State of the Race: FOREVER ALONE Edition

Coach...before Lupe sees this mess, we need to discuss your tie selection. - Leon Halip

MERRY SINGLES AWARENESS DAY.

First, your up-to-the-minute conference standings:

T-1. Michigan, 10-2, 18-6 overall

T-1. Michigan State, 10-2, 21-4 overall

3. Iowa, 7-4, 18-6 overall

4. Wisconsin, 7-5, 20-5 overall

5. Ohio State, 6-6, 19-6 overall

6. Nebraska, 5-6,  13-10 overall

T-7. Minnesota, 5-7, 16-9 overall

T-7. Northwestern, 5-7, 12-13 overall

T-9. Purdue, 4-7, 14-10 overall

T-9. Indiana, 4-7, 14-10 overall

11. Penn State, 4-8, 13-12 overall

12. Illinois, 3-9, 14-11 overall

And now, to the pressing questions. Are we down to a two-team race? Sure, a two-game lead will be tough for both MSU and Michigan to fumble away, but both have a few challenging games left. Can Iowa, or anyone else, get back into contention?

Candystripes for Breakfast: I'm almost ready to call it a two team race, but I think if Iowa runs the table, they've got a shot. Other than that, it's the battle of Michigan for the B1G title.

Jesse Collins: It's starting to look like a two-team race. Iowa is on the fringe, and honestly, Wisconsin has the right schedule to maybe get there as well, but this is shaping up to be who of Michigan and Michigan State can hold on tight and win that one seed. FWIW, I like Michigan's schedule the most at this point.

Green Akers: Iowa can get back in by virtue of having games remaining with both Michigan teams, but they'll need help to overtake the two leaders. If Michigan survives the next two games against MSU and Wisconsin, it's hard to see them stumbling the rest of the way; MSU, by contrast, still has games with Michigan, Iowa, and OSU left on deck.

Graham Filler: MSU, UM, and Iowa each have similar schedules going forward, featuring 2-3 really tough games. So I assume they’ll follow form, with Michigan and MSU tying for a B1G Title and Iowa juust behind.

C.E. Bell: I think this is down to MSU and UM, alone....just too much ground and too much carnage for anyone else to leap into that discussion.

Mike Jones: It would be safe to call this a two-team race...but this is the Big Ten and nothing is guaranteed. Michigan looks to have the easiest road, with their only opponents of note being Michigan State and Wisconsin. Furthermore, both games are at home. Michigan State probably has an uphill climb because they have remaining trips to Ann Arbor and Columbus. Iowa could theoretically win the conference but they'd have to win in East Lansing...and that hasn't been done since Eisenhower or something.

babaoreally: I wouldn't count out the chance for craziness to occur. The Michigan teams are in the driver's seat at the moment, but earlier in the year we all thought Wisconsin and Ohio State would be in contention at the end. They both dropped a few games in a row. It could happen to the Michigans.

MNWildcat: Well, Michigan State will obviously be in trouble after losing to Northwestern tonight [Ed. note: LOL], but I think that asking Iowa to make up two games down the stretch might be too many. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if Iowa heads to the Breslin Center on March 6th with a share of the B1G regular season title on the line.

KC_Hawkeye: Iowa has a shot but the margin for error is so razor thin that it seems more prudent to leave them out right now rather than get my hopes up.  The Hawkeyes have only won in Breslin once (it was right after Chris Street's death in 1993) so unless they can buck a long trend of losing in EL they are effectively three games back with games at PSU, at IU, at Minny and at home versus Wisconsin still left.  FWIW, I think Michigan State wins the conference title outright.

Aaron Yorke: It looks that way! Iowa has the talent to get back into it, but they have alternated wins and losses in their past six games. That will probably change because their next game is in State College (did I jinx it?), but I can totally see them tripping up again either at Indiana or home versus Wisconsin. Plus, the Hawkeyes already lost to Michigan State once, and they still have to play the Spartans in East Lansing.

