The Northwestern Wildcats have not seen a winning conference record since 1968 and are the only long-standing member of a power conference to have never appeared in the NCAA tournament. Chris Collins and his guys look like they will end that drought. The Cats have played arguably the best basketball in recent weeks and are not just looking to get to the dance but possibly taking a conference title with them. Wisconsin is also making it's case as the best in the Big Ten, winning 4 of 5 games to begin league play. Several teams that are jammed in the middle of the pack are looking for separation in the coming weeks. Here is how I see the conference this week.
1- Wisconsin (15-3, 4-1)
Up next: @ Minnesota (Sat.)
- I still like this team the most. The Badgers are yet to reach their full potential but they have displayed the most consistency so far. Nigel Hayes can go off any night and as we saw against Michigan, Bronson Koenig can take over a game too.
2- Maryland (16-2, 4-1)
Up next: @ Iowa (Thurs)
- The Terps finally cracked the Top 25 this week, they have won two road games during a three-game win streak, and they are showing growth around Melo Trimble. If Mark Turgeon's bunch continues to gain confidence, this could be a dangerous team.
3- Northwestern (15-4, 4-2)
Up next: @ Ohio State (Sun)
- The backcourt duo of Scottie Lindsey and Bryant McIntosh is producing solid results. This is a deep and tough team to defend with a favorable schedule in front of them.
4- Purdue (15-4, 4-2)
Up next: vs. Penn State (Sat)
- It's easy to look at last week's Iowa loss and wonder about the consistency of this team but having a solid bounce-back win against Illinois shows the Boilermakers are still one of the best in the conference.
5- Michigan State (12-7, 4-2)
Up next: @ Indiana (Sat)
- This is where you can start making a case for teams that can beat, or get beat any given night in this league. The Spartans are young in key areas so it's no surprise they have been up and down but we all know the legend of Tom Izzo. He's still there.
6- Minnesota (15-4, 3-3)
Up next: vs. Wisconsin (Sat)
- The Gophers have come back down to earth after back-to-back losses. This is definitely a team that can get hot though and a win this Saturday at home against Wisconsin would go a long way.
7- Penn State (11-7, 3-2)
Up next: vs Indiana (Wed) @Purdue (Sat)
- It was a great week for the Nittany Lions with wins over Michigan State and Minnesota. The real test starts Thursday. Penn State hosts Indiana and travels to Purdue on Saturday. If they could even manage a split, I think you have to respect what this team could do going forward.
8- Nebraska (9-8, 3-2)
Up next: vs. Ohio State (Wed) @ Rutgers (Sat)
- Playing without Ed Morrow will continue to be a challenge. His absence was felt on the defensive side in a loss to Michigan. Huskers have a week where they can get the momentum back but will need everyone to chip in.
9- Indiana (12-6, 2-3)
Up next: @ Penn State (Wed) vs. Michigan State (Sat)
- Indiana faces a critical week. The Hoosiers are looking like a team that has zero identity and could miss the tournament all together. With plenty of talent it's not too late. Two wins this week would calm some nerves in Bloomington and give Indiana the look of a tournament team again.
10- Iowa (11-8, 3-3)
Up next: vs. Maryland (Thurs)
- The Hawkeyes had a huge win over Purdue but erased any good vibes when they got pummeled by Northwestern. Iowa fans should expect a wild ride with all of the young players on this roster. This recent week could be a metaphor of the Iowa season. One step forward, two steps back.
11- Michigan (12-7, 2-4)
Up next: vs. Illinois (Sat)
- Conference play has not been kind to the Wolverines who are now in desperation mode to make the tournament. Michigan can score with anyone in the league but unfortunately can't stop anyone.
12- Illinois (12-7, 2-4)
Up next: @ Michigan (Sat)
- This team seems to be the face of inconsistency in the conference. Illinois has two very solid players in Malcom Hill and Maverick Morgan but for whatever reason this group has not produced a solid start and haven't been close in most league games.
13- Ohio State (11-7, 1-4)
Up next: @ Nebraska (Wed) vs. Northwestern (Sun)
- There are players on this team that can play at a high level. If the Buckeyes can string a few wins together, they could be a fun team to watch down the stretch. Beating Michigan State was a good start.
14- Rutgers (11-8, 0-6)
Up next: vs. Nebraska (Sat)
- There have been several games in which this team has competed hard and kept things close. Look for Rutgers to sneak up and beat some teams but the wins will be few and far between.