You probably spent most of your Saturday watching football, in which case you missed Penn State's upset win over Michigan State. Most people (myself included) wrote off Ed DeChellis and company after that loss to Maine, but thanks to the strong interior play of Jeff Brooks (who is criminally underrated right now, he's averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in Big Ten play) and some rare unselfish play from Talor Battle, the Nittany Lions look like they could be an NIT team at the very least. Either that, or Michigan State just isn't that good. I'm having trouble getting my head around either possibility.
But whichever it is, that result doesn't bode well for Northwestern. The gap between the 'Cats and the expected Big Ten cellar dwellers is dwindling rapidly. Per Ken Pomeroy's formula, here's how the bottom of the Big Ten ranks nationally:
Penn State: 78th (and that's as of Saturday morning, before the win over Sparty)
It doesn't look like there will be any easy games the entire Big Ten season; in fact, Pomeroy has NU as underdogs in all of their remaining road games. A 6-2 record versus those four would be well above expectation right now, and you have to think that's the bare minimum necessary to make the NCAAs. It all starts tonight against Indiana, so let's hope NU is aiming at least six in the chamber.
John Hart returns to the lineup for Purdue, giving them even more depth in a crowded back court, while talented wing Eric May returns for the Hawkeyes. Without May, Iowa gave Ohio State all they wanted on Tuesday, but it's tough to expect much from Fran McCaffery's young bunch in their first conference road game. Let's see if Melsahn Basabe can hang in with JaJuan Johnson down on the box.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Ohio State Buckeyes (-15.5), 1 PM central, BTN
Somehow, Minnesota is still #21 in the coaches poll, but they won't be on Monday after they lose this one. The Gophers haven't looked like a top 25 team since November, continually struggling to put away inferior teams. Trevor Mbakwe vs. Jared Sullinger should be a fantastic match-up between the Big Ten's top 2 newcomers, but the Buckeyes have too much talent for Tubby Smith's team to overcome.
This is one of the final intriguing non-conference games of the year, as Bill Self returns to Big Ten country to take on the upstart Wolverines. You'd generally expect a blowout, but Michigan did hang in there with Syracuse earlier this season, so if Darius Morris can control the pace and the Wolverines can get hot from three, you could see an upset.
For the most part, I've stayed away from betting on the home team this season, but I'm getting on the wagon tonight. Northwestern was embarrassed last time out against Illinois, and I feel like the players have enough pride to bounce back strong and bury the Hoosiers in last place. So take the Wildcats and hope they play at least 5 minutes of defense.
Gambling record: 10-8-1