Before getting started, I would be remiss if I didn't have you take a look back at the excellent non-conference roundup that Graham and several of the OTE writers put together. Go take a look at it here if you haven't already. Don't worry, I'll wait.............read it? Good!
Illinois (13-2, 2-0)
The Illini kicked off conference play with a nice 83-80 overtime victory over Indiana in Assembly Hall on New Year's Eve. They followed that up with a 75-55 drubbing of Penn State in which the Illini only led by two at halftime. However, a brawl in the second half which led to the ejection of D.J. Newbill when the Illini held only a nine point lead really sealed the Nittany Lions' fate. Groce's team is looking good right now, closing out their non-conference schedule with a win over MIssouri and starting off conference play with a couple nice home wins. They are currently ranked 23rd in the nation and look like a potential dark horse contender in the B1G. Up next things get real, as the Illini head to Madison on Wednesday and then have their lone game against Northwestern this season in Evasnton on Sunday.
Indiana (10-5, 0-2)
IU lost the aforementioned game to Illinois to kick off their Big Ten slate and followed that up by getting beat down by Indiana native Gary Harris and the Michigan State Spartans. Harris scored a game high 26 points en route to a 73-56 win for the green and white in Assembly Hall. Frankly, if this is a sign of how low the floor is going to be for Tom Crean's teams, I wonder how long he lasts in Bloomington. Even if his teams do reach greater heights than the back to back Sweet Sixteen appearances of the previous couple of seasons, I find it hard to believe he finds the type of success that will suddenly make Indiana fans accepting of seasons as disappointing as this one is shaping up to be. There is still hope however, and after two tough games the Hoosiers have a few days to rest up before traveling to State College for their Saturday contest against Penn State.
Iowa (12-3, 1-1)
B1G play started out with a ho-hum 67-57 win over Nebrasketball for the Hawkeyes, who could have made the final margin much worse if not for missing a whopping 17 free throws. They then traveled to Madison where they took an 11 point halftime lead and, like so many Iowa games against ranked teams this year, the Hawkeyes managed to turn victory into defeat. In the film "Silver Linings Playbook" Robert De Niro's character repeatedly brings up DeSean Jackson spiking the ball at the one yard line on what would have been an touchdown. The metaphor seems to fit with Iowa this season, and it is something Iowa is going to have to overcome if they want to find a silver lining this season (I'm not apologizing for that either, EXCELSIOR!). Iowa's gets Northwestern at home Thursday before hitting the road again for a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Buckeyes in Columbus.
Michigan (10-4, 2-0)
Big Blue tipped off their Big Ten slate with a nice road win over the Gophers in Dinkytown and then knocked off Northwestern 74-51 in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are without Mitch McGary for the rest of the season so it is hard to see them winning a conference title but Nick Stauskus and Glenn Robinson III are both playing very well and it is still very possible that Michigan could make some noise in the Big Ten and possibly in the NCAA Tournament yet this season. They head to Nebraska Thursday for their only game this week.
Michigan State (13-1, 2-0)
When Michigan State is healthy they are one hell of a basketball team. Sparty started Big Ten conference play with a 79-63 win in State College in which the Nittany Lions actually led by seven points at intermission. However, Tom Izzo's team came out on fire and held Penn State to 16 points in the second half while scoring 39. They then traveled to Bloomington where they put the previously mentioned hurtin on Indiana. The Spartans taking down IU's four forward lineup with their four guard lineup (and out rebounding the Hoosiers to boot) was impressive but the lack of depth in the front court is still worth watching as the season progresses. MSU gets Ohio State in the Breslin Center tonight for Super Tuesday in what could be a very influential game in determining the final outcome of the conference championship race. Michigan State hosts Minnesota on Saturday to finish of the week.
Minnesota (12-3, 1-1)
Minnesota started off Big Ten play with a 63-60 loss to Michigan in the Barn and then took down Purdue in Minneapolis 82-79 on Sunday. The Gophers played Michigan tough down to the wire but that Purdue score is probably a little misleading since the Maroon and Gold clad squad had a sizable lead for much of the second half and squandered a lot of it away late because of missed free throws and some red hot Boilermaker shooting. Right now Minnesota looks capable of contending for a postseason berth (likely in the NIT) but they have yet to play a conference game on the road so I am reserving judgement until after their two game trip this week to Penn State on Wednesday and Michigan State on Saturday before passing judgement.
