February 18, 2013 - 1:51pm
BY DANIEL WASSERMAN
1) No. 1 Indiana: With a cupcake game against Nebraska and a rivalry game with sputtering Purdue, the nation’s top-ranked team didn’t have too much to play for. Bu the Hoosiers kept on rolling, thanks to 28 and 29-point wins. Next up: a colossal Tuesday-night showdown at Michigan State that could ultimately decide the regular-season conference champ.
2) No. 4 Michigan State: The Spartans took Michigan behind the woodshed and gave their in-state rival an old-fashioned beat down. Michigan State only beat Nebraska by nine in what coach Tom Izzo repeatedly warned could be a “trap game” from his team. Regardless, the Spartans are playing as well as any team in the nation, and a win Tuesday night could give them the country’s No. 1 ranking.
3) No. 7 Michigan: Izzo was quick to acknowledge that the Wolverines aren’t as bad as their 25-point loss might indicate. Still, with effort issues coming into question after the meltdown in East Lansing, followed up by just an eight-point win at home against Penn State, and doubters are suddenly lining up in Ann Arbor. If any positives can come out of the week, freshman forward Glenn Robinson III finally broke out of his slump with a career high 21 points on Sunday. The Wolverines now have a full week to regroup and get healthy.
4) No. 19 Wisconsin: The Badgers sure didn’t feel any hangover effects after an overtime loss at Minnesota early in the week. Wisconsin pummeled Ohio State on Sunday, 71-49, and have won four of its last five. With the easiest remaining schedule of the conference’s top-four teams, the Badgers should enter March riding high.
5) No. 18 Ohio State: The Buckeyes are slipping. Ohio State has lost three of its last four, with the only win coming earlier in the week over Northwestern at home, when the Buckeyes needed a 12-0 run in the game’s final three minutes to secure a 10-point win. Ohio State, almost certainly out of the conference title hunt, plays host to Minnesota and the red-hot Spartans this week.
6) Illinois: Don’t look now, but the Fighting Illini are near-locks for a tournament bid. Just 11 days removed from breaking out of a slump that saw them lose six of seven, they’ve suddenly won four straight. Both of Illinois’s wins this week, over Purdue and at Northwestern, came by 20 or more points.
7) Minnesota: The Golden Gophers are the definition of inconsistency. An overtime win over streaking Wisconsin prompted must-see footage of head coach Tubby Smith dancing, but the positive vibes from the win quickly dissipated after a 21-point loss at Iowa. The up-and-down sage that has been the Minnesota season continues in Columbus this week, where Ohio State should be hungry.
8) Iowa: The Hawkeyes are the Big Ten’s best shot at an eighth NCAA Tournament bid, and now that they’re through the toughest portion of their schedule, it’s certainly a realistic possibility. Sitting at 6-7 in conference play, Iowa has won three straight, and still has two games against Nebraska and home games with Illinois and Purdue left. Should the Hawkeyes win three of those games, their 20 wins and .500 finish in the nation’s toughest conference would command serious respect.
9) Purdue: The Boilermakers’ season has turned into a train wreck after another embarrassing blowout loss to archrival Indiana. Purdue, losers of five out of six, has struggled to keep games competitive (four of those losses came by more than 15 points, while all five were by double digits).
10) Northwestern: The Wildcats’ season has taken hit after hit, and the team is now down to seven healthy scholarship players after fifth-year senior Jered Swopshire became the fourth Northwestern player to go down with a season-ending injury. The Wildcats have lost five of six and without any semblance of depth, the road won’t get any easier.
11) Nebraska: Playing solely for pride, the Cornhuskers were competitive with Michigan State, refusing to let the Spartans pull away in a nine-point loss. With just three wins in conference play, any win from here on out would be considered an upset.
12) Penn State: The Nittany Lions biggest win of the conference season came in the first half in Ann Arbor on Sunday, and even that was a tie. But even after a pesky Penn State team refused to be blown out, Michigan pulled away late, sending the Nittany Lions home empty-handed with their 13th-straight loss, which came on the heels of a two-point loss to Iowa.
Recapping last week’s key games:
No. 4 Michigan 52, No. 8 Michigan State 75
No. 20 Wisconsin 53, Minnesota 58 (OT)
Penn State 71, No. 4 Michigan 79
No. 13 Ohio State 49, No. 20 Wisconsin 71
Next week’s marquee matchups:
Tuesday: No. 1 Indiana at No. 4 Michigan State
Sunday: Illinois at No. 7 Michigan
No. 4 Michigan State at No. 18 Ohio State
Other news and notes: Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke won his third Big Ten Player of the Week award after averaging 23.5 points in two games. This is the 12th time a Michigan player has been honored in the season’s 15 weeks, and the fifth time a Wolverine has won the Player of the Week. Michigan State’s Gary Harris, who scored 17 points against Michigan on Tuesday, won the conference’s Freshman of the Week honor. … The Wolverines, who dropped to No. 7 in this week’s AP Poll, fell out of the top five for the first time this season.