To quote our friends at The Champaign Room describing league-worst Illinois: “Jon said we’re a good bottom!”
Jon said we’re a good bottom! https://t.co/PR07rhSKAz— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) January 26, 2019
Yes, that’s referring to popular college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein, who said the Big Ten is cannibalizing itself after the Illini picked off 13th-ranked Maryland at Madison Square Garden Saturday. During the next Big Ten basketball broadcast, there should be a prop bet for over/under how many times the word “gauntlet” is used to describe the conference this year. While certainly overused, it is true: this season’s Big Ten is enjoying a rebound year after receiving just four NCAA tournament bids last March. With six and a half weeks until the conference tournament, here’s a look at how the conference stacks up from top to bottom:
Michigan (19-1, 8-1 B1G)
The perfect season is no more. Wisconsin took care of the Wolverines at home, and then Minnesota played the Wolverines down to the wire and almost created a real-honest-to-God losing streak. Michigan is just fine. It righted the ship by dismantling Indiana in Bloomington, and upcoming contests versus Ohio State and at Iowa give it a chance to get to reclaim the top spot of the conference.
Michigan State (18-3, 9-1 B1G)
After a non-perfect start, the Spartans saw the 13-game win streak they ripped off come to an end Sunday at Purdue. Nothing to worry about for Spartan fans, though, since Purdue has been hot lately. Cassius Winston has been one of the most prolific guards in the country, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. There are no particularly interesting matchups ahead for Tom Izzo’s squad until Minnesota comes to East Lansing in almost two weeks. This team has a case to be number one on this list.
Purdue (14-6, 7-2 B1G)
The Boilermakers are scary right now. Michigan State learned that Sunday when it was outclassed by 10 points in West Lafayette. Carsen Edwards balls out nearly every night. This team has been a challenge for Matt Painter, but right now he’s showing this has been one of his best jobs while at Purdue.
Wisconsin (14-6, 6-3 B1G)
Greg Gard’s teams are always tough to play against, and their grind-it-out styles gives even the best of teams fits. They scored a huge win over then-undefeated Michigan last week and followed it up with two routine wins over lesser Big Ten foes. The story has been and will continue to be Ethan Happ, the all-around center whose production has never wavered in his senior year.
Maryland (16-5, 7-3 B1G)
Illinois? Really, Illinois?? The Terps were trending up until a loss versus Michigan State (oh well) and a disastrous second half against 6-14 Illinois that led to an embarrassing defeat at Madison Square Garden in front of a home (maybe?) crowd. The Terps will likely slide a bit from their current No. 13 ranking, but Mark Turgeon has to make sure this blip doesn’t turn into a slide with tricky games against Wisconsin and Purdue ahead.
Iowa (16-5, 5-5 B1G)
Defense has been hard to come by for the Hawkeyes, who have given up 87 points per game in their last two games. They picked up some quality wins before this week, but the fashion of the losses give cause for concern, and a Friday matchup with Michigan looms large as Iowa tries to avoid three straight losses. Luka Garza, it’s once again up to you.
Minnesota (15-5, 5-4 B1G)
The Gophers are hard to get a read on, but a shootout win over Iowa instills confidence in this talented squad led by Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy. If this team can find consistency in the month of February, watch out come March.
Ohio State (13-6, 3-5 B1G)
There was concern at the beginning of this season with this team, then it went away, and now it’s back. Four poor games from Kaleb Wesson games coincided with five straight conference losses before a surprise win at another head-scratching team, Nebraska. The Buckeyes’ next matchup is at Michigan, but after that they have four straight winnable games to sort things out.
Nebraska (13-7, 3-6 B1G)
What is this team? The Huskers barely missed out on the big dance last year, and they return most of that talent. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Tim Miles’ squad, who have lost three in a row, the latest of which to the sliding Buckeyes. James Palmer Jr. is one of the country’s most underrated guards, but none of it will matter and he won’t get that recognition if the Huskers don’t turn things around and make the NCAA tournament.
Northwestern (12-8, 3-6 B1G)
Averaging 61.8 points per conference game is not a recipe for wins. The lack of a true point guard is visibly hurting the ‘Cats, and even their consistent defense is not enough to make up for it. Aaron Falzon provided the a ray of new hope when his 21 points lifted NU over freefalling Indiana, but there was little scoring Saturday when Ethan Happ single handedly beat Northwestern, which put up a mere 46 in Madison.
Indiana (12-8, 3-6 B1G)
Oh no, Archie. So much talent, such a promising start, and such a fallout. Two weeks ago the Hoosiers were ranked 25th in the nation. Their current six-game losing streak is bookended by losses to Michigan, and things have simply fallen off the rails in year two of the Archie experiment. Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan have produced, but little else has gone right over the tumultuous past two weeks. Rutger is next, and then it’s two straight ranked matchups.
Rutger (10-9, 3-6 B1G)
The RAC has already celebrated a couple of nice wins this season, which is saying something. Other than that, IDK man, it’s Rutger.
Illinois (6-14, 2-7 B1G)
The Illini are doing Illini things, but a surprise win in New York over Maryland was a nice break for the faithful. It’s mostly bust with a little bit of boom for this program, but wins over the Terps and Gophers in their last four games are positive signs for the future.
Penn State (7-13, 0-9 B1G)
The Nittany Lions nearly made the NCAA Tournament last year. It’s almost February and they are winless in conference play. Pat Chambers, your chair is warming up.