Also worth mentioning; Tim Brewster won a national title with Florida State in the Rose Bowl last night. Guess he was at least kind of right about coaching a team back to Pasadena.
Nebraska (8-6, 0-2)
Big Red is now 0-3 in its last three road contests, losing to Cincinnati, Iowa, and Ohio State in its last three consecutive games. Nebraska used a 20-5 run and some bad Hawkeye free throw shooting in the final minutes of the Iowa game to give that contest a respectable 10 point margin but the Huskers couldn't even manage to keep the Buckeyes close, losing 84-53. The good news for Nebrasketball is that the team returns to Pinnacle Bank Arena for their conference home opener against the Michigan Wolverines this Thursday before they head back on the road again to take on Purdue Sunday.
Northwestern (7-8, 0-2)
Yep, Northwestern is still bad. They opened up at home against the Badgers who beat them soundly with a final score of 76-49 and then traveled to Ann Arbor where they fell to the Wolverines 74-51. According to Loretta and SOP this is the worst offense of any Big Ten basketball team since 2003-04 Penn State. Even Northwestern's defense, a relative bright spot heading into conference play, has been gashed in the past few games. On a more positive note, Aaron Liberman became the first Big Ten player to wear a yarmulke during a basketball game and the University of Michigan is now the only school in Division I to have hosted two players yarmulke's during basketball games.
Ohio State (15-0, 2-0)
The third ranked Buckeyes took care of business opening conference play, dropping Purdue on the road and Nebraska at home to set up a highly anticipated match up between two of the conference's highest rated teams tonight in East Lansing. I actually like the Buckeyes to play this one close and possibly pull out a win tonight but I'm not confident enough in my intuition on this one to make any sort of official prediction. This obviously isn't the be all end all of the conference season as the Buckeyes will host Michigan State to end the regular season in a game that will, more likely than not, have a significant impact on the title race. For now though this is still a huge game as a win would help the Bucks keep pace with Wisconsin at the top of the division and keep them in position for a very high seed in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes also host Iowa this weekend in a game I hope they end up overlooking and losing but know they probably won't end up doing either of those things.
Penn State (9-6, 0-2)
Penn State has been a tough team so far in conference play even if the final score lines don't really indicate that. The NIttany Lions lost to Michigan State 79-63 and Illinois 75-55 but they were leading the Spartans at half time and were only down by two to the Illini at the break. I'm not sure if it is just the coaching staff not being able to make adjustments or the players running out of gas or something else or some combination of a lot of things but there is a very short window here where Pat Chambers needs to figure it out. Penn State hosts Minnesota and Indiana this week, two teams who are talented but beatable for this team and they probably need to win one or both if they are going to have a good shot at a postseason tournament this year.
Purdue (10-5, 0-2)
It probably isn't quite time to hit the panic button on the Boilers yet. Yes, they started 0-2, but those losses were to an undefeated Ohio State team at home and to a surprisingly solid MInnesota team on the road in a game where they at least made a run at the end of the game and had a shot to win. The Boilers don't play until Sunday when they host Nebraska. Right now I am wondering about Matt Painter's job status. This Boilermaker team has talent but watching them dribble the ball for 15 seconds before hoisting a contested three point shot on what seemed like every other offensive possession against Minnesota, I couldn't help but wonder if his time is starting to grow short. I wouldn't necessarily fire him after this season if I was Morgan Burke but if the new players coming in next year fail to show progress towards the kind of winning Purdue expects it would be hard not to.
Wisconsin (15-0, 2-0)
I have to think Badger fans are a little sick of the national media right now. Their team had a really gutsy performance in the second half against Iowa and the media narrative seems hell bent on ignoring it and focusing on Fran McCaffery getting ejected for bumping a ref. That's not to say Fran losing his cool (again) and not keeping control isn't a story, but the Badgers played one hell of a second half and they deserved to win that game. Hats off to you guys for a great game and I hope the Hawks get revenge in Carver later this year. Up next for the Badgers is a home date with the Illini on Thursday. They then take the weekend off before hosting the Hoosiers on Super Tuesday next week.