Big Ten Update: Penn State Is Cooked, But Badgers Are Back

A few weeks ago I did a halfway point roundup for the Big Ten, in which I buried Wisconsin and hailed Penn State to no end. Boy, do I look like an idiot now. Since then, Penn State crumbled, while Wisconsin has done a 180.

The Nittany Lions were embarrassed by Michigan, lost at home to Wisconsin, and handily lost at Purdue. They now sit just 6-6 in conference play, and their RPI has plunged into the 80s. With road trips to Illinois and Ohio State -- not to mention hosting Illinois and Minnesota -- it would appear they are fading back into obscurity.

The biggest problem? My halfway point pick for conference player of the year has been dreadful since. In fact, if I was ego-centric enough, I'd think I cursed him. Talor Battle has gone 7-38 from the floor in the past three games for 19 total points -- including an 0-7 for zero point stink-bomb at Purdue Wednesday night. The Boilers didn't even need to waste Chris Kramer on him, as 5'9" freshman Lewis Jackson did the bottling up. Battle still leads the conference in scoring, which shows how big he had been before these past three disasters.

Anyway, sayonara NCAA hopes for PSU. They are NIT bound, once again.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, is right in the thick of things for an NCAA tournament birth. They've won three straight to right the ship from a near disastrous six-game losing streak. They should be able to handle Ohio State at home -- considering they beat Illinois easily at home last week -- and then win in Indiana. This would make them 8-6 in the conference and 17-9 overall. Their RPI has them in the top 30 due mostly to their herculean scheduling (third toughest schedule in the nation).

In other words, there isn't much reason to believe they'll miss the tourney. What a difference three games can make.

Purdue's struggled mightily without Robbie Hummel, but Wednesday they were given a scoring jolt from unknown reserve Bobby Riddell, a 5'9" senior who initially walked-on. He received extended minutes due to E'Twaun Moore's foul trouble and Hummel's injury, and made the best of it. The diminutive guard scored 13 points on 5-7 shooting -- including 3-4 from behind the arc -- to help get the Boilers back on track.

Close, But ...
Our own UM alum Chris Burke discusses that familiar feeling emenating from Ann Arbor. It's a shame, considering how well they've fared against top-flight talent from other conferences.

What Could Have Been
Had Michigan State not faltered at home to clearly inferior Northwestern and Penn State teams, they'd be looking at a number one seed in the Big Dance. Instead, with an RPI hovering around 7 and upcoming road dates with Purdue and Illinois, they'll be fighting for a 2.

How Refreshing
Tom Crean didn't appreciate the dirty play of his own Devan Dumes last week in Michigan State, so he promptly suspended him indefinitely. Last season, Kelvin Sampson suspended select players one game at a time without announcing why. We came to later find out about rampant drug use on the team. Do the math. Crean is taking a hard line stance against something much more excusable, despite the fact that Dumes is his primary offensive option. Hoosier fans haven't seen a coach discipline his players with such vigor since you-know-who, and this guy doesn't even get violent (unless it's with the band leader).

Power Rankings/Tourney Watch
As we did last time around, we'll list the teams probability of heading into the NCAA Tourney like they are an NFL player on the injury report (playing, probable, questionable, doubtful, out). Currently, the Big Ten sits second in conference RPI, with many teams toward the top in NCAA strength of schedule, so you can expect six teams to make the dance.

1. Michigan State (playing) - No question.
2. Illinois (playing) - Won't lose more than six conference games.
3. Purdue (playing) - Adjusting to life without Hummel, though it won't be easy.
4. Ohio State (probable) - Not much can ruin them now.
5. Minnesota (probable) - Not playing well of late ...
6. Wisconsin (probable) - We'll see if they can keep it going.
7. Michigan (questionable) - They still have a shot.
8. Penn State (doubtful) - I guess they just belong down here, huh?
9. Northwestern (doubtful) - Hanging from a very thin thread.
10. Iowa (out) - Played role of spoiler against Northwestern.
11. Indiana (out) - Got their conference win. Anything else is gravy.

Big Ten Update: Penn State Is Cooked, But Badgers Are Back originally appeared on NCAA Basketball FanHouse on Thu, 12 Feb 2009 14:30:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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