Michigan State moves in front as the Big Ten basketball race becomes wide open
This was supposed to be Ohio State's league to lose.
Well, no longer.
The Buckeyes stubbed their toe on the road last week against giant-killer Indiana, which suffered its first loss of the season earlier in the week on the road against Michigan State.
The power of deduction put the Spartans in front this week, but general logic tells us that this should be a wild Big Ten basketball season.
Presently, five teams are ranked in the Top 25, and there appears to be few breathers on anyone's schedule.
Here are this week's rankings:
No. 10 Michigan State (13-2, 2-0)
Last week: W 80-65 vs. No. 13 Indiana, W 68-55 at Nebraska
Up next: at No. 18 Wisconsin (Jan. 3), vs. Iowa (Jan. 10)
Michigan State, which has won 13 consecutive games, handed Indiana its first loss of the season and earned a road win at fired-up Nebraska. The Spartans are far from perfect, but they enter the week as the 11th-best rebounding team in the country, and they seem to have everything a team needs to win the Big Ten.
No. 12 Indiana (13-1, 1-1)
Last week: L 80-65 at No. 16 Michigan State, W 74-70 vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Up next: vs. No. 16 Michigan (Jan. 5), at Penn State (Jan. 8)
Indiana failed its first truly difficult road test of the season in a 15-point loss at Michigan State. However, the Hoosiers bounced back in a major way over the weekend, pulling off their second major upset of the year. Indiana has now beaten a No. 1 team (Kentucky) and a No. 2 team (Ohio State) this season. The Hoosiers are lights out at home, now they have to prove it on the road.
No. 6 Ohio State (13-2, 1-1)
Last week: W 87-54 vs. Northwestern, L 74-70 at No. 13 Indiana
Up next: vs. Nebraska (Jan. 3), at Iowa (Jan. 7)
Ohio State may be the most talented team in the league, but the Buckeyes certainly lost the title of undoubted team to beat with a hiccup on the road at Indiana. Ohio State got just five shots for Jared Sullinger in the loss, and Aaron Craft has six turnovers. Expect Ohio State to figure this out, though, the Buckeyes are too good not to.
On the fringe
No. 16 Michigan (12-2, 2-0)
Last week: W 71-53 vs. Penn State, W 61-56 vs. Minnesota
Up next: at No. 12 Indiana (Jan. 5), vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (Jan. 8)
Michigan has won seven straight and is off to the first 2-0 Big Ten start of John Beilein’s tenure, but the Wolverines really haven’t beaten anyone yet. Michigan had an incredibly soft entry into Big Ten play, but will quickly ratchet things up this week with a road date at Indiana before welcoming Wisconsin in on Sunday. Is Michigan for real? We’re about to find out.
No. 18 Wisconsin (12-3, 1-1)
Last week: W 64-40 at Nebraska, L 72-65 vs. Iowa
Up next: vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Jan. 3), at No. 16 Michigan (Jan. 8)
A lot of folks have been a bit skeptical of the Badgers so far this season, and most were proven right (to a degree) when Wisconsin fell on its face at home against unranked Iowa, snapping a 23-game home winning streak over unranked foes. The Badgers had their defense (Iowa shot 49.2 percent) and their poor shooting (Wisconsin was 3-for-28 from 3) exposed against the Hawkeyes. Not good.
Purdue (12-3, 2-0)
Last week: W 79-76 at Iowa, W 75-60 vs. Illinois
Up next: at Penn State (Jan. 5), at Minnesota (Jan. 8)
Purdue makes the big jump this week after what now appears to be an impressive road win at Iowa and a dominant home win over once-streaking Illinois. The Boilermakers still need someone other than Robbie Hummel to score consistently, but they’re certainly improving — and could be a tough team to deal with moving forward.
Illinois (12-3, 1-1)
Last week: W 81-72 (2OT) vs. Minnesota, L 75-60 at Purdue
Up next: at Northwestern (Jan. 4), vs. Nebraska (Jan. 7)
Two weeks ago, Illinois was a ranked club. Now, the Illini look sluggish. Illinois barely scraped by Minnesota at home and was blasted by Purdue on the road. The Illini have 38 turnovers in their last two games and are starting to trend the wrong way entering league play.
Iowa (8-5, 1-1)
Last week: L 79-76 vs. Purdue, W 72-65 at No. 11 Wisconsin
Up next: at Minnesota (Jan. 4), vs. No. 6 Ohio State (Jan. 7)
Iowa is far from perfect, but the young up-tempo Hawkeyes grabbed their first signature win of the season by doing the nearly impossible - winning in the Kohl Center. Iowa kept Wisconsin at bay all afternoon long, and fended off a late Badger run to seal the win. A great building block for Fran McCaffery’s re-building club.
Northwestern (11-3, 1-1)
Last week: L 87-54 at No. 2 Ohio State, W 68-56 vs. Penn State
Up next: vs. Illinois (Jan. 4), at No. 16 Michigan (Jan. 11)
The Wildcats did what they were supposed to do at home by handling Penn State, but Northwestern looked completely over-matched on the road earlier in the week at Ohio State. The Wildcats are going to steal some games now in Big Ten play if they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, and, they’re going to have to do better than 31.4 rebounds per game (302nd nationally).
Minnesota (12-3, 0-2)
Last week: L 81-72 (2OT) at Illinois, L 61-56 at No. 18 Michigan
Up next: vs. Iowa (Jan. 4), vs. Purdue (Jan. 8)
The Golden Gophers could conceivably be 2-0 in league play right now, with a pair of road wins. If Trevor Mbakwe were still healthy, that’d probably be a reality. But, sadly for Minnesota, he’s not. And the Gophers are going to need to find a consistent scorer and rebounder without him. And fast.
Outside looking in
Nebraska (8-5, 0-2)
Last week: L 64-40 vs. No. 11 Wisconsin, L 68-55 vs. No. 16 Michigan State
Up next: at No. 6 Ohio State (Jan. 3), at Illinois (Jan. 7)
Nebraska’s brutal welcome to the Big Ten didn’t go so hot, with home losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State. Now, the Cornhuskers have to take their show on the road — starting at Ohio State. Bo Spencer is a nice scoring guard, but he needs help.
Penn State (8-7, 0-2)
Last week: L 71-53 at No. 18 Michigan, L 68-56 at Northwestern
Up next: vs. Purdue (Jan. 5), at No. 12 Indiana (Jan. 8)
Penn State is in trouble. A lot of trouble. The Nittany Lions are one of the worst shooting teams in America right now (319th-worst, to be exact) with a 39 percent field goal rate as a team. Penn State gets a pair of home games this week, but it's against streaking Purdue and suddenly loaded Indiana. It should be a rough road for first-year coach Pat Chambers.
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