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Ranking the B1G: The Middle is Starting to Shrink

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The list of realistic candidates for a potential fifth NCAA tournament bid is down to four.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The mushy middle keeps shrinking as we go past the halfway point in conference play, with the list of teams still theoretically alive in the NCAA Tournament picture dwindling by the day. Some of the cases are more realistic than others, but all of them have some sort of path to the tournament, even if faint.

Kenpon has Nebraska going 11-7 in conference play. Last week I said they could win between 12 and 14 games. 11 isn’t that far off, but it will feel like a disappointment, as the Huskers don’t play any of the RPI top four for the remainder of their season. Meanwhile, Maryland has two, Indiana has three, and Penn State has four games against the top four remaining, with the Nittany Lions getting two of those four on the road. If the Big Ten gets that coveted fifth tournament bid, it’ll likely come from one of these teams.

1) Purdue Boilermakers (Last Week: 1)

Previously: W vs Michigan 92-88, W at Indiana 74-67

Purdue an Michigan played a classic game, where both teams got hot from three. As per ESPN, they had one of the highest combined three point rates of the season at 55.8%. Missouri State and Hampton held the mark at 60% on 24-40 shooting.*

In other news, Purdue played another close game, this time against Indiana. An untimely turnover by the Hoosiers turned a three-point game into the eventual seven-point defeat.

Up Next: vs Maryland (Wed), at Rutgers (Sat)

2) Michigan State Spartans (LW: 3)

Previously: W at Illinois 87-74, W vs Wisconsin 76-61, W at Maryland 74-68

Michigan State is back to its dominant self, posting three wins in the past week, two of which were on the road. They still need Purdue to lose at least twice to to have a shot at the title, but we’re starting to see this team transition to March mode, and it’s not even February yet.

Up Next: vs Penn State (Wed), at Indiana (Sat)

3) Ohio State Buckeyes (LW: 2)

Previously: W vs Nebraska 64-59, L vs Penn State 79-82

Fatigue started to show for the Buckeyes, who just finished playing five games in 11 days. Ohio State was in a dogfight with the Huskers, never being able to put them away. A late rally by Nebraska made the game interesting, but not as interesting as what happened three days later, when it was the Buckeyes who had to mount a furious comeback. Silver lining for Ohio State: they haven’t played a true road game since January 17 and won’t play one until February 7, as they’re in the middle of a four-game home stand.

Up Next: vs Indiana (Tue), vs Illinois (Sun)

4) Michigan Wolverines (LW: 4)

Previously: L vs Purdue 88-92

Michigan was oh so close to avenging its home loss against the Boilermakers (they even led for moments in the second half), but Purdue went on a run at the end of the second half to make sure they stayed undefeated in Big Ten play.

Up Next: vs Northwestern (Mon), vs Minnesota (Sat)

5) Nebraska Cornhuskers (LW: 6)

Previously: L at No. 13 Ohio State 59-64, W at Rutgers 60-54, W vs Iowa 98-84

With its toughest remaining game out of the way, Nebraska just has to keep on winning to put themselves in the NCAA Tournament conversation. However, they have to keep winning, as they have no other games against the top four left. Maryland, Indiana, and Penn State are the only games left against any teams in the top half of the conference, and all three are at home. Without any quadrant 1 wins so far (Michigan falls just outside at 38), and no chance of getting any quadrant 1 wins the rest of the way, they have to win pretty much all of their remaining games to have a chance.

Up Next: at Wisconsin (Mon)

6) Indiana Hoosiers (LW: 5)

Previously: W vs Maryland 71-68, L at Illinois 71-73, L vs No. 3 Purdue 67-74

Winning on the road in the Big Ten is difficult. Even a winless Illinois can notch a victory over an Indiana team that looked like it was turning things around. It did help that the Hoosiers couldn’t make a free throw to save their lives at the end of the game. I’m sure Indiana fans don’t want to talk about the Purdue game, so let’s grant their wishes.

Up Next: at No. 13 Ohio State (Tue), vs No. 6 Michigan State (Sat)

7) Maryland Terrapins (LW: 7)

Previously: L at Indiana 68-71, L vs No 6 Michigan State 68-74

The Terrapins let one slip away at Assembly Hall on Monday, then wasted a great opportunity against Michigan State. Maryland led by 13 at the half against the Spartans, but a 15-2 run to start the second half immediately put Michigan State ahead, and they never looked back from there.

Maryland now has two remaining games against the big four. They’ll need to beat Purdue on the road and Michigan at home to feel confident about their tournament chances, while not slipping up anywhere else.

Up Next: at No. 3 Purdue (Wed), vs Wisconsin (Sun)

8) Penn State Nittany Lions (LW: 12)

Previously: W at No. 13 Ohio State 82-79, W vs Rutgers 60-43

If they want to prove it’s the latter and not the former, they can beat Ohio State on Thursday.

Well ****.

Up Next: at No. 6 Michigan State (Wed), vs Iowa (Sat)

9) Northwestern Wildcats (LW: 8)

Previously: W at Minnesota 77-69

Both teams desperately needed to get some wins to keep pace with the rest of the conference, and Northwestern got the win this time. The Wildcats play four of their next five on the road, a stretch that could determine whether Northwestern will make the postseason or not. Oh, and in case that wasn’t bad enough, when they finally return home, they’ll play Michigan State and Maryland in back to back games.

Up Next: at No. 25 Michigan (Mon), at Wisconsin (Thu)

10) Minnesota Golden Gophers (LW: 9)

Previously: L vs Northwestern 69-77

Minnesota is 3-7 in the Big Ten after starting the season ranked and with hopes of a repeat tournament appearance. Now, it’s all about salvaging an NIT bid.

Up Next: at Iowa (Tue), at No. 25 Michigan (Sat)

11) Iowa Hawkeyes (LW: 13)

Previously: W vs Wisconsin 85-67, L at Nebraska 84-89

Iowa is the anti-Rutgers, insofar as it’s their defense that keeps letting them down. The Hawkeyes made quick work of the offense-deficient Badgers, but let one slip away at Nebraska, after having battled from down 16 to make it a two-point game.

Up Next: vs Minnesota (Tue), at Penn State (Sat)

12) Illinois Fighting Illini (LW: 14)

Previously: L vs Michigan State 74-87 vs Indiana 73-71

Illinois played it close against Michigan State, but the Spartans were too much to handle down the stretch. Fortunately for the Illini, the Hoosiers didn’t have the best free throw shooting night on Friday.

Up Next: vs Rutgers (Tue), at No. 13 Ohio State (Sun)

13) Rutgers Scarlet Knights (LW: 11)

Previously: L vs Nebraska 54-60, L at Penn State 43-60

Looks like the Scarlet Knights used up all their offense against Iowa, as they’ve failed to score 60 points since (twice they were held under 50). The injury to Mike Williams is starting to look more dire by the minute.

Up Next: at Illinois (Tue), vs No. 3 Purdue (Sat)

14) Wisconsin Badgers (LW: 10)

Previously: L at Iowa 67-85, L at No. 6 Michigan State 61-76

Iowa was one of the few teams generally believed to be worse than Wisconsin. As it turns out, we were wrong. At 3-6 in conference play, and with a losing record at this point, Wisconsin will need to win at least six of the next nine to finish the season over .500.

Up Next: vs Nebraska (Mon), vs Northwestern (Thu), at Maryland (Sun)

*Shortly after the Purdue vs Michigan game, Ohio State and Penn State would combine to go 18 of 29 from three, setting the current high for the season at 62%.

Ranking criteria:

  1. Recent performance
  2. Overall body of work
  3. Season expectations