Sunday the Big Ten race really got started. MSU took their first loss to the 3rd place Boilers who are now 7-2 in conference play with their only losses on the road against the teams from Michigan. Michigan looked as dominant as anyone, but the recent loss to Wisconsin paired with an unconvincing win over Minnesota, and the Big Ten went from a Michigan brawl to a three-way battle with Purdue in the mix. Here is a look at the season to come.
Michigan State 18-3 (9-1 in Big Ten)
Entering Sunday, Michigan State was starting to look like a real favorite to win the Big Ten. Perfect in the conference with their only losses coming to Kansas in the season opener, and a Louisville in overtime. Winston has been playing some of the best basketball in the country, with Nick Ward dominating the paint. They were receiving first-place votes and were top 5 in NET, BPI, Ken Pom, and both polls. Sunday by no means was a bad loss, but it does tighten up the race. Michigan State now has split with Purdue, and still has two meeting with Michigan in the final two weeks of the season. Traveling to Wisconsin is their other big test unless Indiana can figure it out. The X-Factor for this team will be Joshua Langford. He has missed the last seven games but is one of their best scorers and if he can come back in stride this team could be gaining a dangerous piece down the stretch. Despite the loss in Mackey, MSU still has to be the favorite to win the Big Ten.
Michigan 19-1 (8-1 in Big Ten)
Michigan fans are reading this asking how I can claim MSU was looking like a real favorite. Michigan went undefeated in the non-conference with wins over UNC and Villanova, and have already won their only meeting against Purdue. The reason Michigan needed that Purdue win was the remaining schedules. As stated above, they will play Michigan State twice in the previous two weeks, but that isn’t it. Michigan also still has a home and away with fourth-placed Maryland, play in Iowa, and travel to Minnesota. That doesn’t even mention a rematch with the team that beat them Wisconsin. Michigan might be the best team, they might be the second best, but they will have the toughest road to a Big Ten title. Michigan currently sits in the top 5 and has one of the best defenses in the country, when their offense is hot (and it gets HOT) they are the most dangerous team in the country (sorry Duke). With so many road tests left, Michigan will likely pick-up another two or three losses, but is likely the most dangerous team when the tournament comes.
Purdue 14-6 (7-2 in Big Ten)
Well, this is difficult. Ask anyone who follows college basketball where they would rank Purdue and you would get A LOT of different answers. The Boilermakers might be the toughest team in the country, but we are going to take our best shot at it. Purdue started 6-5, but when looking at the losses, only one is truly concerning. Purdue took a neutral site loss to Virginia Tech a top 15 team by six, lost a very close game down the stretch in Florida State who is a top 25 team and it was a true road game, got crushed by Michigan on the road (another true road game), in ANOTHER true road game they fell to Texas in another close game… then there’s the Notre Dame game, if you ignore that game it makes it easy to forgive Purdue’s losses, but its there. Purdue did beat Maryland in that streak and has gone 8-1 since then. Crushing Iowa and Indiana, beating Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road. The lone loss a road game in Michigan State, but they avenged that on Sunday in fairly dominant fashion. Every advanced ranking says Purdue is a top 10 team (BPI, Kem Pom, and NET) they have played the 3rd hardest SOS, but still have SIX losses. Purdue has improved as younger players like Wheeler and Williams have developed into starting caliber players that can make a huge impact, and that could be part of Purdue’s turnaround, but Purdue is still the toughest team to judge. With no other games against the Michigan teams, the Boilers lone ranked matchup will come at Maryland. The schedule and the late push gives Purdue an interesting path to a share of the Big Ten title, especially if Michigan and Michigan State split their games. Purdue has won 50 of the last 52 home games, the best record of any team over that stretch and have one of the most underrated home-court advantages in the nation (which you can see from their record). Right now, they are still the 3rd most talented team but watch out because if Painter has proven anything over the past 5 years it’s that the team will continue to get better, and he won’t lose home games. Also just because I can’t end a whole part about Purdue without mentioning Carsen Edwards, a Wooden Award candidate if not favorite. He has been doing his thing all year, and the role players stepping up have changed the team, but without him, Purdue would be last in the Big Ten.