Monday, February 13, 2006

Monday Afternoon Point Guard...

Still only two, but ... Even though home teams managed only a 6-4 record last week (not including NU's win over IPFW) and are now 40-19 overall, things aren't easy on the road or at home these days. True, there were no major upsets by road teams (two of the four home losses were by Penn State) but Iowa did beat Indiana to snap the Hoosiers' 13-game league home win streak and it seems as if only the best will be safe at home. Only Michigan State and Iowa remain unbeaten at home so now it's looking more and more like the team that can keep winning the toughies on the road will be your champ.

Upset of the week ... Courtesy of the Penn State shocker over Illinois last week, I'll now reward an upset of the week. Thing is, three "lower-tier" teams got big wins over title contenders. Last place Minnesota put a smack down on a sluggish Michigan State squad and has painted them in a win out or else corner. Purdue beat Michigan, at least a mild upset although the maize and blue are suddenly very beaten and battered on the injury front. Northwestern got into the act as well, with a come from behind win over Iowa. The biggest of the three, however, was the Golden Gophers' win. MSU fans (I'm one of them) had this "W" in ink. Shame on us and kudos to the maroon and gold on the upset of the week.

Team of the week ... Has to be Ohio State. Just a half game out of first place, the Buckeyes took to the road and beat a good Michigan team and then rode that hot three point shooting to a sizeable win over Illinois. Ohio State controls its own destiny. Win out and do no worse than tie for the title with Iowa.

Conference race clarity ... Things appear to be getting a little clearer at the top these days. Michigan and Indiana are all but mathematically eliminated from the race. Five losses may get you into a four way tie for the title, but that means both teams need to win out. Not going to happen. That leaves Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State.

Iowa has a tough row to hoe, with Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin at home and grueling roadies at Minnesota and Illinois.

Ohio State has three easy home games (Northwestern, Michigan and Purdue) and two, make it three (because Welsh-Ryan is no picnic) road games left - Wisconsin, Michigan State and Northwestern.

Wisconsin has two big home games with Ohio State and suddenly hot Minnesota, and three scary road trips to Evanston, East Lansing and Iowa City.

Illinois gets Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa at home and travels to the three "Ms" - Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota.

Michigan State goes to Iowa and Indiana, and has four home dates left - Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Since the Spartans play all of the main contenders the rest of the way, they are truly the team with destiny in their hands. Win out and it is a solo title. But that won't be easy and won't even likely happen. Ohio State and Iowa have a leg up on the other three with one less loss. However, both have two tough road games apiece. Basically, I really don't have a clue who will win this, though it does seem clearer with five teams in the running versus seven. I guess if I had a gun to my head, I'd say we're probably looking at Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State atop the conference at 11-5 when all is said and done.

This week's Game of the Week ... Iowa and Michigan State is almost an elimination game for Michigan State, even though they could win a share with five losses. That and the beat down that State put on Iowa in East Lansing makes this the game to watch. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Iowa at Minnesota, Michigan at Michigan State and Indiana at Illinois are close behind.

Where do they rank? I'd put the following teams in my Top 25: Iowa (10), Illinois (12), Ohio State (18), Michigan State (20), and Wisconsin (25).

How it will go down ... After this week, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois will be tied with four losses apiece, and Michigan State will be right there with five. Michigan and Indiana will be two games out.

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