After having three teams in the top 5 earlier this year, the conference has seriously cannibalized itself, largely because even the teams perceived as being weakest in the conference have risen up to sting upper-tier competition. Does the conference's national rep allow that to be seen as depth, or will this be viewed as a down year? How many NCAA bids should the B1G expect?

C4B: Most of the country will see it as B1G depth. The rest of the country will call up PAWWWWWWWWL to complain about it.

Jesse: I think it is probably a mix of both. On one hand, the quality from top-to-bottom in conference play this year is stellar. No losing records? Great. Outside of the ACC and the Big XII minus TCU, I don't see that. However, we would be silly to think that some of this isn't also due to no real runaway great teams. MSU could be. Michigan shows flashes as well. But would you call either of them a Top 5 team nationally right now? Not at all. The real indicator of what we're perceived as this year will be how the conference does in the Big Dance.

As to how many make the tournament? Probably six. with Michigan, MSU, Iowa, OSU, Wisconsin, and Minnesota representing.

GA: There still seems to be recognition that, even without any teams at the very top of the rankings, the B1G is loaded with teams you don't want to see in your squad's bracket, whether that means the NCAA or NIT. The fact that Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State were generally unimpressive in noncon play is going to drag the perception a little, but they're also three teams that have improved immensely over the course of the year, which ought to show in whatever postseason they find themselves in. As for number of bids, less than six would be grounds for a full-on PAWWWWWWWLLLLLLLing.

Graham: The B1G gets 6 overall. It hasn’t been JUST the B1G that’s cannibalized itself; all the major conferences have. See, Oklahoma State. And I think the seeding folks will recognize that.

C.E. Bell: 6 B1G teams sounds about right, although I have no idea whether that 6th team is Indiana or Minnesota, as neither of them really inspires confidence.....but one will get hot in the B1G tourney and do enough to make it in.

Mike: I say 5 for sure and probably a 6th in Minnesota. I can't see Indiana making it unless they beat two out of the three ranked opponents remaining on their schedule. Yeah, I know it's not that black and white but c'mon...you lost to Illinois and Northwestern.

babaoreally: B6G

MNWildcat: Indiana's doing everything in their power to remove themselves from contention, so it's up to you, Minnesota. Shit, I just said that. Make it 5 bids, with a B1G contingent headed to the NIT (five?!).

KC_Hawkeye: Five, unless Minnesota pulls off a run to end the year, but I just don't see it.

Aaron Yorke: The national analysts seem to be siding with the "depth" argument, but I think this year has been disappointing. It was nice to see Iowa and Michigan make surprising runs at conference supremacy, but Ohio State and Wisconsin have been major disappointments since January. Plus, I don't think the mini-renaissances in Evanston and Lincoln have made up for the stink of Illinois and Purdue. Right now, I see the Big Ten as a five-bid league, but Minnesota and Indiana still have plenty of opportunities to play themselves back in.

Who is your COTY to this point?

C4B: Fran McCaffery, because if you expected Iowa to be in this position right now, you're either Mike Jones or you're lying.

Jesse Collins: I'm going with Fran. He's done a great job with that Iowa team and has them jockeying for a B1G title late in the season. Just a stellar turnaround in Iowa City since he's been there.

GA: Much like how Urban Meyer will never win it for football because expectations, I doubt a vote for Izzo will get much traction here, but after being a preseason #2 (and #1 for a little while in December), pretty much every critical player except Gary Harris has had a serious injury of some kind. It finally caught up to MSU with three losses over a five-game stretch, but keeping those games as close as they were without Adreian Payne, Brandon Dawson, and now Keith Appling is no small feat.

All that said, Beilein's rebuild after losing Burke, Hardaway, and then McGary has been very impressive, and I wouldn't complain if he got it, either.

Graham: Chris Collins. You can argue that since he doesn’t actually get anything like an NCAA bid or even a winning season, he shouldn’t be COTY, but I don’t think that’s the focus. This was supposed to be one of the worst NW teams ever. And they’ve won tons of games (relatively speaking) and bought into his system. That’s magical and he deserves some credit.

