The Big Ten had two games on Wednesday night and both had some surprising twists and turns. Penn State went on the road and beat Michigan in the early game and Iowa was able to hold off a really hot Rutgers team in the late game.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes 85, No. 24 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 80
This one looked good on paper and absolutely lived up to the hype. Both teams entered the game playing well and it was easy to see why. The teams were lights out during the course of the matchup and battled back and forth all night. Thanks in large part to 28 points and 13 rebounds from Luka Garza, Iowa was able to grab an 85-80 win.
For Iowa, this win continues the team’s recent success. The Hawkeyes have now won four in a row, including three against ranked teams and have been great sign January started. Iowa sits at 14-5 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten play, and is up to 14th nationally on KenPom. By any measure, Iowa looks like a legitimate Big Ten contender and seems on pace to get a great seed in March. We’ll see if the team can keep things up next Monday at home against Wisconsin.
On the other side, Rutgers suffered just its second loss since early December. Still, it was hard not to be impressed with how the Scarlet Knights played. The team shared the ball, played decent defense against an outstanding offensive team, and barely came up short on the road against a ranked team. The Scarlet Knights sit at 14-5 coming out of the game and will prepare for a winnable game against Nebraska at home on Saturday.
-Penn State Nittany Lions 72, Michigan Wolverines 63
For the first time since February of 2010, Penn State went into Ann Arbor and walked out with a victory. And while this year’s Michigan team probably isn’t as strong as some of the ones Penn State faced in recent years, it was still quite a feat for Penn State. The win pushed the team to 14-5 overall and to 4-4 in league play. Penn State will now get a week off before facing Indiana at home next Wednesday.
Unfortunately for Michigan, it’s probably time to start worrying about where this thing’s headed. After a ridiculous 7-0 start to the season that included four wins over quality opponents, Michigan is in an absolute free fall. The Wolverines have lost three straight and 7 of 11 after Wednesday night’s loss to Penn State. It’s also frustrating to say, but Michigan’s only beaten one quality opponent (Purdue) in nearly seven weeks.
By any stretch, it’s not looking pretty in Ann Arbor.
And while some of the losses are excusable (road losses to Louisville and MSU), recent losses to teams like Minnesota and Penn State don’t look great. That isn’t to say the Gophers and Nittany Lions are bad teams. But Michigan’s rated above Minnesota on KenPom and played Penn State in Ann Arbor. Those are games the Wolverines had more than a fair shot at winning.
Calling anything a “must win” in January is absurd, but Michigan’s upcoming stretch certainly has that feeling. The Wolverines get Illinois at home on Saturday before traveling to face Nebraska on Tuesday and Rutgers in New York City the following week. If Michigan drops more than one of those games, it’s probably time to start wondering whether this team will even make the Big Dance at season’s end.