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The Big Ten gets ready for the stretch run

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All preseason pundits had three teams, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, at the top. Andy Katz even said that the Big Ten would have those three teams in the #1 and #2 seed lines of the NCAA tourney and explained that the Big Ten could see 9 or 10 teams in the March Madness free for all. Polls had seven teams in the preseason top 25, three of those in the top ten (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin) currently have six teams in the top 25 and three in the top ten (Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan).

The order has changed somewhat. In the Pre-season, Rutgers was 24 Michigan State was 13. Neither one is in the current top 25. Minnesota not ranked before is #17, and Michigan has moved up to #7. Once considered a virtual lock with a Big Ten front runner, Illinois has run into a snag losing two games at home to un-ranked Maryland and 21 Ohio State and fell to 4th place. Michigan has put the big ten on notice going 11-0(6-0) in conference play until a loss on Saturday 1/16/21 75-57 to #17 Minnesota at the Barn. In the Big Ten, between 1st place and 7th is 2 and 1/2 games. Seven teams have overall records with ten wins or more. Like many other conferences, Covid-19 has played some havoc with the schedule but not as bad as in some conferences.

How does it shape up from here?

Looking at the top 7 teams

#7 Michigan 13-1 (8-1) The Wolverines schedule is very favorable the rest of the way. Juwan Howard has this team hitting on all cylinders. Since their lone loss to Minnesota on January 16, they have taken revenge on Maryland by 14 points and Purdue by 17 points. With the next three relatively easy games (Indiana, Michigan State, and Northwestern postponed, the Wolverines won't play again until February 11th when they face #22 Illinois at home. After the Illini, Michigan has to face #10 Wisconsin(A), Rutgers(H), and #15 Ohio State(A) and then finishing the season with Indiana(A), #4 Iowa(H), and Michigan State(A). Not to mention possibly fitting in the three postponed games. However, the outlook is right for them to enter with the Number One seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and I would think at least a #3 seed in the big dance if not a #2.

#4 Iowa 12-3(6-2) The Hawkeyes are a rough and tumble bunch, as always entirely built for Big Ten play. They currently boast the league's best Offense averaging 90 points per game, but they have the 12th best defense in the league allowing 73 points per game. With Big man and player of the year candidate Luka Garza Iowa is more than a handful for anyone. But the road to a championship is not easy. With two conference losses to Minnesota and Indiana, they are beatable. They have a three-game, ten-day stretch from Jan. 29 to Feb 7, having to play at Illinois home against Ohio State and at Indiana and another three games ten-day stretch at Ohio State Michigan, and home against Wisconsin. I would not be surprised to see them take a couple of hits or more. Looking at possibly at anywhere from a #2 to #4 seed in the Big Ten and somewhere in the #3 - #6 range in the Big dance.

#10 Wisconsin 12-4(6-3) The Badgers While not a very big team, they have the right mix of youth, talent, and experience. Early conference losses to Maryland and Michigan and recent loss to Ohio State Wisconsin has not been able to put much of a "run" together in terms of wins and may not be able to the rest of their schedule they have Maryland on the 26th of January the back to back games against Penn State on the 30th then again the 2nd go to Illinois, and Nebraska before getting a double whammy at home vs. Michigan and Iowa on the 14th and 18th. They finish the season with three road games Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa, with Illinois visiting Madison in between. This road is paved with land mines and obstacles, but Wisconsin CAN avoid most of them but not all. Like Iowa, they will take at least two more blemishes on their record, putting them in that #3 seed area for the Big Ten and in the #4 -#6 for March Madness.

#22 Illinois 10-5(6-3) The Illini have been an enigma, a preseason top ten then taking hits from Rutgers. The non-conference loss to Baylor is a non-factor. The Loss to Missouri has turned into pretty much a non-factor. With only three conference losses, Rutgers and Maryland, cause concern with the upcoming schedule. #4 Iowa and #10 Wisconsin visit Champaign 1/29 and 2/6 with a trip to Indiana in between. They are then playing at #7 Michigan(10-0 at home) and giant killer #17 Minnesota(11-1 at home) before finishing on the road against #10 Wisconsin and #15 Ohio State. With a couple of pauses in Northwestern and Nebraska thrown in the mix. Once thought of as a one or two seed in the Big Ten. With the schedule, they could quickly drop to a #5 or a #7 seed, with a resulting #8 or #10 seed in March, or if they catch fire and register much needed top 25 wins, which could put them anywhere between a #2 or #3 seed in the conference and a #4 or #5 seed in March.

#15 Ohio State 12-4(6-4) With the Non-Conference win over UCLA, Ohio State looked very strong, and they are, but then the Big Ten happened. They lost twice to Purdue and once to Northwestern. Their only other loss is to the a-fore mentioned giant killer Minnesota. They do have wins over Illinois and Wisconsin. They only have four games out of their ten scheduled games against the "upper half" of the 6. The bottom half two are against Penn State and two against Michigan State. All the big games they have against #4 Iowa, #7 Michigan, and #22 Illinois 3 are at home, only one game against #4 Iowa is on the road (they play Iowa twice) are highly possible they can make a nice run. I can see them getting as high as a #2 seed in the Big Ten and as High as a #3 or #4 in the NCAA.

Purdue 11-6(6-4) The Boilermakers are hard to figure out. After a so-so Non-Conference season, they came out and toppled Ohio State in their Big Ten opener, then lost 3 out of their next four big Ten tilts. Back on track with four straight wins; at Michigan State and Indiana, home vs. Penn State, and Ohio State. Purdue does have a favorable schedule the rest of the way out, considering two games vs. #17 Minnesota and one vs. #10 Wisconsin. They could muddy the waters come to the Big Ten Tourney. Still, it is hard to see them getting anything above a #6 seed in the Big Ten or above a #10 seed in the NCAA.

#17 Minnesota 11-5(4-5) I referred to the Golden Gophers as giant-killers 3 of their Big Ten wins have come against Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State. Of course, they have also lost to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. The next ten games on the Minnesota schedule are very favorable. They have two games against Rutgers and single games against Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State, and Indiana. They also have Maryland, #22 Illinois, and two games against Purdue. One problem Minnesota has is that they have not won a game on the road or a neutral court this year. But if they could put a nice run together and with the signature wins, they could lead them to a decent seed #6/#7 in Big Ten and #8 to #10 in the NCAA tourney.

Other teams like Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers could be on the NCAA bubble list if they can get hot. SO far, I think Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin look to be favorites for high NCAA seeds #1 - #4. Ohio State probably won't be far behind Illinois, probably a mid seed #6-#8. Purdue and Minnesota in the #8 - #10. It could be a big year for the Big Ten.

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