Big Ten men's basketball: Looks like topsy-turvy ride will end with co-champions
Very little about the 2018-19 Big Ten men’s basketball season makes much sense as the league hurtles through the final week of the regular season.
Last Saturday, Michigan State’s shocking road loss against an Indiana team that was 3-11 in its last 14 games gave the keys to an outright league title to Purdue, provided the Boilermakers could handle Ohio State on their home court later that day. Purdue dealt the Buckeyes a 35-point beatdown four days after OSU had blown out Iowa by 20 points.
But Tuesday night, the Spartans took care of business against Nebraska and watched Minnesota knock off visiting Purdue, creating a three-way logjam atop the league standings among Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.
One thing is certain: the conference tournament, which will be played this year in Chicago’s United Center, is seemingly up for grabs for any Big Ten team. Just not Northwestern.
* Big risers: Minnesota played the role of spoiler in a big way, handing Purdue a significant loss Tuesday for a second straight win that keeps postseason hopes alive in a big way for the Golden Gophers. Rutgers, too, continues to climb after a 14-point win at Iowa on senior day.
* Big fallers: Look out below, Iowa. Typical during the Fran McCaffery era, the Hawkeyes have faded late in the season. There is one exception, though: the loss to the Scarlet Knights came without McCaffery, who sat out the first of a two-game suspension for his verbal altercation with an official after a blowout loss at Ohio State. Not a good situation all around.
* Big picture: Michigan State and Michigan have always looked to be on a collision course to decide the league title with their Saturday-night clash at the Breslin Center. Now, the winner of the game will at least share the league title if Purdue can also win at Northwestern.
Here are this week’s rankings (records and statistics through Tuesday’s games):
1. Michigan State (24-6, 15-4): The injuries keep piling up, but nothing seems able to hold these Spartans back. (Last week: 1)
2. Purdue (22-8, 15-4): A charmed path to an improbable outright title derailed at Minnesota. But how about that Ohio State win? (LW: 2)
3. Michigan (26-4, 15-4): The Wolverines head to their much-anticipated showdown at Michigan State with six days of rest. (LW: 3)
4. Wisconsin (20-9, 12-6): The Badgers have the seventh-best defensive efficiency rating in the nation, according to KenPom.com. (LW: 5)
5. Minnesota (19-11, 9-10): A big home win against Purdue likely clinched an NCAA Tournament berth for the Gophers. (LW: 10)
6. Maryland (21-9, 12-7): The fifth-youngest team in the nation is heading in the wrong direction after a pair of losses. (LW: 4)
7. Ohio State (18-11, 8-10): The loss of Kaleb Wesson to suspension has put Ohio State’s postseason hopes in serious jeopardy. (LW: 6)
8. Rutgers (14-14, 7-11): Steve Pikiell should get some coach of the year votes, especially after spoiling Iowa’s senior day. (LW: 8)
9. Iowa (21-8, 10-8): Losers of two straight, and in ugly fashion, the Hawkeyes look to be starting their annual late-season swoon under Fran McCaffery. (LW: 7)
10. Indiana (15-14, 6-12): Not dead yet? The Hoosiers have six Big Ten wins and three of them are against NCAA Tournament teams. (LW: 11)
11. Penn State (12-17, 5-13): Big Ten tournament truth: Nobody wants to play the Nittany Lions in Chicago. (LW: 9)
12. Illinois (11-18, 7-11): The Illini snapped a three-game losing streak by making 33 of 38 free throws against Penn State. (LW: 12)
13. Nebraska (15-15, 5-14): The last two losses for the Cornhuskers have come by an average of 22 points. (LW: 13)
14. Northwestern (12-17, 3-15): A memorable run to the NCAA Tournament two years ago is a distant memory as the losing streak has hit 10 games. (LW: 14)