Ohio State, Michigan State take a leg up as Big Ten race heads down the stretch
And then there was one.
Month, that is, left in the Big Ten regular season.
To date, Ohio State (20-3, 8-2) is in total control of its destiny for a third consecutive Big Ten championship, while Michigan State's victory against Michigan on Sunday kept the Spartans within striking distance.
Michigan and Wisconsin aren't totally out of the running, but it's close.
As for the rest? Well, it's time to start figuring out who's in, who's out and who's on the bubble come tournament time.
Here are this week's rankings:
No. 3 Ohio State (20-3, 8-2)
Last week: W 58-52 at No. 19 Wisconsin
Up next: vs. Purdue (Tuesday), vs. No. 11 Michigan State (Saturday)
The Buckeyes enter the week with a five-game winning streak, and only appear to be picking up steam down the stretch. Ohio State can take a stranglehold on the league Saturday if it can get a victory against Michigan State.
No. 11 Michigan State (18-5, 7-3)
Last week: L 42-41 at Illinois, W 64-54 vs. No. 23 Michigan
Up next: vs. Penn State (Wednesday), at No. 3 Ohio State (Saturday)
The Spartans rebounded from a putrid showing at Illinois by controlling rival Michigan at home. And, perhaps more importantly, Draymond Green's left knee appears to be healthy. The Spartans control their own destiny, as they've got two cracks at league-leading Ohio State. The first is Saturday in Columbus.
No. 22 Michigan (17-7, 7-4)
Last week: W 68-56 vs. No. 20 Indiana, L 64-54 at No. 9 Michigan State
Up next: at Nebraska (Wednesday), vs. Illinois (Sunday)
Michigan's shot at a regular-season Big Ten title isn't dead, but it is nearing life support. The Wolverines needed to earn that season sweep over Michigan State to keep within striking range of streaking Ohio State. The Wolverines get one more shot at OSU, but they'll need help. Additionally, Tim Hardaway Jr. has to figure out a way to get his shot back, or Michigan is looking at bigger problems moving forward.
No. 21 Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4)
Last week: W 54-46 vs. Penn State, L 58-52 vs. No. 3 Ohio State
Up next: at Minnesota (Thursday)
Wisconsin gave Ohio State a scare at home last weekend, but nothing more. The Badgers will hit the road for four of their next five games. Much like Michigan, Wisconsin's Big Ten title hopes haven't completely vanished.
Still tourney bound
Last week: L 68-56 at No. 23 Michigan, W 78-61 at Purdue
Up next: vs. Illinois (Thursday)
Indiana has six Big Ten losses, so it's borderline impossible for the Hoosiers to claim a league crown. However, Indiana has plenty to play for. The Hoosiers are up to 18 victories, and everything from here on out is about seeding. Additionally, IU has just two more road games left on its schedule this season, a major bonus.
Illinois (16-7, 5-5)
Last week: W 42-41 vs. No. 9 Michigan State, L 74-70 vs. Northwestern
Up next: at No. 23 Indiana (Thursday), at No. 22 Michigan (Sunday)
The Illini scored their second signature home win by out-uglying Michigan State last week, but promptly responded with a four-home home loss to Northwestern. The Illini have lost four of five, and will have to find a way to get it done at home. Five of their final eight games are on the road.
Minnesota (17-7, 5-6)
Last week: L 63-59 at Iowa, W 69-61 at Nebraska
Up next: vs. No. 21 Wisconsin (Thursday)
The Gophers are hanging in there tournament-wise, and if the field were drawn today, Minnesota would likely be in. But Minnesota still needs another high-RPI victory to bolster that resume. First chance? A Thursday home date with Wisconsin.
Purdue (15-8, 5-5)
Last week: L 78-61 vs. No. 20 Indiana
Up next: at No. 3 Ohio State (Tuesday), vs. Northwestern (Sunday)
The Boilermakers had a week to prepare for Indiana, and still got dump-trucked by 17 points at home. On the "inexcusable" meter, that ranks rather high. Purdue's strength of schedule has it in the NCAA Tournament picture for now, but the Boilermakers have work to do to get into the "tournament lock" category.
Northwestern (14-8, 4-6)
Last week: W 84-74 vs. Nebraska, W 74-70 at Illinois
Up next: vs. Iowa (Thursday), at Purdue (Sunday)
A week ago, I'd have said with full confidence that Northwestern wasn't even on the bubble — it would've been completely out of the tournament picture. But two consecutive victories made things interesting. Northwestern's strength of schedule is No. 11, according to CollegeRPI. So, if the Wildcats can keep churning upward, they'll have a chance to end that epic tournament drought. But even then, it'll likely be a close call.
Outside looking in
Iowa (13-11, 5-6)
Last week: W 63-59 vs. Minnesota, W 77-64 vs. Penn State
Up next: at Northwestern (Thursday)
Iowa grabs its first two-victory week of the Big Ten season with a pair of home wins, but 11 losses still keep the Hawkeyes out of the postseason picture. At this point, given the talent and experience level, if Iowa can finish the season above .500, it'd be a win for Fran McCaffery.
Nebraska (11-11, 3-8)
Last week: L 84-74 at Northwestern, L 69-61 vs. Minnesota
Up next: vs. No. 22 Michigan (Wednesday), at Penn State (Saturday)
Nebraska can't rebound (31.5 rpg) and it can't score (62.2 ppg). The Cornhuskers are now officially in :let's wreck someone's year at the Big Ten Tournament" mode.
Penn State (10-14, 2-9)
Last week: L 52-46 vs. No. 19 Wisconsin, L 77-64 at Iowa
Up next: at No. 11 Michigan State (Wednesday), vs. Nebraska (Saturday)
The battle for the basement takes place Saturday when Nebraska visits State College. At this point, small victories are more than enough for Patrick Chambers' rebuilding bunch.
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