Checking in on… the Big TenPosted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2009
Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
Two things from the past week:
- Luckily for Michigan State, it is still December, because they have still yet to prove that they can beat a top 10 team, losing to Texas in the biggest game they have played so far this year.
- I don’t know if you looked at the new AP top 25 poll, but if you have, you may have done a double take when you saw Northwestern at number 25. It’s for real, for the team that has never made the NCAA Tournament, they are well on their way. Now five Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #4 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, #13 Ohio State, #23 Wisconsin and #25 Northwestern.
- Purdue 11-0
- Michigan State 9-3
- Ohio State 10-2
- Wisconsin 10-2
- Northwestern 10-1
- Illinois 8-4
- Minnesota 9-3
- Penn State 8-4
- Michigan 6-5
- Indiana 5-6
- Iowa 5-7
This past week was relatively calm with the holiday season, but I believe that was just the calm before the storm. This week there are some amazing matchups that will really show who’s who in the Big Ten, both in conference and on the national stage. Be sure to check out RTC throughout the week to make sure you don’t miss any of the action. If you want to see all of these games, you might need to get a little creative.
- December 30th – Northwestern @ Illinois, 9:00 ET – I think this game, if Northwestern wins, adds legitimacy to their ranking and actually makes the January 2nd game against Michigan State even more important. If Northwestern wins, the MSU game doesn’t matter that much.
- December 31st – Ohio State @ Wisconsin, 2:00 ET, ESPN2 – This is the matchup of the week in the Big Ten as far as conference standings shake up. Of course, it will also lead to repercussions on the national stage as well. Wisconsin is super tough at the Kohl Center, but Ohio State is a team with something to prove without Evan Turner.
- January 1st – West Virginia @ Purdue, 2:30 ET, ESPN – This is the marquee matchup nationally, and a chance for Purdue to either show up or fall. It could go either way, as West Virginia is coming off of two solid wins this past week, especially the overtime victory against Seton Hall.
- January 2nd – Michigan State @ Northwestern, 6:30 ET – Like I said earlier, if Northwestern loses against Illinois, this game could be a moot point if Michigan State plays like they can. If not, this could get very interesting, as Northwestern needs to prove they can play against top teams, and see what kind of home court advantage they can have in the Big Ten. A lot is at stake for the Spartans too.
- January 2nd – Gonzaga @ Illinois, 1:00 ET, CBS – Since I have already started to play the scenario game, I am going to keep at it. Let’s say Illinois pulls off the upset against Northwestern at home, and the victory gets them back on track. This is exactly the type of game Illinois needs, and Gonzaga doesn’t want to let slip away. If we want to comparison shop the Big Ten, Wisconsin lost by 13 earlier in the season to Gonzaga, and Michigan State won by four.
Breaking It Down
- West Virginia @ Purdue – It’s on. I have mentioned this game for weeks now, but now it is finally here. This is by most measures, the biggest test for Purdue this year, and since Purdue is carrying the banner for the Big Ten, a great game to showcase the Big Ten against the Big East. Stats of the game: free throws and offensive boards. Purdue has an almost 10% lead from the charity stripe, but West Virginia sends a lot of big men to the offensive glass. If Purdue can hold WVU to their season averages without giving up the boards they will win this game.
- The Spartans were corralled, but must slay a cat. Okay, enough about MSU losing to Texas. They played a solid first half, and couldn’t stop the Longhorns from coming back to win the game. If you want to read more about the game though, check it out here on RTC: ATB: Texas the New Florida? Ok, last week is last week, and this week is well… this week. Michigan State, if they are good team, should beat teams they are expected to beat. Cinderella status notwithstanding, MSU should beat Northwestern, so they need to get it done.
- Ohio State needs to pack a winter coat this week. Ohio State, or should I say, David Lighty and Ohio State put on a show and took down Cleveland State. David Lighty lit it up for a career best 30 against the Vikings (pun intended), so nobody is wondering if he is serious about filling a void. Cleveland might be a past tournament Cinderella, but the Buckeyes might need a more balanced effort to slay the mighty Badgers at the Kohl Center. The Kohl Center holds one of the most sizable home court advantages of anywhere in the nation. OSU can hope that Wisconsin students are still on break, and won’t come back from vacation early for this game. The key word there is hope.
