Big Ten Ballin’: State of Affairs

WNUR’s Greg Mroz (@wizard_of_mroz) recaps the past weekend in Big Ten basketball and looks forward to the home stretch.

What do we know right now? Not that much. Everyone keeps beating up on everyone else. And then there are the upsets, like Nebraska going into East Lansing and beating the 9th ranked Spartans. Michigan lost as well on Sunday, getting smoked by 21st ranked Wisconsin. It’s a vicious cycle, and as it stands right now, the NCAA tournament has a definite 5 teams from the Big Ten, with two possible bubble teams.

Michigan State is top to bottom the best team in the conference. That goes without saying, they are prone to a few slip-ups. Nobody thought that Nebraska would be able to win on the road against the Spartans, but hey, stranger things have happened. Michigan would be next, although they are still without Mitch McGary for a significant portion of time. The guard play has stepped up, but when Stauskis, Walton and LeVert aren’t clicking on all cylinders, this team is very average, but a tournament team for sure. They were beaten on Sunday by Wisconsin, who is finally back on the right track. Frank Kaminsky is rediscovering his inside game, and that is making Sam Dekker, Ben Brust, and others that much more effective from the outside. Iowa continues to plod along, although they had some trouble with Penn State on Saturday. Still, the Hawkeyes have no real bad losses in conference play, and are a team built to go deep in the postseason. The last of the for sure teams is Ohio State, who is greatly helped by their non-conference success even though they struggled for a bit during conference play. All five of those teams are ranked, and all five of them should get in to the NCAA tournament. But that leaves two bubble teams, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Both the Huskers and Golden Gophers have cases to make. Nebraska can make its case by the wins it has in conference play. Wins against top teams like Ohio State and Michigan State help their cause, but they had a bad non conference slate, and started off slow in Big Ten play.

Terran Petteway has led a surprising Nebraska team to the NCAA bubble in 2014. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Terran Petteway has led a surprising Nebraska team to the NCAA bubble in 2014. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Terran Petteway has shown that he can make things happen, and an easy end to the schedule from Nebraska makes me think they have a chance. Minnesota, on the other hand, had a good non-conference slate, but at 6-7 in conference, they will need to get at least nine wins to have a chance at making the NCAA tournament. They would need to upset either Ohio State, Iowa, or Michigan, and then beat both Illinois and Penn State in order to reach that nine conference win plateau.

After that, there isn’t much positive. Northwestern can play defense, but their offense is atrocious. Penn State is very streaky, and while they have played well at times, their lack of consistency has doomed them. Purdue has slipped, but while they seemed to have recovered, it may be too little too late. Indiana is a young team, but with expectations set high every year, Tom Crean may find himself on the hot seat soon. Illinois stinks, and they have showed no signs of getting better. None of these teams will be making the NCAA tournament, although Purdue has a legitimate shot at the NIT.

The state of the Big Ten will continue to change in the coming weeks. Let’s hope that Nebraska and Minnesota can execute down the home stretch, so that both of them can leap off that pesky bubble and into the bracket of 68.

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