Of course a Duke guy winning a basketball award while coaching for Northwestern while featuring a losing record…might actually cause the world to explode. So to be safe, Tom Izzo or Fran or Beilein.

C.E. Bell: I'd vote for Chris Collins, but frankly, that's a homer pick and while he's done more than anyone thought possible with this Northwestern team this year, let's save his COTY trophy for when he takes Northwestern to the Tourney in 2015 or 2016.  So I'll give my vote.....to Fran. No offense to Beilein or Izzo, but I'm not sure anyone had Iowa as the B1G's 3rd best team.  And I'm convinced the Hawkeyes have the exact type of team that will make it to the Sweet 16, since they're deep, defend well, and have size to bully other teams around.

Mike: I would say Collins but Northwestern isn't even above 500 and has a losing record in conference. Thus, I'll go full homer in Fran McCaffery. Look, a great many had Iowa finishing 4th, 5th or 6th behind Michigan, MSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State (LOL) and Indiana (ROFL). Instead, Iowa sits firmly at 3rd place and has marquee victories over Ohio State and Michigan. Now...lets just ignore all those other statement games they lost, shall we?

babaoreally: I'm going to say Tim Miles just to be different. I would go with Beilein for the runner-up spot.

MNWildcat: Fran McCaffery. I want it to be Collins, but that'll require the 'Cats to go at least 9-9. Tim Miles, should Nebraska keep pulling rabbit's foot after horseshoe out of his ass at home, might deserve it, too.

KC_Hawkeye: How is this not unanimously Beilein?  I had Michigan pegged as a solid fifth or sixth after they lost McGary and the way they have played so far has been impressive.  Tim Miles, Chris Collins, and Fran McCaffery would all be justifiable second picks but I would go with Izzo, since he's been going through the majority of conference play with effectively half his starters sitting out injured.  The fact that it hasn't hurt this team much in the loss column (though MSU's road record has been less impressive than Big Blue) is a big statement about how well Izzo has done.

Aaron Yorke: My Coach of the Year is John Beilein because of the way Nik Stauskas and Caris LaVert have risen to fill the talent void left by Trey Burke and the injured Mitch McGary. Tom Izzo, Fran McCaffery, and Chris Collins are all close, though.

It's Candy Heart Made of Chalk season, so who in the conference do you want to be your Valentine? This can be a player, coach, referee, commentator, heck, even Big Jim Delany himself, just be prepared for painstaking negotiations about who picks up the tab.

C4B: Yogi Ferrell, because he's the heart of the Hoosiers.

Jesse Collins: Tim Miles because he's the coach we've always wanted but never could get, and now he chose us. Can't ask for more than that.

GA: I'm going with the obvious play here in Denzel Valentine. He's been a largely unheralded hero on an otherwise snakebitten MSU squad, and his skill set as a sort of point forward might be unique in the conference right now. But of course, TV Teddy will always have a special place in my heart. Namely, whichever valve he harms the most with his asinine reviews.

Graham: Nik Stauskas. I like watching him shoot the ball.

C.E. Bell: My Valentine: Drew Crawford. He's experienced (5th year senior), loyal (sticking around in Evanston despite offers from Marquette and Mizzou to transfer, among others), and knows how to score (B1G's current career leading scorer, and sure to be in Northwestern's top-5 all-time for scoring).  Plus, we'll look really cute in our matching purple.

Mike: Wait...this is a trap right? Well, uh...I'll go with a woman then: Aleksandra Dobranic. Cuz hey girl.

babaoreally: I wouldn't mind Purdue Pete soullessly staring into my eyes from across the table at the South Street Smokehouse.

MNWildcat: What Mike said. Goodness.

KC_Hawkeye: Margaret McCaffery, if only to join her in cursing out the officials.  Also, I think I speak for most Iowa fans when I say Ken Pomeroy, who still considers the Hawkeyes to be the best team in the conference.

Aaron Yorke: D.J. Newbill is my Valentine because he makes me randy, baby! The junior has become a much more efficient player this season. It hasn't been enough to make PSU a respectable team, but his heroics in Columbus have at least given the Lions a signature win this year.

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