Back in October I tried predicting the final standings in the Big Ten for this season. While there is still half of a season to be played, it looks like I whiffed on a few for sure. I had Rutgers finishing 13th, but thanks to Northwestern and Nebraska’s gross incompetence, that isn’t going to happen. I had Penn State finishing 12th, but it looks like I underestimated Lamar Stevens and co., as they’re currently sitting in fourth place with a record of 7-4.
I think I might’ve nailed a couple too, as I picked Illinois to finish fifth despite finishing towards the bottom of the conference last year. The Illini are currently tied for second place with a record of 8-4.
It looked rough for awhile, but picking Ohio State to finish fourth still could come to fruition due to how compact the conference is this season. The Buckeyes are currently tied for tenth, but only a game and a half separate the tenth-place Buckeyes from the sixth-place Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
There’s a little over half of the conference schedule still to be played, and all we really know is: a) road teams are bad, b) Nebraska is bad, and c) Northwestern is bad. With those being the ground rules, let’s take a blind shot and guess where everyone finishes. I looked at every remaining schedule and made my best guesses and then tallied up the final records. I’m sure I’m a mile off, but there’s no fun in not trying!
But first, here are the standings as of today, February 9 (before any games are played):
Big Ten Standings as of Feb 9
T-13) Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats
As of today, the Northwestern Wildcats are 1-10 in league play, while Nebraska sits just a half game ahead of them at 2-10. While I’m not trying to be rude, I really don’t see either of these teams winning another game this season that isn’t against each other. These two squads have separated themselves as the clear bottom tier of the conference, and regardless if the game is at home or on the road, the other 12 teams shouldn’t have trouble picking up wins against them.
These two teams met on January 11 in Evanston, and Northwestern came away with a 62-57 win where both teams shot below 40 percent from the floor (gross). The next meeting will take place in Lincoln, Nebraska on March 1, but I’m giving Northwestern the edge on the road. Miller Kopp (13.4 ppg) is a baller, and Pat Spencer played lacrosse at Loyola (MD) for four years before deciding to use his final year of eligibility to play basketball at NU. That’s fun, and Nebraska doesn’t have any ballers or any lacrosse players. Cats win again.
12) Indiana Hoosiers
After starting the season 11-1, the Hoosiers have really sputtered out and are currently on a three-game losing streak. It isn’t going to get any easier down the stretch either, as all of their remaining games are against teams with equal or better records in conference play, four of which will come on the road.
11) Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines were struggling a bit without Isaiah Livers, having lost five of their last seven games before beating Michigan State at home on Saturday afternoon. That win came on the heels of losing three straight home games, which is basically impossible to do in the Big Ten. They have some tough games down the stretch, including road games at Purdue, Ohio State, and Maryland. Michigan’s tournament window seemed to be closing, but the return of Livers, paired with that big win versus the Spartans may have just given them a glimmer of hope.
T-9) Minnesota Golden Gophers and Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The good news for Minnesota: they still have games versus Northwestern and Nebraska on their schedule. The bad: they just lost to Penn State, dropping them to 12-11 on the season, and they play No. 17 Iowa next. The Gophers have been considered a “bubble” team all season, but ending the season somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten will probably get them into the dance come March.
First of all, I’m sorry Rutgers. I thought you’d stink again because frankly... you’ve always stunk. But not this year. Led by Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker, this is a deep, talented team built to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and perhaps even the NCAA Tournament. The Scarlet Knights have some tough road games coming up, as they’ll have to travel to Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State in the next month. But even if they lose two or three of those road games, I think Rutgers will probably still get to 10 conference wins, which constitutes one heck of an improvement over their first several years in the Big Ten.
