Conference play began this week and we learned a lot about the league. We learned that Bo Ryan might be the best coach in America, we learned just how important Evan Turner is to Ohio State, and we learned that Pat Fitzgerald may be related to Les Miles. I know that has nothing to do with basketball, but I'm still really angry about that game and some of Fitzgerald's tactical decisions and clock management. A lot more on that later, for now the power rankings.
1 (previously 1). Purdue: With their very impressive win over West Virginia, the Boilers are now in great shape for a #1 seed. It's going to be fun to watch them and Michigan State battle it out all season for the regular season league title. Purdue has a tough week ahead , hosting Minnesota tomorrow then traveling to Wisconsin Saturday. Strangely, the Purdue fans at Hammer and Rails seem more scared of visiting Northwestern in two weeks than visiting Wisconsin.
2 (2). Michigan State: We all saw the beating the Spartans handed out Saturday to our 'Cats, they simply put on a clinic. In retrospect, I think my recap (scroll down) was a little too negative, which I realized when I saw that FBC's recap had fewer shots at Bill Carmody than mine. The guys at The Only Colors also thought the win had a lot more to do with the Spartan's excellent play than NU struggling, so I'm feeling a little better about the loss, but not much.
3 (3) Wisconsin: The Badgers were outstanding, getting blow out wins over Ohio State and Penn State and holding them to an average of 44.5 points. Bo Ryan continues to amaze as he has his team playing much better than they should be on paper. A win at Michigan State Wednesday would make them Big Ten title contenders and vault Bo Ryan into national coach of the year contender.
4 (4) Minnesota: The Gophers took care of business at home vs Penn State and at Iowa. Blake Hoffarber has really stepped it up, as he's had double digit points in 7 straight games and is shooting over 50% from 3-point range. The defense will always be there for Tubby Smith, and if his team can score consistently they will be very dangerous.
5 (7) Illinois: Despite losing to Gonzaga Saturday, continuing their bizarre inability to win on neutral courts, the Illini move up two spots thanks to the win over Northwestern and Ohio State's collapse. Their next 3 games are Iowa, Indiana and Penn State, so they have an excellent shot at starting the conference season 4-0.
6 (6) Northwestern: The only reason they don't drop at all after 2 losses is because Ohio State also lost twice and looked even worse than the 'Cats. I've posted plenty about the basketball team on this site and I will a lot more during this week, so I'm going to use this space to rant about the football team instead.
Let me start by saying that Pat Fitzgerald has without question done a good job with this program since he took over. He's a fantastic motivator and is doing good things in recruiting. However, he consistently makes terrible in game decisions. While he's never going to top the moronic decision he made in 2007 in the first half against Duke to accept an offsides penalty after his kicker made a field goal so he could go for it on 4th and 2, he came close at the end of regulation against Auburn. The 'Cats had the ball at the Auburn 27 with about 30 seconds left. It was 3rd and 4 and he had 1 timeout left. He also had a kicker who'd missed a field goal from that exact spot on the field in the first half, missed an extra point, and shanked 2 punts. The field was wet and the wind was against them. The obvious play here would be to pass for the first down and try to get a touchdown since there's still time for it, and at the very least make the field goal attempt more makeable. Even if the pass is incomplete, Auburn still won't have enough time to score before the end of regulation. Instead he called for a run to set the ball in the middle of the field. So stupid, it was very obvious that Demos was an underdog to make that field goal, even an NFL kicker would not be automatic on a wet field into the wind from that distance. Very frustrating. The "fake" field goal has been beaten to death, the right play was definitely to go for it on that 4th down, but that was the most obvious fake in the history of the sport. Let the quarterback who set a school record for passing yards in the game take a shot at the end zone.
Obviously there are plenty of other people to blame, namely Kafka for his 5 interceptions (3 of them were just horrifically bad momentum killers), Brendan Smith for that embarrassing defensive effort on Auburn's long TD pass right over him, and of course Demos, but I'm more forgiving of amateur athletes than I am of the professional coach who should know better by now. Fitzgerald needs to get this straightened out in a hurry, because unlike the aforementioned Miles, he doesn't have a roster full of 5 star recruits to overcome tactical failings.
7 (5) Ohio State: Everyone thought this team would struggle without Turner, but I definitely didn't expect them to get embarrassed by Ohio State and lose to lowly Michigan. The Buckeyes lack depth and are having a lot of trouble scoring. Their game Wednesday against Indiana is a must win, because their next 5 games after that are very difficult. This team is danger of playing themselves out of the NCAA tournament, gonna have to turn it around soon.
8 (8) Michigan: They were in danger of falling to 10th after their loss to Indiana, but the Wolverines finally beat a real team yesterday in Ohio State. Still, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are getting no help at all. If a team stops either one of the two, Michigan is in big trouble.
9 (10) Indiana: The Hoosiers move up a spot thanks to their win over Michigan. They did lose leading scorer Maurice Creek for the season last Monday though, likely ensuring another terrible season, but we'll give them a bit of credit for hanging tough and getting a Big Ten win.
10 (9) Penn State: Losses at Minnesota and at home to Wisconsin aren't terrible, and you could definitely make a strong case for them being ninth. I'm putting them 10th though, wanna fight about it? Talor Battle continues to do it all, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists.
11 (11) Iowa: They put in a solid effort before finally losing to Purdue, but had no answers for Minnesota's press on Saturday. It was only a 12 point defeat, but don't let the margin fool you. The Gophers had a 26 point lead with 4 minutes left but somehow Iowa went crazy in garbage time. As a gambler, this game makes me a tiny bit suspicious. I don't know what the line was, but if it was 12.5 or 13 (and I'm guessing it was around there) and I'd bet on Minnesota, I know I'd be wondering whether Tim Donaghy was involved somehow.
So there are the rankings, disagree early and often.