Some big upsets occurred in week three of conference play. Here are our staffers' thoughts on the most pressing events from the past week:
1. What are Iowa's chances at a Big Ten regular season title?
Tim Beck - Iowa is definitely in a good position to win the regular season title. But so are 3 other teams. They have a tough schedule to end it. They have to play MSU twice, Michigan twice, OSU and Wisconsin once more each. In contrast to Wisconsin who plays only Michigan twice, the other three only once each. To me, it is still a three team race at this point, with MSU in front.
Chris Kay - Agreed Tim. Ohio State is most likely out of the race while Wisconsin, MSU, and Iowa are the top 3. Iowa could win the B1G, but if that were to happen they'd most likely be a 1 or 2 seed, that's how good they'd have to play. Certainly possible with the way they performed in Columbus, but I think it's more likely that the Badgers or Spartans take the season title.
Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit) - Despite my desire to write Ohio State off right now, I just don't feel 100% confident in doing so. It's certainly a long shot with two losses already and a significantly tougher remaining schedule than teams like Wisconsin, but Thad Matta has surprised us before and until OSU drops another one, I'm still giving them a chance. Wisconsin clearly has the easiest route and MSU could be the best team in the conference. Also, Michigan has an outside chance too considering they are still unbeaten. Right now, I would slate Iowa as 3rd in terms of winning the Big Ten title. Odds are they won't get there, but I would be amazed if they were more than 2 games back at the end of the year.
Jason Dorow (@jasondorow) - Iowa has a better shot at the B1G title than most people think. After Ohio State's loss to Minnesota, the Buckeyes are basically out of the running. Michigan State is definitely the favorite. They have had to fight some close battles, but when Payne is healthy, they are the most talented and complete team in the conference. Wisconsin has the slightest of edges on Iowa only because of the easy schedule. Iowa has so many bodies that they can control the paint against any Big Ten foe. The Hawkeyes lead the B1G in scoring and rebounding while the Badgers find themselves in the bottom half in both those categories. Iowa is overall a better team than Wisconsin. If Michigan State gets in more injury trouble, there's a good chance Iowa tangles with the Badgers for the Big Ten title.
Aaron Yorke (@apy5000) - Not good, although at least the Hawkeyes still control their own destiny. There still have two games left with Michigan State, two against Michigan, and they play Ohio State again. Plus, Iowa only plays Penn State and Purdue one time each the rest of the way. From a talent perspective, Iowa is close to where it needs to be to win the Big Ten crown, but I don't see them having enough to get by MSU and Wisconsin when you consider the brutal schedule.
Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5) - I don't like Iowa's chances to win the B1G this year. Like Aaron notes, Iowa is talented enough to win the B1G but their schedule is ruthless. That being said, they'll probably finish no lower than third.
2. Without Adreian Payne in the lineup, where does Michigan State rank in the conference?
Tim Beck - MSU is great with Adreian Payne in the lineup, but lacks that dominate big man without him. I think we will learn the most about MSU when they travel to Champaign on Saturday. If they are healthy when they are at home against Michigan and then when they travel to Iowa they should still be very much in the lead for the B1G Title.
Thomas Beindit - I have been saying this all year and I will continue now. MSU's top four guys are great. In fact, they're probably the best in the nation. However, outside of those four guys, MSU isn't all that great. This may sound like an odd statement considering almost every team has a drop-off from their best players to their bench guys, but it's particularly unusual in this situation. I can't recall ever seeing a team that had a top four this good and the gap beyond them so large. MSU has big men like Costello that can come in, but they aren't even close to the same team without him. If they want to beat the good Big Ten teams, he needs to be there.
Jason Dorow - Thomas hit it right on the head. No one else on Michigan State can match what Adreian Payne brings to this team. Not only is he big and athletic, but he stretches the floor with his mid range jump shot. Alex Gauna and Matt Costello are no scoring threat and should not even be compared to Payne. Without Payne, MSU will struggle with Amir Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Elliot Eliason, and Iowa's plethora of big men. The Spartans are probably fourth or fifth in the conference without Payne. Luckily for Tom Izzo, their big man should return soon.
Aaron Yorke - Even without Payne, I still see MSU as a top-three team in the conference along with Wisconsin and Iowa. While Branden Dawson can't stretch the floor the way Payne can with his jumper, he does a lot to offset some of the interior rebounding and defense that the Spartans will be missing with Payne on the sidelines. Add to that the ability of Keith Appling to create for both others and himself, as well as the dynamic playmaking of Gary Harris, and MSU still has plenty of talent on hand to take on the Big Ten's top teams.
Drew Hamm - Adreian Payne is a player who terrifies me as a fan of a team that isn't Michigan State. He's tall, and athletic, and can shoot, and has gotten better every year at MSU, and I hate him. There aren't many players in the country, let alone the conference, who can guard him and he's an extremely important player to the Spartans. Luckily for MSU, they have Keith Appling and Gary Harris to take the reins until Payne returns. The schedule also isn't terrible for MSU in the next week (at Illinois and home against IU and Michigan before their January 28th showdown at Iowa). But to answer the question, MSU is probably the third best team in the conference this year without Payne.
3. Indiana's upset of Wisconsin: Hoosiers legit? Badgers Overrated? Or was it a fluke?
Tim Beck - Hoosiers are far from legit, IMO. They are sporadic at best. Badgers may be a tad overrated, but that game was on the road in a hostile environment, at night, and Yogi Ferrell played out of his mind.
