Well we have officially reached the halfway point in the Big Ten (B1G) conference season and there is a lot to discuss. The conference crown is still very up for grabs and there’s also a clear divide between the top and bottom half of the conference. So without further ado, let’s take stock of where each team is at in the B1G power rankings after nine conference games. We’ll also dive into what teams have to look forward to the rest of the season.
- Iowa: The clear winner of the first 50% of the conference slate is one of the surprise teams in the nation (feels very familiar to football season doesn’t it, Hawkeye fans?). Iowa is tied at the top of the conference with an 8-1 conference record (17-4 overall) and has their hardest part of the schedule behind them. With two wins apiece over Purdue and Michigan State, their toughest test left on the schedule a visit to Bloomington to face the Hoosiers. These Hawkeyes have to be the favorites to win the league. Iowa is a lock for the tourney and could set up as a possible one-seed, sitting at #5 in the country currently.
- Maryland: Just a half-game behind the Hawkeyes, the Terps are sitting at 8-2 in conference play (19-3 overall). Melo Trimble has found a solid front court duo in Robert Carter and Diamond Stone who combine for 26 points and 12 rebounds a game. The Terps still have to face Purdue twice and travel to Bloomington, so they have their work cut out for them if they want to chase down Iowa for the B1G crown. Beyond that, Maryland should be another lock for the B1G to make it to March Madness, with their seed the only thing left up in the air.
- Purdue: The Boilers are a solid 7-3 in the B1G so far, and outside of a baffling loss at Illinois have looked very solid throughout. They still need more out of their backcourt with a forward (Vince Edwards) leading the team in assists at a paltry 2.9 average. The Boilers have a solid resume and should be a lock if they can avoid a catastrophic collapse, but a B1G title will be tough to attain given a more difficult second half of conference play, including two against Maryland.
- Indiana: No one knows what to make of this team quite yet. That’s because they easily had the softest schedule to start the year which could be why they are tied for first at 9-1 in conference (19-4 overall). Their best win came last night in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines and they have a brutal stretch run featuring games against Iowa (twice), Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State. The Hoosiers are averaging a robust 85 points per game (tops in the B1G), but their remaining schedule should spell doom for a team competing for the crown. The Hoosiers should make the tourney, but a poor Strength of Schedule and a mediocre RPI (50) means this Hoosier team needs quality wins to beef up their resume for March.
- Michigan State: The Spartans got off to a disappointing start in B1G play at 3-4 but have recovered to win their last three (19-4 overall), including a win over Maryland. Tom Izzo’s squad posts the best defense in the B1G, holding opponents to 62.4 points per game. Meanwhile Denzel Valentine picked up where he left off before his injury, averaging 19 PPG, 8 RPG, and 7 APG. The Spartans will make the tourney in all likelihood, but their poor start ends their B1G title hopes, being down three games to Iowa and losing the tiebreaker to the Hawkeyes.
- Michigan: John Beilein’s team is the dividing line in the B1G between the top and bottom half of the conference. Michigan sits at 7-3 in conference play (17-6 overall) losing their only tough games of the first half against Iowa, Indiana and Purdue. The Wolverine’s boast a very balanced squad with four players averaging in double figures. They have work left to do to make it to March due to their lack of quality wins. Getting leading scorer Caris Levert back from injury should be a big boost for Michigan as their schedule intensifies in the second half of B1G play.
- Wisconsin: After a brutal start to the B1G season at 1-4, the Badgers have done a complete 180 in winning their last four (13-9 overall), including huge wins over Michigan State and Indiana. Wisconsin isn’t blowing anyone away, with their average margin of victory at 4.5 points per game in those wins, and they’ll need to pick up their offense if they want to continue their hot run. The Badgers are one of only four B1G teams averaging less than 70 points per game (69.2) with the other three making up the bottom of the B1G. Wisconsin has some good wins, but their record needs some work in order to make a real case for getting in to the tourney.
- Ohio State: At 6-4 in the B1G (14-9 overall), Ohio St. finds themselves squarely on the bubble for March Madness, and probably on the outside looking in at this point. The Buckeye’s best B1G game came this past weekend in a loss to Maryland 66-61. With their best win against an underachieving Kentucky squad, Thad Matta and his group will have to take advantage of concluding three games in the B1G that read: vs. Michigan State, vs. Iowa, and finally @ Michigan State. Marc Loving will have to pick it up to score a couple victories in that stretch as he’s shooting just over 40% on the season.
- Northwestern: Getting off to a 3-2 start in conference play had the students in Evanston dreaming of their first NCAA tourney. But losing five straight against tough competition has dropped NU to the bottom half of the B1G. Bryant McIntosh continues to impress with 15 points and seven assists per game but needs more support from the rest of the team. The Wildcats are squarely out of the tourney at this point, but a favorable remaining schedule gives them a slight glimmer of hope the rest of the way.
- Nebraska: Tim Miles can’t quite put a finger on the quality of his Cornhusker (12-10, 4-5 Big Ten) squad. Nebraska started off the B1G campaign by promptly losing their first three games. They followed that up with a winning streak of four games, before dropping their past two contests. Kansas transfer Andrew White is having a breakout year with the Huskers averaging 17 points and six boards per game. Unfortunately, unless Nebraska goes on a major run, they’ll need to win the B1G tourney to sniff March Madness.
- Illinois: The injury bug continues to bite the Illini. Already missing projected starters Tracy Abrams, Leron Black, and Michael Thorne, John Groce could add Michael Finke and Kendrick Nuun to that list after both got banged up against Wisconsin. Illinois is a disastrous 2-7 in the B1G (10-12 overall) after having expectations of at least being on the bubble before the season started. With the scoring duo of Malcolm Hill and Nunn combining for 36 points per game, this Illini team really ought to have more than two conference wins at this point. The lack of production around those two tells the story, with the point guard duo of Khalid Lewis and Jaylon Tate averaging a minuscule five points per game combined. Illinois’ tourney dreams are non-existent with their NIT hopes going down the drain with games still left against Iowa and Maryland.
- Penn State: Another 2-7 squad in the B1G (11-11 overall), the Nittany Lions have showed a lot of heart, losing nail-biters to Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin. Brandon Taylor is having a memorable season for coach Pat Chambers, averaging 16 points and six boards a game. Penn St. won’t make the tourney, but look for this squad to play spoilers for a few of the bubble teams in the conference.
- Minnesota: We now get to the cellar-dwellers of the league. The Golden Gophers are winless in 10 attempts but they are getting as close as a team can get without scratching out a W. They’ve lost their last five games by seven points or less, meaning a win should be on the horizon. Upcoming games against Northwestern and Rutgers provide their best chances for the foreseeable future.
- Rutgers: The other winless team in the B1G is the not-so-mighty Scarlet Knights from New Brunswick, NJ. Rutgers is 0-9 in the B1G (6-16 overall) with every loss coming by at least seven points. In fact, the Scarlet Knights haven’t played a single-digit game since their B1G opener against Indiana, a game they lost by seven. Rutgers has winnable games against Illinois (twice), Penn St., and Minnesota coming up so the opportunities are there. For our sake, I’d like to see both Minnesota and Rutgers go in winless to their game in what might have the most intensity of any game left on the B1G schedule since both will be looking for their first W’s in conference play.
So there you go, we’re now 50% done with 50% ahead of us in a scintillating B1G Ten race with plenty of twists and turns still left to go. Be on the lookout for a B1G Ten Bubble Watch as March Madness creeps up around the corner.