Yes, the Big Ten is a mess so far.
Much has been written about how tough this year’s Big Ten is, and with good reason. The league is ridiculously balanced rom top to bottom. There are six teams in the current top 25 and four more are receiving. Of the four NOT receiving votes, two (Maryland and Purdue) are in the top 40 of the NET rankings. There has been talk of as many as TWELVE teams making the field, which seems unlikely, but cannot be ruled out entirely at this point. Last season, before COVID cancelled the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, Purdue was still somewhat on the bubble for an at large bid and might have snuck in with 2-3 wins in Indianapolis, and that was as the 11th or 12th team.
So what about this year? Let’s take a look, and think of this as a reverse power rankings:
Virtually No Chance
Nebraska (4-8, 0-5) – NET 162, KenPom 121 – The Cornhuskers are better this year, but it is not happening, especially with them currently on a COVID hold and having to make up a ton of games later. They are a loose conglomeration of transfers and young guys still trying to come together. There is a enough talent there to grab a game or two in league play, but ever conference needs a doormat. Since the dream of a perfectly balanced 14-way 10-10 league is by the wayside the Cornhuskers seemed destined for the 11 vs. 14 game in Chicago. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Two game sweep
Surprisingly Weak Profile
Michigan State (8-4, 2-4) – NET 84, KenPom 44 – It is shocking to see, but Michigan State ranked 13th in the conference based on their NET score, which is a major metric for NCAA consideration. The 2-4 start and a fumbled away win against Purdue are also hurting them. Normally a win at Duke would be a gigantic boost, but the Blue Devils themselves have a NET of 98. The Spartans still must play Iowa twice, Michigan twice, Ohio State twice, and a return trip to Rutgers (and Purdue). Their schedule down the stretch is harder than expected, but will rise the NET in a year where the NET is going to be weird. Still, the Spartans are in a bit of a danger zone to miss the tournament for the first time since 1997. I am not saying it will happen, but it is more possible at this point in the year than in pretty much any other time of the last two decades. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Complete the sweep in Mackey
Work To Do
Penn State (3-4, 0-3) – NET 39, KenPom 48 – The Nittany Lions are one of two winless teams in league play and haven’t played since December 30th at Indiana due to COVID. They now have four games to make up later, which will be rough. They resume their season on Sunday at Purdue. They do have an excellent win on their resume with a 20-point win at top 25 Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Beating VCU is pretty good, too. It won’t be easy, but the early rankings are there if they can survive multiple “three games in five days” weeks coming up. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Get a split
Maryland (7-6, 2-5) – NET 35, KenPom 45 – The Terrapins have faced a gauntlet and may not make the tournament, but they are going to throw some damn wrenches into the machine. They have already won at Wisconsin and Illinois, which is very impressive. They are currently on a stretch of six road games in nine games, but the back end is home friendly. The talent is there, but this team could be a casualty of “someone has to lose” in many games. Finishing with Michigan State(!), Northwestern, and Penn State is beneficial. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: At least a split is secured, so winning in College Park would be huge.
Northwestern (6-4, 3-3) – NET 57, KenPom 59 – The Wildcats rode a 3-0 Big Ten start into the top 25 for only the fourth time since the late 60s, but they have since dropped three straight. What may hurt them the most is the collapse against Pittsburgh, denying them a decent non-conference win. The Wildcats are looking like a fading team right now. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Only game is in Mackey, so win.
Indiana (8-5, 3-3) – NET 43, KenPom 23 – Indiana has a lot of work to do. None of the losses are bad, but none of the wins are really good. Beating Maryland at home is better than losing to Northwestern, at least. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a monster that Archie Miller constantly forgets he has as a useful weapon. They blew and excellent chance to finally win at Wisconsin. Thursday’s game with Purdue feels critical for both teams. After playing us the Hoosiers have at Michigan State, at Iowa, Rugers, at Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, at Northwestern, at Ohio State, and Minnesota. I think Purdue is a must-win for them or they will fold. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Split at minimum. Break their spirits with a sweep.
