Thursday, January 28, 2010

Breaking Down the Conferences: Big Ten

Looking Good

Michigan State (18-3, 8-0 Big 10)- Thanks to some last-minute heroics, Michigan State is off to their best conference start in school history.  The remaining schedule is a bit difficult; they still have to travel to Madison and West Lafayette, but the Spartans look to be in good shape to win another Big 10 title.

Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2 Big 10)- With wins over Duke, Purdue, and Ohio State already under their belt, Wisconsin is in position to get a Top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Their next two games (@Purdue, Michigan State) are a doozy, but the Badgers have a remarkably easy schedule after that, with the most difficult game being @Minnesota.

Purdue (16-3, 4-3 Big 10)- The Boilermakers appear to have righted the ship after that three game losing skid.  They still have to play Michigan State twice and travel to Columbus, but outside of that Purdue should have little trouble finishing with 11+ conference wins.

Ohio State (15-6, 5-3 Big 10)- The Buckeyes will receive a bit slack from the committee for their midseason slump.  Now that Evan Turner has returned from his back injury, the Buckeyes are 4-1 in their last five games, including wins over Purdue and Wisconsin.  The remaining schedule is very favorable, with 6 of their last 10 games at home and the only difficult road game being against Michigan State.  Overall, Ohio State could easily end up being a Top 4 seed when the season is over.

Work to Do

Northwestern (14-6, 3-5 Big 10)- Despite the rough start to conference play, I really like Northwestern's chances to make the tournament.  8 of their last 10 games are Iowa x2, Indiana x2, Penn State x2, and  home games against Michigan and Minnesota.  The only 2 difficult games left are @Michigan State and @Wisconsin.  The Wildcats have a marquee win over Purdue and have shown they can win away from home with road/neutral victories against Notre Dame, Iowa State, NC State, and Michigan.  As long as they get to 10 conference wins (very doable against that schedule), Northwestern will be in the field on Selection Sunday.

Minnesota (13-7, 4-4 Big 10)- Unlike Northwestern, the Gophers don't have a signature win to fall back on, have only a 2-6 road/neutral record, and have not-so-good losses against Portland and Miami.  Fortunately, there's still time for Minnesota to get a signature win, as they have home games left against Wisconsin and Purdue and a road game @Ohio State.  Winning @Northwestern on Valentine's Day would go a long way towards putting them in the field, as it would give them a season sweep of the Wildcats.

Illinois (13-8, 5-3 Big 10)- Illinois has a nice conference record, but those wins came against Penn State x2, @Indiana, Iowa, and home against Northwestern.  The Illini have nice wins against Clemson and Vanderbilt, but that isn't enough to offset bad losses against Utah, Bradley, and Georgia.  Illinois will likely be 7-3 in conference play at this time next week, but then they enter the murderer's row part of the schedule (Wisconsin twice, Ohio State twice, @Purdue, @Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota).  With only an 8-5 nonconference record, Illinois will have to go 4-4 in those last 8 games to feel good about their chances.  3-5 puts them squarely on the bubble, and anything less sends them to the NIT.

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