Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll Week 8

1. Michigan State (11-3)
The Sparties hold their destiny in their hands. The regular-season conference championship (which to me, frankly, should decide the automatic NCAA bid, but I'm a traditionalist) is theirs if they win out. Iowa, @Illinois, @Indiana, and home against Purdue. What is of concern to Izzo has to be the way MSU got rolled at Purdue. The Illinois game seems like a probable loss, but if they get healthy, who knows? And even if they lose at Illinois, as long as they win against the conference cellar-dwellars, they can still stamp their victory with the finale at home versus PU.

2. Purdue (10-4)
The Boilers beat down their rivals, but this "rivalry" hasn't been much of one for the past 15 years. It seems the Hoosiers and Boilers alternate down years, and although the Boilers have been slightly disappointing, this is *the* all-time down year for the Hoosiers. The Boilers have a bit of a rough stretch here at the end, traveling to Michigan and facing Northwestern and Ohio State at home. All those are probable wins but possible losses. If they get through that fine, then they travel to a revenge-seeking Michigan State in their senior game. And if Purdue wins there, they'll get the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tourney, and live up to the pre-season hype.

3. Illinois (10-5)
From last week "I just haven't been convinced that this is a real contender to the conference crown." Watching most of that "game" with PSU reaffirmed my suspicions that this is an also-ran. But, then Weber's kids go out and beat OSU in Columbus. It seems that the Illini are clearly above the middle-class of the Big Ten, but whether Penn State is above them will be settled in the final game of the season. This week they have only a home game with Minnesota, and a win should lock up a NCAA berth.

4. Penn State (8-6)
I don't know how PSU did it, but the 38-33 win at Illinois was huge in keeping this team's NCAA hopes alive. The game tonight at Ohio State looks intimidating, but if the Lions can win at Iowa, hold off Indiana at home, and finish the sweep of the Illini in their final home game, their chances look pretty good for getting to the Big Dance. If they finish just 2-2 over these four games, I'd bet they need to win a couple in conference tournament to get in.

5. Wisconsin (8-7)
The Badgers are not the team they used to be, as the loss at Michigan State revealed, but they're not to be taken lightly either, as that loss ended a five-game win streak. The Badgers have three games left, and the two home games are against Indiana and Michigan. If they can win at Minnesota, they're definitely in, but I would guess they finish 10-8 and need at least one win in the Big Ten tourney to get that ticket to the Big Dance.

6. Minnesota (8-7)
I think that the Gophers don't quite have an at-large bid sewn up yet. They're probably looking at a loss in Champaign this week, but if they can hold off Michigan and Wisconsin at home, then they're looking strong to get that bid.

7. Ohio State (7-7)
From last week "...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." Well, the two losses are in. Can the Buckeyes go 4-0 to close out the season? PSU & NU at home seem doable enough, and they can get a road win at Iowa, but the probable loss at Purdue will put them pretty squarely on the bubble, I would think.

8. Michigan (7-8)
On the one hand, the home win over Minnesota was nice, but the loss at Iowa has put their backs against the wall. The Wolverines are going to have to win out to make a case to get into the NCAA tourney, which means beating Purdue at home and sweeping the resurgent Minnesota and Wisconsin teams on the road. Don't get me wrong, they're ahead of where I thought they'd be this year as UM seems a lock for the NIT (I had them with no postseason). But fans who were savoring the wins over UCLA and Duke earlier are probably a little disappointed.

9. Northwestern (5-9)

The Wildcats snapped their losing streak with a thrilling home win over Ohio State, but then got blown out at Minnesota. Carmody needs the team to have a good week with a visit to Indiana and a home game against Iowa. If they win both, a winning season is guaranteed. That would be Carmody's second at NU (2002) and would tie for the second-highest ever win total for NU!

10. Iowa (4-10)
Iowa beat Michigan to nudge themselves back over .500 overall (14-13), but a winning season doesn't seem like it's in the cards this year. If Cyrus Tate comes back, maybe they get the road game at NU and hold off OSU & PSU at home, but throw in the game at Michigan State and the uncertainty of Peterson & Tucker's availability, and you've got a rough schedule stretch to end a rough year. The good news is that Jake Kelly and Matt Gatens are turning into solid young wings that play well together.

11. Indiana (1-13)
I was hoping for the Hoosiers to pull a bit of a surprise against Wisconsin, but the Badgers are hitting their stride and are focused on achieving a postseason. At least, I hope that's what's happening, 'cause the alternative is that the young Hoosiers are just wearing down.


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