Thomas Beindit - Well, this question depends a lot on your view. Some people may have been amazed by the win, but Indiana has been knocking at the door of big wins all year. Indiana may not be a Big Ten title contender, but they certainly are a team that can make the tournament. Plus, we all know about their home court advantage. On the other side, I'm not writing off Wisconsin. Maybe they aren't quite as great as some claim (easily could have lost to Iowa), but losing a road game like this is nothing to cause embarrassment. Both teams have quality guys and I'm willing to bet Wisconsin strikes back in the second matchup.
Jason Dorow - This game really did not change much in mind. Wisconsin's weaknesses were revealed when they were outplayed by Iowa, and it's definitely difficult to go on the road and win at Assembly Hall. Indiana is a team that is bound to get hot every now and then with Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh in the lineup. What this game really proved is the depth of Big Ten basketball. Indiana was widely considered 8th or 9th in the conference going in, and Wisconsin was only a three point favorite. Every team in the conference can compete, and no one is going to get a free win for the rest of the season.
Aaron Yorke - I've thought of Indiana as an NCAA Tournament team since November, and the win over Wisconsin should help the Hoosiers get there. Like the struggling Buckeyes, Indiana has had issues on offense this season, as the team doesn't have many reliable scorers outside of Yogi Ferrell. against the Badgers, IU was surprisingly potent on offense thanks to contributions from Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson. With a great point guard in Ferrell and a stout center in Noah Vonleh, I expect the Hoosiers to find enough scoring from the rest of their roster to earn an NCAA bid.
Drew Hamm - The answers to this multi-part question are: kind of, kind of, and no. Indiana is a fringe tourney team, but another win like this (perhaps on Jan. 21st against MSU) would put them squarely in the conversation to receive a bid to the Big Dance. Wisconsin is a very good team this year. Are they the third best team in the country? No, they are not. BUT! They are good enough to win the conference this year and are the best team that Bo Ryan has fielded in his tenure at UW. The result of this game was not a fluke. Indiana is tough at home, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes had subpar games for the Badgers, and Wisconsin somehow only shot four free throws all game.
4. Bottom dwellers: Which team will finish last in the conference?
Tim Beck - This is increasingly becoming an interesting argument: who is the worst team in the B1G? Penn State and Nebraska are yet to win. For me, they are hard to pick as the worst because of one thing: the eye test. Penn State has been awfully close in most of their games: they lead MSU at the half, and lost by just 3 to Indiana and Minnesota. Nebraska had Michigan on the ropes, hung tough with Iowa and Purdue. Then there is Northwestern, who beat Illinois. To me, it seems that the gaps from the top to the middle and the middle to the bottom is much smaller than in years past. If I had to pick a team as the one that will finish last, I would go with the team that has a win already, Northwestern.
Thomas Beindit - First, let's assess the "bottom" of the conference. This is arguably three teams: Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State. Purdue and Illinois could arguably be equated in there, but Illinois already has a few wins and with Purdue's win over Illinois, there is some separation between those two and the others. Of those three, it has to be Northwestern. Sure, they are the only one with a win, but don't forget the competitiveness shown by Nebraska and Penn State. They have been in almost every game this year and once they start getting some wins, watch out. Northwestern is still just too flawed to start coming away with a bunch of wins.
Jason Dorow - Going into conference play, Northwestern seemed destined for last place. After getting the upset over Illinois and competing with Michigan State for a half, there is some hope in Evanston. Still, the Wildcats are the favorite to finish in the cellar. Nebraska and Penn State are playing very close games, sometimes on the road too. The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions should get some wins soon. My prediction is Northwestern finishes with three conference wins while Nebraska and Penn State each get four.
Aaron Yorke - The answer to this is still Northwestern. While the Wildcats do have a win over Illinois this season, both Penn State and Nebraska have been agonizingly close to nabbing victories that would have been more impressive. That may seem like a bit of a long jaunt into hypothetical land, but Illinois is a team that will seriously struggle when Rayvonte Rice is not playing well. The Huskers and Lions both still have a chance to match NU's home win over the Illini, and I think both teams match up favorably against the Cats head-to-head.
Drew Hamm - I'd like to say a team that isn't Northwestern, but I'd be lying if I did. Northwestern is the worst team in the conference and will finish last in the B1G this year. Although, with two of their last three games against Nebraska and Penn State a triple threat match for last place could be in play. Despite Northwestern owning the only victory amongst the three teams, PSU and Nebraska have both looked better in games against higher quality opponents this year. Ugh, this is depressing. Let's talk about Ohio State losing some more, shall we?
5. What's happening to Ohio State?
Aaron Yorke - Ohio State's offense isn't good enough to cover for recent deficiencies in the team's defense. Against Minnesota, the Bucks allowed the Gophers to shoot 51 percent from the field, but the only OSU player who seemed interested in scoring was LaQuinton Ross. He scored 22 points while his teammates combined to score just 31. Production from non-Ross players was also an issue in the loss to Iowa. Another factor is that opponents are discovering that Aaron Craft is a lot less scary on offense than he is on defense. The senior point guard has turned the ball over 15 times during OSU's three-game skid after recording zero turnovers in the team's first two conference games.
Drew Hamm - It will be tough for Ohio State to finish in the top-3 of the Big Ten when their most important player, Aaron Craft, isn't a threat shooting the ball. If he continues to turn the ball over at the alarming rate he has during their three game losing streak, he becomes a one-dimensional player. OSU's adjD on KenPom is #2 in the country, but their adjO is #96. Despite the elite defense, a one-dimensional team won't be able to make it very far in conference play. Aaron Craft is a metaphor for the team as a whole! I just figured it out, you guys.