by Kent Sterling
Northwestern beat Wisconsin – the 14th ranked team in the country – last night in Madison. Penn State went to Columbus last night and beat Ohio State in overtime to drop the #23 Buckeyes to ninth place in the conference race.
The last time both Northwestern and Penn State beat ranked teams on the same night on the road? Never.
Michigan is rolling at 7-0 so far playing blemish-free basketball, but one of those wins was by one point at Nebraska, and another was a three-point win over Minnesota at Williams Arena. All but two of their seven wins came by single digits.
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans are 7-1, but three of their Big Ten wins have come in overtime.
Anything can happen in the Big Ten, and it has in 2014.
Indiana fans have become a little impatient with the Hoosiers this season coming off their regular season championship in 2013, but with a win tonight at Nebraska they will even their record at 4-4 and jump into a tie for fourth, one game behind Iowa – currently in third. With a loss, Tom Crean’s young team plummets into a ninth place tie with Ohio State, one game out of the basement occupied by Penn State and Illinois.
There is not a single combination of teams that can be counted on to bring about a certain result. The last place team could beat the first place team, and would likely beat them in three times in a ten game series. Gone are the days with a dominant team and at least one patsy.
That means that the Big Ten Tournament is completely unpredictable, and that the parity that all leagues pray for has arrived in America’s premier basketball conference.
What that will mean on Selection Sunday is anyone’s guess. Northwestern is 4-5 in Big Ten play, and 11-11 overall with losses to DePaul and Illinois State, but could find its way to an 11-7 Big Ten mark with wins over Penn State (home), Purdue (away), Indiana (home), twice over Minnesota, and and twice over Nebraska. They could also lose all seven of those games, but beat Michigan State and Ohio State.
It’s Camp Runamok in the Big Ten when a path to 11-7 can be seen for Northwestern.
I keep waiting for the season to bring clarity, but through between seven and nine games we don’t know any more about who might represent the Big Ten in the tournament, or how many. Every game, we hope to figure out more, but last night sure didn’t help that effort.
Normally, we wait until March for the madness to start, but it’s going to be tough for the second half of the season to measure up in terms of wackiness.
The Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis could produce a Penn State vs. Northwestern final. That would be terrible for attendance, but great for two programs previously entrenched as conference doormats. It’s not likely, but Nebraska and Minnesota could get there too. Or Indiana and Purdue. Or Michigan State and Michigan. Or Ohio State and Wisconsin. Or Illinois and Iowa. Or any combination of the above.
In 2014, there is no chalk in the Big Ten.
Can’t wait for tonight. Can’t wait for March.