With Selection Sunday about a month away, let’s do some Big Ten Bracketology:
Ohio State (9-2 Big Ten, 21-3 overall)
The Buckeyes have won six in a row, and have lost just twice since Dec. 10. They rolled through a tough stretch that included Michigan, Wisconsin and Purdue, but have a big matchup against Michigan State on Feb. 11.
Ohio State probably has the best shot of any Big Ten team to go deep in the Tournament. Thad Matta has one of the best teams in the country when sophomore center Jared Sullinger is at his best, and even when is not, the Buckeyes are still dangerous. When senior guard William Buford and sophomore guard Aaron Craft are running on all cylinders with Sullinger, Ohio State has a scary good inside-out combination that is tough to defend.
The Buckeyes are also deep, with nine players averaging over eleven minutes a game, and have experience in March.
Michigan State (8-3, 19-5)
The Spartans didn’t lose a game from Nov. 18 to Jan. 10, then lost three of their next five before a big test against Michigan at home. Michigan State was in control the whole game, cruising to a 10-point victory.
Senior forward Draymond Green is averaging a double-double (almost 15 points and 11 rebounds a game), but Michigan State hasn’t developed a reliable sidekick for him. Sophomore guard Keith Appling has the ability to score in bunches, but he hasn’t been consistent and is shooting just 27-percent from three.
Perhaps more pressing is that Michigan State doesn’t have a single player averaging more than four assists a game. The Spartans will undoubtedly make the Tournament for the 15th consecutive year, but how far they go will rely heavily on the play of Green and how far he can take this team.
Michigan (8-4, 18-7)
To be frank, the Wolverines are terrible on the road. They look like a completely different team inside Crisler Arena than at every other Big Ten venue — they scored just 22 points in the first half at lowly Nebraska this week.
Early on in the season, it looked like freshman guard Trey Burke and sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. were going to run the show, but Hardaway Jr. has been playing the worst basketball of his young career over the last few weeks. He has attempted the most 3-pointers in the Big Ten, yet is shooting just 27-percent from beyond the arc. He made one field goal against Michigan State last week, and didn’t score in the first half en route to six points against Nebraska.
The Wolverines could potentially sneak into the Elite Eight if they catch fire at the right time, but Hardaway Jr. needs to figure it out first. The road woes could become a major issue come March, when Michigan won’t have the luxury of playing in Ann Arbor.
Wisconsin (7-4, 18-6)
Since a disastrous loss to Michigan on Jan. 8 — their third loss in a row — the Badgers fired off six wins in a row before losing their last game to Ohio State. Wisconsin is Wisconsin, averaging a hair over 64 points per game while playing truth-or-dare with the shot clock every night.
Indiana (6-6, 18-6)
When Indiana went 16-1 to start the season, the biggest knock on its resume was a lack of a road win. Well, it’s halfway through the Big Ten season, and the Hoosiers still don’t have a signature win away from Assembly Hall.
Indiana has lost to Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan on the road, and has really struggled in 2012, winning just three out of its last eight games.
The Hoosiers' strong start will keep them in the tournament, even if they continue to be one of the most inconsistent teams in the country.
Illinois (5-5, 16-7)
The Fighting Illini have lost four of their last five games. Total margin of defeat in those four games? 15 points.
Illinois has some quality wins, beating then-No. 5 Ohio State and then-No. 10 Michigan State, but it has also lost to Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota. Calling this team a lock might be a stretch, but this team has a very good chance to go dancing.
On The Bubble
Minnesota (5-6, 17-7)
The Golden Gophers fell under the radar when they lost their first four Big Ten games, but could sneak into the Tournament with impressive wins over Indiana on the road and Illinois at home.
Two losses to Iowa really hurt, but the next three weeks are where Minnesota makes or breaks its season. Of its next seven games, five are against teams that are currently ranked. A good stretch run, and Minnesota could be in.
Purdue (5-6, 15-9)
For the most part, the Boilermakers have won the games they were expected to compete in (Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota), and lost in the games they weren’t supposed to compete in (Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State).
Purdue has just three games left against current-ranked teams, which means they are going to need to pull off an upset or two to get into consideration.
Northwestern (4-6, 14-8)
The Wildcats have one big win on their resume, a win at home against Michigan State in early January. Directly following that game, they lost three in a row to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Purdue. It’s too early to tell with this team — February is a big month for Northwestern.
The Wildcats have two players averaging more than 17 points a game (John Shurna and Drew Crawford), but then just four other players average more than 5 points a game. The bench is going to play a huge role for Northwestern in the next couple weeks.