T-6) Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, and Purdue Boilermakers
Ohio State 11-9
Ohio State has been one of the bigger letdowns in the conference after getting hyped up as one of the elite teams in the nation when the season began. Now they’re just trying to prove that they’re one of the best teams in their own conference. After a deep slump in January, the Buckeyes have now rattled off three wins in a row, two of which were on the road. If they can beat Wisconsin Sunday, that will be three straight road wins, an impressive feat in a conference where road teams have gone 22-63 (26% winning percentage). The Buckeyes have thrown themselves back into the middle of the Big Ten race, but if they can climb back towards the top is to be determined in the coming weeks.
It’s tough to tell if the Badgers are starting to fade or if they’re just struggling on the road like everybody else in this conference. In their last six games they’re 2-4, but all four of those losses came on the road. The good news for Wisconsin is that they only have three road games left, one of which is at Nebraska so it barely counts. Their second leading scorer, Kobe King, chose to transfer two weeks ago, so Wisconsin will need to replace his production somehow as well.
Purdue has been treading water all season, never quite letting their record fall to .500 but never being more than a few games above it. They’re in the middle of their biggest winning streak of the season, (three games) but they’ll host No. 22 Penn State on Tuesday before traveling to Ohio State and Wisconsin for back-to-back road contests. On the road, the Boilers are 2-5, but at home they’re 5-1, including a 29-point beat down of then-No. 8 Michigan State. “Mackey magic” is a very real thing, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Purdue win all of their remaining home games and lose all of their road games.
5) Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State 12-8
Tom Izzo’s Spartans are playing their worst basketball at the worst possible time, as their loss to Michigan on Saturday in Ann Arbor was their third straight, dropping them into a tie with Iowa for fourth place in the conference. They may have the most difficult schedule the rest of the way too, with road games at Maryland, Illinois, and Penn State still on the schedule. They also have to face Maryland, Iowa, and Ohio State at home. MSU is a talented team, but I don’t see them winning the B1G this season with that gauntlet still to run in the final few weeks.
T-3) Iowa Hawkeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions
No Jordan Bohannon? No Tyler Cook? No problem. Luka Garza has stepped up in ways nobody saw coming, averaging 23.2 points per game and 10 rebounds. He’s not only the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, but an All-American and National Player of the Year candidate as well. Iowa’s next two games are on the road against teams they should probably beat (Indiana and Minnesota), and after that most of their games will take place in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. If you’re looking for a team to buy stock in right now, Iowa is the one.
Penn State 13-7
As previously stated, Pat Chambers’ Nittany Lions have far exceeded expectations and barring a complete collapse, will make the NCAA Tournament for just the third time since 2000. Lamar Stevens is a matchup nightmare, and Penn State gets to play Northwestern two more times still (that means two more wins, folks). I still don’t know how far I trust this team to go in the NCAA Tournament, but in terms of the Big Ten, they’re going to end up near the top.
T-1) Illinois Fighting Illini and Maryland Terrapins
No Big Ten team has established themselves as head and shoulders above the rest, which has left the door open for a B1G champ with five or potentially even six losses. That’s where Illinois comes in. They’re ridiculously deep, and if you round up Trent Frazier’s 9.8 points per game to 10, then the Illini have four guys scoring in double figures. They were an explosive offense last year too, but had trouble with turnovers (they turned the ball over more than any other team in the country last season). This year they’re handling the ball much better and have already won on the road three times, with three more chances coming up at Northwestern, Penn State, and Ohio State. Illinois is legit, and they are going to win the Big Ten.
Every single year, Maryland teases us. “They’re so talented but they can’t win the big games,” or “Every time they break into the top ten they start losing again.” This season, the Terrapins started the season 10-0 and got as high as No. 3 in the AP Poll. They then went 3-4 in their next seven games right as they were on the verge of potentially moving into the No. 1 spot in the country. But now the Terps’ are hot again. They’ve won six games in a row and have sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with a record of 9-3. They have home games against Northwestern and Nebraska still on the schedule, and should be the betting favorites in every game they have left other than their meeting with Michigan State in East Lansing. Maryland is (also) going to win the Big Ten.