- Northwestern made the rankings, now can they stay? Somebody either has a great sense of humor or has been schooled in irony. Northwestern has been getting votes all year to be in the top 25 while not really playing anybody, but now that they made it, they have to be play Illinois followed by Michigan State. It is completely plausible that the Wildcats could be 0-2 in the Big Ten and definitely be out of the top 25 by the end of the week. Winning on the road at Assembly Hall in Champaign is tough, so if they can do that, their confidence should be sky high to take on the Spartans. That game, given the talent level of the two teams, should go to MSU, but don’t count the Wildcats out yet.
- Wisconsin extinguishes the Flames to get ready for the Bucks. What else can I title the only game Wisconsin played since last week, other than that? Ok, I could think of a few more, but I will leave it at that. Illinois-Chicago was a good filler game to remind the Badgers that they are now concluding the preconference slate, and a 36-point drubbing got the point across. The first week of conference for Wisconsin is what I call The Week of the States: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State. The Buckeyes game should be very interesting, as Wisconsin would love to slow it down, and OSU would love to hit the century mark. May the team that best plays its game and doesn’t allow the other team to do the same will win.
- Illinois likes a consistent win-loss pattern this year. Lucky for Illinois, so far each time they have won four games, only to follow it up with two losses. Why lucky you ask? In case you weren’t following the embarrassing loss to Mizzou, but that made it two losses in a row. Surely Illinois will follow it up with four wins a row. To pull it off though, they need to take down one Cat and then one Dog. They need to bring in Northwestern and Gonzaga, and beat them both. If they can do that, their four-game win streak gets easier with Iowa at home, and then Indiana on the road.
- Minnesota will be looking for wins 6 and 7 before Purdue. Not much to report on Minnesota since they haven’t played in a week, but I am hoping the break did them well because the easy schedule will be coming to an end very soon, and they will have to prove where they stack up in the Big Ten. I expect them to take down Penn State and Iowa, but it isn’t preposterous that they could lose the next three in Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan State.
- It’s make or break time for the Michigan Wolverines. Such high hopes for Michigan this year, but as of yet, very little has materialized. Two unpredictable teams will meet up this New Year’s Eve in Michigan and Indiana. If IU brings the team that lost to Loyola, it’s an easy Michigan win. If they bring the team that knocked off Pittsburgh, the Wolverines will be clawing their way through a tough one (yes, another pun for those keeping track). After Indiana, maybe the basketball team can make up for the frustration of the football team when they bring Ohio State to town.
- Penn State takes a break from basketball. Penn State cruised against American, but they will be in trouble against Minnesota on the road, especially having not played in eight days, and then the tough road doesn’t stop. They will have Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. They could be 0-4 before battling it out for the bottom of the Big Ten against Iowa. Hopefully it won’t be the case, but stranger things have happened.
- Indiana without Maurice Creek, what team will emerge? Indiana has had a rollercoaster year thus far, some exciting, some frustrating, all unexpected. The one steady positive variable for the Hoosiers this season has been the superstar freshman Creek, but now Indiana will be without him for the rest of the year, as he fractured his knee against Bryant during a rout, and will have season ending knee surgery about the time you read this. What will happen to Indiana without Creek’s 17 PPG and emerging leadership presence?
- Iowa is in for a long month. Iowa decided to take an 8-game break in between their game against South Carolina State and Purdue, mainly as a way for it to really soak in that they would be kicking off conference play against Purdue. I don’t see a winnable game in much of January until they play Indiana, so they did an ingenious scheduling move to build confidence mid-conference: they scheduled a game against Tennessee State on the 12th of January. The only problem is that move could backfire, as TSU only lost to Northwestern by 7 and Vanderbilt by 13. I wish I had better news for the Hawkeyes.