Calling any game in mid-January a must-win is no doubt a bit of hyperbole. For Northwestern, Tuesday’s game against Wisconsin was as close to a must-win in January as a team can get, at least in terms of NCAA Tournament résumé. Northwestern left Welsh-Ryan with a win, bumping their RPI up ever so slightly, and setting them up to potentially be 4-2 in the B1G following Saturday’s game against Penn State. Northwestern is the epitome of a bubble team on the outside looking in. The ‘Cats are 15-3, but lack a win over a team with an RPI higher than 99. The good news for Northwestern is the fact that the ‘Cats will have 8 more games against teams with an RPI of 75 or higher. The bad news is NU will play 4 games against the bottom of the B1G, including their final 3 games. One slip up in those contests could shatter Northwestern’s already shaky résumé. The point is that every game in this conference matters, and each game, no matter if it is in January or March, can make or break a tournament bid.
One to Be Proud Of: Michigan 70, Maryland 67
Michigan’s win over Texas earlier this year can certainly qualify as a “good win” but their win over Maryland, may have put this Michigan team over the top. With an RPI of 37, as long as Michigan can avoid the land-mines that are Rutgers and Minnesota, the Wolverines could be safely in the Big Dance, and even earn themselves a high seed come Selection Sunday. Any time a team can knock off an opponent with the sheer talent of Maryland, it’s a win to no doubt be proud of.
One to Be Ashamed Of: Illinois 84, Purdue 70
Honorable mention to Minnesota and Rutgers for losing to Nebraska by a combined 59 points (they bad, ya’ll), but those losses have literally no bearing on those teams’ tournament hopes. Illinois has a couple of good pieces, and a not-so-terrible RPI of 74, but they’re still a team that Purdue should be beating. The Boilers are 3-2 in the B1G, and might be seeing their title hopes fade away. A loss to Illinois won’t sink a team’s seed, but Purdue shouldn’t make a pattern out of losing road games to sub-par teams.
Big Ten Power Rankings One-Ish Sentence Style:
1. Maryland: The Terps hang on to the top spot, despite the loss to Michigan.
2. Iowa: Iowa moves up to number 2 after collecting a nice sweep over Michigan State on Thursday night.
3. Michigan State: Sparty is 16-0 against teams not named Iowa this year, thankfully for them, they won’t play the Hawkeyes again until March if at all.
4. Indiana: The Hoosiers are starting to find their rhythm, and at 4-0 are one of just two remaining teams unbeaten in B1G play.
5. Purdue:Matt Painter’s team falls after an ugly loss to Illinois, but have a chance to get on the right track with a trip to the Sixth Borough on Monday.
6. Michigan: The Wolverines got a big win over Maryland and are climbing up the rankings. Next up? A trip to face the unbeaten Hawkeyes in Iowa City this weekend.
7. Ohio State:OSU looked poor in a trip to Bloomington this weekend, and after a predictable win against Rutgers now have a big two game road-trip against Maryland and Purdue.
8. Northwestern: A win against Wisconsin kept this team in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but they’re still clearly on the outside looking in.
9. Wisconsin: Yes, they’ve lost 3 straight games, but they’ve looked pretty good in doing so, not deserving of falling behind anyone below them in these rankings.
10. Illinois: A win over Purdue has the Illini moving up, and while the NCAA Tournament is probably a long shot, the computer numbers may be strong enough to find this team a spot in the NIT.
11. Nebraska: Nebraska won two B1G games this week, which is a good thing, although the fact that they came against Minnesota and Rutgers makes it feel like it really shouldn’t count.
12. Penn State:Rutgers and Minnesota are the only things keeping the Lions from being firmly anchored at the bottom of the conference.
13. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights played one competent half of basketball this week, which was one more than Minnesota played, hence the bump.
14. Minnesota: Not even Joey King’s offensive abilities can save the Gophers.