Big Ten links: Experts weigh in on Big Ten race

Humbled. Embarrassed. Can you think of any other words to describe No. 4 Michigan after it was shellacked at No. 8 Michigan State 75-52 last night? Credit the mighty Spartans, who looked like a No. 1 team in the nation last night. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal notes: The Spartans put it all together at the perfect time. Yes, that sounds about right.

No doubt, Michigan State looked like a championship team last night, hitting on all cylinders in what arguably was its best effort of the season. The Final Four in Atlanta looks like a real possibility if the Spartans play like this. For the Wolverines, it may be time to panic. The loss puts them two games off the pace in the Big Ten behind the Spartans. A Big Ten title? A No. 1 seed? They both may be in doubt.

Nick Baumgardner of Mlive.com notes that the loss was easily Michigan’s worst of the season, and its most lopsided defeat since a 23-point loss against Purdue in 2010-11. The loss also marks the first regular-season two-game skid since 2011 for the Wolverines. Want more? The 23-point margin for Michigan State marked the most lopsided win in the series since MSU scored a 71-44 win in 2002.

Terry Hutchens wonders which team holds the inside track to the Big Ten title.

Hutch thinks a 14-4 record will win the league. And I agree. Michigan State and Indiana are right there, primed to pounce on the title. But don’t forget about Wisconsin. In fact, if the Badgers beat Minnesota on Thursday in Williams Arena, they would have a great shot to finish 14-4 and win the title. Really.

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Big Ten Standings
Conference Overall
W-L W-L
Michigan State 10-2 21-4
Indiana 9-2 21-3
Wisconsin 8-3 17-7
Michigan 8-4 21-4
Ohio State 7-4 17-6
Minnesota 5-6 17-7
Purdue 5-6 12-12
Illinois 4-7 17-8
Iowa 4-7 15-9
Northwestern 4-7 13-11
Nebraska 3-8 12-12
Penn State 0-11 8-15
View Full Standings

Count ESPN.com’s Jason King among those who are impressed with Indiana. In fact, he thinks the Hoosiers are the best team in the Big Ten. King has a good point. But, golly, if Michigan State plays like it did last night, the Spartans may take that honor. Regardless, IU and MSU meet in East Lansing next Tuesday. How great is that gonna be? By the way: Michigan State lost at Indiana earlier this season, 75-70.

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And count Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette among those who are impressed with Illinois’ resilience.

The Fighting Illini have come a long way since those ugly back-to-back losses at Wisconsin and vs. Northwestern on January 12 and 17, respectively—the nadir of the team’s struggles this season. Since the calendar has turned to February, Illinois’ fortunes have improved, as the team has gone 2-1.

Up next: A visit from Purdue tonight, as the Illini look to end an eight-game skid vs. the Boilermakers. That NCAA bid is looking like more of sure thing with each passing day. And you thought this season was gonna end like last season for Illinois. Silly you.

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In case you missed it, no Big Ten team has made more strides on defense in the past year than Iowa. And, that’s why the Hawkeyes still have NCAA tourney hopes. They are faint, but there is a pulse.

Scott Dochterman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette notes that the Hawkeyes (15-9, 4-7 Big Ten) have allowed eight fewer points per game this year than last, by far the league’s greatest point drop. Through 24 games, Iowa now allows 63.9 points per game, down from 72 a contest over the same span last year.

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Minnesota has lost six of eight games, fading into the Big Ten pack and clouding its postseason picture. What’s wrong with Tubby Smith’s crew? Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tries to explain in this video.

One of the issues: Is Trevor Mbakwe getting the ball enough? Rayno did some research on the topic. And the results may surprise you.

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Do you think Wisconsin freshman Sam Dekker needs more playing time? John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus thinks so. In fact, he calls Dekker one of the most underutilized players in the nation. Fascinating.

The gist here: The Badgers struggle to score; and Dekker is a good scorer for this perimeter-oriented team. Feed the kid some more PT, Bo. Your offensively-challenged team needs points.

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Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio don’t hate each other. Rather, they seem chummy in this video from last night at the Michigan-Michigan State game.

In fact, they look like the kind of guys who would meet for a $4 cup of coffee and $2 scone at Starbucks.

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New Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop is settling in to his new gig. And he has a goal: Shoop wants to get physical. Get the low-down on the new Boilermakers play caller in his Q-A by Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal Courier.

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Want more on your 2013 recruiting class, Badgers fans? Check out this Q&A by Dave Heller of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with recruiting pioneer/deity Tom Lemming. Not to be a buzz kill, but Lemming gives Wisconsin an ‘A’ for effort and a ‘B’ for results.

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Speaking of recruiting, they already are making plans on how to approach it for the 2014 class at Penn State. The goal: To look toward Ohio, New England and the Deep South.

Audrey Snyder of Pennlive.com says that with 13 of the 17 players signed in 2013 being from within comfortable driving distance of Penn State, Bill O’Brien recognizes the need to try and expand the recruiting territory. The top priority of expansion is the football rich state of Ohio, where O’Brien and his staff will recruit against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Good luck with that.

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TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: A possible national championship game preview, perhaps?

My take: And therein lays Michigan’s problem last night—or, at least one of them.

My take: I think that somebody has to be Trey Burke, right? Or Tim Hardaway, Jr.

My take: Sounds about right.

My take: Yes, more night games are coming. Is that good? I don’t think so. Give me football in sunshine.

My take: This quite frankly is amazing.

My take: And they meet next Tuesday in East Lansing. I can’t wait.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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