Nebraska basketball has a shot to legitimize its place in the Big Ten basketball conference race on Monday night, a thought that would have seemed ludicrous after the Huskers lost to St. John’s and Central Florida back in November.
Nebraska is 5-3 in conference play entering its Monday night matchup against Ohio State at 8 p.m. ET on BTN. The Huskers just took down Michigan 72-52, easily their best win this season. This is Nebraska’s chance to top that, and to make some noise in the Big Ten. Ohio State is playing its third game in six days after a return trip from a game against Minnesota at Madison Square Garden, but the Buckeyes have been the Big Ten’s best surprise team. They’re 8-0 in conference play, and have a tournament bid practically wrapped up.
An NCAA Tournament bid is still a pipe dream for the Huskers, who also lost to Kansas State and Creighton in nonconference play, and Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State in the league. Nebraska is 67th in KenPom’s rankings and 63rd in RPI. Nebraska isn’t mentioned on ESPN’s latest bracketology. The Huskers aren’t in CBS‘s bracket either.
Ohio State is Nebraska’s final chance for a marquee win. The Huskers would probably need to go undefeated in the rest of Big Ten play and pick up a win over Michigan or Michigan State in the conference tournament to get back in the big dance. But in a conference that has few intriguing story lines beyond the top couple of teams, it’s nice to see a glimmer of hope in the middle.
OK, rankings time.
The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin and Iowa each by 20-plus points, and still hasn’t lost since Thanksgiving. Purdue’s getting some serious thought as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s warranted.
2. Michigan State
Michigan State looked more like the team we expected in a 28-point win over Indiana on Friday. The Spartans don’t seem to have any tough games the next two weeks, so Feb. 10 against Purdue can’t get here fast enough.
3. Ohio State
The Buckeyes played OK in a 71-65 win against Northwestern, then knocked around Minnesota in a 67-49 victory on Saturday.
The Wolverines lost to Nebraska, which isn’t the worst thing ever, but did so by 20 points. Every team in the Big Ten has to lose to an inferior team by at least 15 points this season, evidently. Michigan will be fine, though.
Maryland lost to Michigan in a complete heartbreaker, with Kevin Huerter splashing a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left only to see a last-second foul give the Wolverines the opportunity to win it at the foul line. The Terps also beat Minnesota, 77-66. Their ceiling might not be any higher than what we saw against Michigan, but that effort was still encouraging.
7. Penn State
After losses to Minnesota and Northwestern, Penn State basketball is headed downhill fast. The Nittany Lions take on Ohio State and Rutgers this week, so it has the potential to get worse.
A 28-point torching at the hands of Michigan State put an end to Indiana’s three-game winning streak. Next up is a real opportunity to get a win against Maryland at home on Monday night.
An overtime win over Penn State is Minnesota’s only victory in its last six games. Four of those five losses came by double-digits, too. The Gophers are sliding.
The Wildcats played Ohio State close enough in a 6-point loss and came from behind to beat Penn State by 9. Not a bad week, but still, we need to see more for Northwestern to move up.
The Badgers got bundled by Purdue, then came out on the better side of a 75-50 game against Illinois. I’ll call that a wash.
Rutgers beat Iowa last week, so it gets the nod over the Hawkeyes. Both teams had terrible nonconference performances and equally bad in-conference performances. Rutgers’ only Big Ten wins are over Wisconsin and Iowa, and Iowa’s only conference win is over Illinois.
Illinois is 0-7 in conference play and lost to a stumbling Wisconsin team 75-50. Yep.
Big Ten basketball game to watch this week
Michigan vs. Purdue, 7 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN.
See you back here next week.