Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll 2009, Week 7

1. Michigan State (10-2)
The defensive clampdown of the Wolverines at Michigan has pretty much wrapped the conference race up for MSU. All they have to do now is split the home-and-home with Purdue, and either win at Illinois or have OSU beat Illinois while avoiding any other upsets and claim the regular season Big Ten conference title. This is far and away the conference's deepest and best team, but Izzo needs guys to start getting healthy for the stretch run.

2. Illinois (9-4)
The Illini avoided disaster at Northwestern, pulling out an incredible comeback win, and then held off the scrappy Hoosier comeback in the second half. Still, despite having the position and momentum to challenge MSU, I just haven't been convinced that this is a real contender to the conference crown. If they can beat MSU at home, that'll help convince me.

3. Purdue (8-4)
The Boilers have turned around what was looking like a small slide with a smashing win over PSU and scrappy performance at Iowa. However, they've got two games with Michigan State left, as well a trip to Michigan. If Painter is able to get his guys to sweep Michigan again, then the Boilers are back. I just don't see it happening with a half-strength (at *best*) Hummel, 'though.

4. Ohio State (7-5)
The only game the Buckeyes had last week was a loss at Wisconsin, and while it's not enough to bump them below the Badgers just yet, they've got to start picking up some conference road wins as their NCAA resume is fading. The big wins over Miami & Notre Dame are now starting to look increasingly less impressive, leaving OSU firmly on the bubble. I think Matta's guys need to 4-2 down the stretch to get an at-large bid.

5. Wisconsin (7-6)
Bo Ryan's team has been somewhat of a hard-luck club in the Big Ten, but noone's feeling sorry for him, I can tell you. In the six-game losing streak, four of those losses were either by three points or less and/or overtime games. Their resume isn't looking super-great, as the only non-conference win of note is at fellow bubble squad Virginia Tech. From here, UW plays Indiana twice, but also travels to Minnesota and MSU. This team's bubble may be decided in the conference tourney.

6. Minnesota (7-6)
Probably the game to watch, if you're a Gopher fan, will be Thursday's contest at Michigan. If Minnesota wins there and holds serve at home, they will have done all they needed to do to get a NCAA tournament invite. The loss at Penn State doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in Tubby's ability to win in Ann Arbor, but it's a crucial game for this team.

7. Penn State (7-6)
From last week "Looking down the rest of the schedule, it seems quite possible that the Nittany Lions don't go .500 in conference play, which means they're probably out of NCAA berth contention." Penn State has to finish strong, but games at Illinois and Ohio State are probably losses, meaning this inconsistent team has to win their last three conference matches to get above .500 to have any chance at a NCAA slot. if they can win at either Illinois or Ohio State, the road to the Dance looks a lot smoother.

8. Michigan (6-7)
The Wolverines got a good win at Northwestern, but the shameful home loss against a short-handed Michigan State team was the knee-capping of their NCAA hopes. They'll either have to sweep the next five games (possible, if improbable) or they'll have to win the conference tourney. Either way, it'll require a consistency and a winning streak that we've not seen out of Michigan so far this year.

9. Northwestern (4-8)
It was just a terrible week for Northwestern, letting a huge lead get away against Illinois and then losing in OT at home against Michigan. If NU is able to go 2-4 (or even 3-3) in their final conference games, they'll finish with an overall winning record and be ready to really move forward next season. But the Wildcats have a very hard schedule ahead and have had so many opportunities just slip through their fingers this year.

10. Iowa (3-10)
The Hawkeyes missed a golden opportunity to take down Purdue at home after getting demolished at Wisconsin. But the good news is that the only one of their last five games that seems un-winnable is at MSU. Games at Northwestern and home against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State could all be wins, especially if they get point guard Jeff Peterson back.

11. Indiana (1-11)
Devan Dumes' errant elbows may have cost the Hoosiers a chance for their second win, as they actually seemed to somewhat contain the Illini defensively and be within striking distance -if only they'd hit their free-throws- but Illinois just had too much experienced talent for the Hoosier freshmen. The Hoosiers only other reasonable chances for a win are Wisconsin at home, Northwestern at home, and at Penn State. PSU & Wis. need the wins for a possible NCAA berth badly, so NU looks like the most likely option for a second conference win.


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