ice cold shooting in the second half allowed Nebraska to stage the comeback. Aaron White registered a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort. The Hawkeyes will try and recover this week as Purdue visits on Wednesday night before heading to Indiana on Saturday.
Penn State (8-18, 0-14): LOSS @ Illinois (64-59): In their lone game of the week, Penn State made Illinois sweat but as has been the case lately, fell just short in the bid for their first conference win this season. Penn State has now lost their last 14 games on the season, including their last three games by a combined 15 points. The downfall of Penn State was committing 31 fouls which resulted in 36 free throw attempts for Iliinois. In comparison, the Nittany Lions only went to the free throw line 16 times. The opportunities for Penn State to avoid finish the regular season winless in conference play are dwindling, with Michigan visiting on Wednesday before hitting the road on Saturday to play Minnesota.
#19 Wisconsin (19-8, 10-4): WIN @ Northwestern (69-41): On the heels of last Sunday's easy win against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin faced little challenge from Wisconsin on Wednesday night. It was your typical Badger effort, with balanced scoring on offense and suffocating defense. Ben Brust and Jared Berggren led Wisconsin with 12 points each. Wisconsin dominated on the glass, out-rebounding Northwestern 47-22. Nebraska visits the Kohl Center on Tuesday followed by Purdue on Sunday, as Wisconsin looks to remain in the thick of the Big Ten title race.
#1 Indiana (22-3, 12-2): WIN @ #4 Michigan State (72-68): In a clash of the top two teams in the Big Ten, Indiana escaped East Lansing with a hard-fought win on Tuesday night. Coming in to Tuesday's battle, Indiana hadn't won on the road against Michigan State in 17 games, dating back to 1991. Victor Oladipo was dealing with a sprained ankle that he suffered against Purdue, but shook of the pain to score 19 points and grab 9 rebounds. Oladipo and Cody Zeller became the latest Hoosiers to eclipse the 1,000 point barrier in the win against the Spartans. This week Indiana will try and stay atop the rankings as they travel to Minnesota on Tuesday before hosting Iowa on Saturday.
Northwestern (13-15, 4-11): LOSS v. #19 Wisconsin (69-41), LOSS @ Purdue (72-43): With two blowout losses last week, Northwestern has now lost their last five games, with the each of the last three losses coming by over thirty points. The Wildcats have really been hurt by losing four players to season-ending injuries combined with an anemic offense. In the loss to Wisconsin, Northwestern actually hit more shots from behind the arc (eight) than they did from inside the arc (seven). The Wildcats shot less than 30% from the field in both losses, and only had one player in double-figures in scoring last week when Reggie Hearn scored 13 against Wisconsin.Northwestern will try and keep their next game a little more respectable when they host Ohio State on Thursday night.
Minnesota (18-9, 6-8): LOSS @ #18 Ohio State (71-45): In their only game of the week, Minnesota hung around for the first half, but lost touch in the second half against Ohio State. At halftime the Golden Gophers trailed 29-23 but a 16-0 run in the second half was the nail in the coffin for Tubby Smith's crew. Minnesota's struggles over the past month continued, only shooting 29% from the field and committing a season-high 24 turnovers. Wednesday night's loss was the fifth consecutive game that Minnesota has failed to score 60 points. During that span the Golden Gophers are 1-4. With a NCAA tournament bid hanging in the balance, this week Minnesota entertains Indiana on Tuesday and Penn State on Saturday.