1. INDIANA (23-3, 11-2)
A pair of blowout wins over Nebraska and Purdue just reinforced the Hoosiers’ position atop the Big Ten. Now they have games against three of the other top five teams in the conference to close out the campaign, starting with tonight’s trip to East Lansing, where IU hasn’t won in 22 years. With a victory, Indiana fans can party like it’s 1991.
2. MICHIGAN STATE (22-4, 11-2)
The Spartans made a statement with a rout of Michigan last Tuesday, then Derrick Nix made some statements of his own, declaring MSU and its players underrated. That rant included some shots at IU’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, which should only add fuel to the fire. It also means it’s put up or shut up time for Nix and company.
3. MICHIGAN (22-4, 9-4)
The Wolverines seem to lack the swagger they had just a few weeks ago, and even struggled to get off the mat against Penn State Sunday. This is a team that may just be fighting some freshmen fatigue, but Michigan also has to rediscover a higher level of defensive play if it wants to remain among the league and nation elites.
4. WISCONSIN (18-8, 9-4)
An overtime loss at Minnesota might have been the start of a Badger swoon, but Wisconsin rebounded with a pummeling of Ohio State on Sunday. When the Badgers shoot like they did against the Buckeyes, forget about it. But only two of the final five games are at the Kohl Center, so expect a return to low-scoring Badger ball.
5. OHIO STATE (18-7, 8-5)
The defeat in Madison was essentially an elimination game when it came to the Big Ten chase, so now the Buckeyes just have to regroup and polish that NCAA resume a bit. There are no bad losses on the ledger, but wins over Michigan and Wisconsin are also the only wins Ohio State can hang its hat on.
6. ILLINOIS (19-8, 6-7)
Reports of the Illini’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Four straight wins and a largely favorable schedule the rest of the way give Illinois the chance to finish the year the way it began. Win out, including upsets of Michigan and Ohio State, and the Illini could find themselves with favorable seeds for both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
7. IOWA (17-9, 6-7)
The Hawkeyes may be late to the party, but they are mostly definitely trying to crash it. Sunday’s blasting of Minnesota marks the Hawkeyes’ best win of the Big Ten campaign. They could still use a win over Illinois, Indiana or both, but two games against Nebraska and one with Purdue will give Iowa a chance to play itself onto the bubble.
8. MINNESOTA (18-8, 6-7)
Just as Iowa is climbing on the bubble, the Gophers are stumbling off. A win over Wisconsin last week turned out to be only a temporary reprieve, because blowing a 16-point lead at Carver-Hawkeye and losing by 20 more than cancels out an overtime win at home. There’s still time to salvage the season, but not much.
9. PURDUE (12-14, 5-8)
Instead of getting better, the Boilermakers seem to be falling deeper and deeper into the abyss, getting blown out by both Illinois and Indiana last week. They’ve now lost five of their last six games, all by double digits. A home game with Northwestern on Sunday may be Purdue’s last stand against the tide of frustration.
10. NORTHWESTERN (13-13, 4-9)
The Wildcats are also trending in the wrong direction, and with three ranked opponents in the final five games, things are looking a little grim in Evanston. The offense is sputtering, and the defense has sprung a leak. It would appear that the Northwestern boat is taking on water faster than its crew can bail.
11. NEBRASKA (12-14, 3-10)
Last week went about as expected for the Cornhuskers, who took their medicine at Indiana and were just held at arm’s length by Michigan State. Nebraska’s greatest asset this season has been its toughness and resilience even in taking lump after lump. That will serve the ‘Huskers well in the long run.
12. PENN STATE (8-17, 0-13)
The Nittany Lions made a bold bid for the upset of the season in Ann Arbor Sunday, but once again couldn’t make a play or get a call when they needed it the most. At this point, coach Pat Chambers is just looking for something good to happen to his team, giving them something to hold onto heading into next season.