Purdue (8-5, 3-3) – NET 40, KenPom 34 – If the season ended right now Purdue would probably be on the good side of the Bubble, along with Indiana and maybe Maryland above here. I maintain that a 10-10 record in this year’s Big Ten is likely enough. Purdue still needs to get those seven more wins, however, and stealing a win in East Lansing was very large, especially if Michigan State continues to struggle and loses the return game in Mackey. Purdue’s offense away from Mackey Arena has been awful (54, 55, 76, 58, and 55 points in the five road games), but the defense has generally played well enough to win. As long as Purdue wins at Nebraska later on it can get six of those eight needed wins in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena. Winning in Bloomington Thursday would help too.
Rutgers (7-4. 3-4) – NET 44, KenPom 38 – The Scarlet Knights are probably okay for now, but they have lost four of five with the only win coming against Purdue. Friday they host Wisconsin in a huge game to get back on track, then the schedule gets lighter with at Indiana, Michigan State, and at Northwestern. They should be fine. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.
Likely In (For Now)
Minnesota (10-4, 3-4) – NET 33, KenPom 32 – I am not quite sold on Minnesota, but most of that comes from the “don’t trust little Pitino” alarm in my head. The win over Iowa looks really, really good. They were taken to overtime at home by a 2-9 Boston College team though. They host Michigan on Saturday in a game that will be a very good test, and they just lost to them by 25. The Gophers are a good home/bad road team, as they are 10-0 in the Barn and 0-4 on the road, losing by 27, 12, 25, and 15. Yes, they have to play in Mackey, but we have to go play on the Demon Wood of Xibalba. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Get a split
Ohio State (9-3, 3-3) – NET 24, KenPom 17 – Purdue was lucky to catch them without E.J. Liddell, but hey, it makes for an excellent looking win at the moment and that is fine with me. They have a sweep of Rutgers already secured, giving them a good road win. They are another team undefeated at home so far. They host Northwestern tomorrow in a revenge game after losing in Evanston earlier. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Split secured. Unlikely to win in Columbus
Illinois (9-4, 5-2) – NET 8, KenPom 8 – The Illini are still my pick to win the conference. They can win in a variety of ways. They are capable of dropping 90 on pretty much anyone, but they can also play excellent defense to make up for off nights like against Purdue and Northwestern. They only play Iowa once and Michigan once, so their schedules is “easier” than most. This is a conference title contender and top 4 March seed. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.
Wisconsin (10-2, 4-1) – NET 10, KenPom 5 – Wisconsin only has four wins all-time in Mackey Arena, but they look very much like they can get their fifth this year. Aside from a stumble at home to Maryland they have been good in conference play, but a late loss at Marquette is troubling. They can be beaten, as Indiana just took them to double overtime. They get Iowa twice in the last five. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Only game is in Mackey, so we have a shot.
Iowa (11-2, 5-1) – NET 4, KenPom 3 – Iowa can score on anyone, but they still can’t play defense. Purdue would have beaten them if not for an atrocious shooting night, as the 70 points we gave up are by far their lowest point total of the year. There is no question hey can win a 95-87 game, but can they be dragged into a good, old-fashioned Big Ten rock fight and survive? Purdue tried and failed. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.
Michigan (10-0, 5-0) – NET 4, KenPom 7 – The Big Ten’s last unbeaten, but who have they beaten? Are they the product of a softer schedule? The best non-conference win is Toledo. They won at Maryland and beat Minnesota at home for their best league wins, but Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State are the other three. The schedule gods blessed them with only one game against Iowa, Ohio State, and Illinois though. That’s as “easy” (relatively) as you can ask for this year. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Only game is in Mackey, so we have aa shot.
I really don’t think we have a runaway winner this year, and last year we had a three-way conference tie where the winners each lost six games in the league. We can see that again this year, as even Nebraska is better as the “worst” team. There are no nights off this year and nothing certain. Purdue is more than capable of bagging a home win over Michigan or Wisconsin.