February 25, 2013 - 2:10pm
BY DANIEL WASSERMAN
1) No. 1 Indiana: Even if they lost a closely-contested battle in East Lansing on Tuesday, the Hoosiers still might’ve found themselves at No. 1. None of that matters, though, as Indiana left the Breslin Center with statement win, putting themselves in the driver’s seat for the regular-season Big Ten Championship. After scoring 19 points, pulling down nine boards and grabbing five steals, guard Victor Oladipo would likely be National Player of the Year if the season ended today.
2) No. 9 Michigan State: The Spartans lost twice in the past week, at home against Indiana and at Ohio State on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean Michigan State isn’t playing well. March is just around the corner, the time of year when Tom Izzo-coached teams are usually at their best. Much like Michigan, the Spartans will get a week off following their back-to-back losses, before they make the 60-mile trek to Ann Arbor on Sunday.
3) No. 4 Michigan: In the first half against Illinois, the Wolverines didn’t get the memo that their bye week was over. But a strong second half gave Michigan an impressive 13-point win over the surging Illini, and now a midweek road-tussle with lowly Penn State is all that stands between the Wolverines and an attempt at revenge against Michigan State. Trey Burke scored 26 points and dished out eight assists on Sunday, and continues to play as well as any player in the country.
4) No. 17 Wisconsin: Despite a quiet week — the Badgers dismantled Northwestern, but who hasn’t recently — Wisconsin gets the nod over Ohio State because of the spanking it gave the Buckeyes eight days ago in Madison. The Badgers still sit two games out of first place, but aside from a road trip to East Lansing, their three other remaining opponents are a combined 10-32 in conference play.
5) No. 16 Ohio State: The Buckeyes proved they’re for real, beating the Spartans on Sunday, which came on the heels of a decisive 26-point win over Minnesota. Point guard Aaron Craft proved he’s more than a defensive specialist, scoring 21 points against Michigan State.
6) Illinois: Coach John Groce criticized his team’s mental aptitude after its loss in Ann Arbor on Sunday, which followed a narrow, five-point home win over bottom-feeder Penn State. Even with the loss, Illinois has still won five of six, and are essentially locked into an NCAA Tournament bid.
7) Minnesota: The Golden Gophers played just once last week, and probably wished they hadn’t. Minnesota was handed a 26-point loss by Ohio State, three days after a 21-point loss to Iowa the previous week. A model of inconsistency, the Golden Gophers host Indiana this week, and if the past is any indication, the Hoosiers better watch out. It would be very Minnesota-like to bounce back from consecutive 20-plus point losses with a win over the nation’s top team.
8) Iowa: Three-straight wins had the Hawkeyes on the rise, but a loss to Nebraska might’ve cut the life support to an Iowa NCAA Tournament bid. With a loss of that variety, and without any marquee wins, the 6-8 Hawkeyes are in need of a victory over Indiana on March 2.
9) Purdue: After back-to-back embarrassing losses, it must’ve felt nice for the Boilermakers to finally blow another team out of the gym. Purdue’s 31-point win over Northwestern pulled the Boilermakers to a respectable 6-8 conference record, and with their upcoming schedule, was a must-win if Purdue wants to finish .500 and play in a postseason tournament.
10) Nebraska: It took a while, but it's a week away from March and the Cornhuskers have finally made their inaugural appearance in the top-10 of the Big Ten power rankings. Nebraska scored a four-point win over Iowa to pass Northwestern. In a season that has nothing left to play for but pride for the Cornhuskers, I offer you a hearty mazel tov.
11) Northwestern: No one can fault the Wildcats for their five-straight losses. After all, Northwestern is down to just seven healthy scholarship players, and is struggling to even stay competitive. The Wildcats’ 15-point win over Purdue on Feb. 2 seems like a distant memory. In fact, it’s the only time this month that Northwestern hasn’t suffered a double-digit loss, and the last three have come by more than 21-points each.
12) Penn State: The Nittany Lions last three losses have come by a combined 15 points, and two actually came against high-caliber opponents in Michigan and Illinois. In all honestly, Penn State is probably playing better than Nebraska and Northwestern at the moment. But an 0-14 conference record gives no justification for placing the Nittany Lions above teams that won a game.
Recapping last week’s key games:
Tuesday: No. 1 Indiana 72, No. 4 Michigan State 68
Sunday: Illinois 58, No. 7 Michigan 71
No. 4 Michigan State 60, No. 18 Ohio State 68
Next week’s marquee matchups:
Tuesday: No. 1 Indiana at Minnesota
Wednesday: No. 4 Michigan at Penn State
Sunday: No. 9 Michigan State at No. 4 Michigan
Other news and notes: Oladipo was named Big Ten Player of the Week. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields was named Freshman of the Week after scoring 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds.