Week in review: Badgers continue to impress

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for my weekly 3-pointers, which is my own look back and forward in the world of Big Ten hoops. What do we mean “wild?” Did you not see this shot, this ejection, and this OT thriller?

Here’s what we cover on this Friday: Three teams on the rise, three teams sinking, and three things I learned this week. We also cover my three most impressive wins from the past seven days and the three biggest games coming up in the next week.

Let’s do this.

Three Stocks to Buy

Minnesota. How ‘bout those Gophers? Minnesota is 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, coming off a nice road win at Penn State on Wednesday night. Richard Pitino’s debut is going better than expected. But the next four games will tell us a lot: at Michigan State; Ohio State; at Iowa; Wisconsin.

Wisconsin. The Badgers are 16-0, the best start in school annals. The continued development of Nigel Hayes is exciting to watch, as he gives the team an athletic dimension around the hoop typically not found in Madison. Next week’s game at Indiana could be a test. I said “could be.”

Michigan State. The 14-1 Spartans have battled through injury and illness to remain among the nation’s elite. You get the feeling Keith Appling and Adreian Payne won’t let this team have a disappointing season. How did this team squad lose to North Carolina earlier this season? Nonetheless, MSU has ripped off seven wins since.

[ TV & GAME INFO: Saturday’s game schedule | Sunday’s game schedule ]

Three Stocks to Sell

Big Ten Standings
Conference Overall
W-L W-L
Wisconsin 3-0 16-0
Michigan State 3-0 14-1
Michigan 3-0 11-4
Ohio State 2-1 15-1
Iowa 2-1 13-3
Illinois 2-1 13-3
Minnesota 2-1 13-3
Purdue 0-2 10-5
Indiana 0-2 10-5
Penn State 0-3 9-7
Nebraska 0-3 8-7
Northwestern 0-3 7-9
View Full Standings

Penn State. It’s not like the Nittany Lions’ stock ever was that high. But I really thought Penn State would be better than this and possible a dark-horse NCAA contender with players like Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor and Pitt transfer John Johnson. I guess when the Nittany Lions blew that lead at home to Princeton in December in the Rec Hall game, I should have known something wasn’t right. Now, PSU is 9-7 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten.

Illinois. The 95-70 pasting at Wisconsin was an eye-opener for a Fighting Illini team that typically prides itself on playing good defense. This game in Madison was an abomination. Maybe it was just one of those nights when, you know, when things just won’t click on any level. Maybe not. Let’s just judge Illinois on road games at places like Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa.

Northwestern. Look, if you were still holding Wildcats stock past, say, Nov. 1, you were being foolish. With each passing game, the rehab project for Chris Collins becomes more and more apparent. This team may not win another game.

Three Things I Learned This Week

There’s a chance Wisconsin may not lose more than one game this season. Heck, this team could have a shot to run the table. I’m serious. Look at the Badgers’ schedule and try to find a game in which they won’t be favored. The trip to Iowa on Feb. 22 may be the only one. Remember, Wisconsin doesn’t play at Michigan State or Ohio State.

Adreian Payne may be the best player in the Big Ten. The big fella put on a gutsy performance vs. Ohio State on Tuesday night. The senior fought through a right foot injury to notch 18 points, hitting a big 3-pointer late to help propel MSU to a monumental victory. Alas, he may not play this Saturday vs. Minnesota. Get better, big fella. If the Spartans are gonna be a Final Four team, Payne has to be 100 percent.

Fran McCaffery needs to cool his jets. The Iowa coach made headlines for all the wrong reasons with his double-T-ejection last Sunday at Wisconsin. He was suspended for a game as a result, and Iowa was fined. Earlier in his Iowa tenure, McCaffery had an infamous chair-slamming incident. I’d say McCaffery’s leash is about this long (I’m holding my thumb and index finger an inch apart.) What happens if Mount McCaffery erupts again?

Three Impressive Wins

Michigan State inexplicably blew a 17-point second half lead on Tuesday night at home to Ohio State, having to go into overtime to subdue the Buckeyes, 72-68. It was a roller coaster ride of adrenaline that had Spartans fans cheering, crying and cheering in a matter of minutes. Exhausting.

Wisconsin’s 95-70 demolition of Illinois on Wednesday night in Madison was through and impressive. The Badgers buried the Fighting Illini early, as they went on a 20-0 run while Illinois was missing 13 consecutive shots. Midway through the first half, Wisconsin led by 23. And this was a 2-0 Illini squad that had some mojo. Pffftttttttt.

Michigan continues to grind out wins with Mitch McGary out. The latest: a 71-70 victory at Nebraska on Thursday night. It was a great escape for the Wolverines, who also have won at Minnesota. Freshman point man Derrick Walton, Jr., hit a driving layup in the waning moments to claim the victory. You know the confidence of this team continues to rise with each passing victory sans the unicycle-riding McGary, who is out indefinitely with a back injury.

Three Games to Look Forward to

Iowa at Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 12: The Buckeyes are coming off their first loss of the season, falling in overtime at Michigan State on Tuesday after forging a dramatic comeback. Fran McCaffery will be back after serving a one-game suspension. This is the kind of road game the Hawkeyes need to win to show they’re legit. Iowa’s last true road win? March 27 at Virginia in the NIT.

Wisconsin at Indiana, Tuesday, Jan. 14: The Hoosiers are a shell of their former selves, a young team in search of consistency—and turnover-free basketball. IU lost its last home game, falling to Michigan State. Now, here comes maybe the best team in the league in unbeaten Wisconsin. I have a feeling the Hoosiers are gonna make this one close—even though it shouldn’t be.

Ohio State at Minnesota, Thursday, Jan. 16. Any trip to the venerable Barn is daunting, what with the raised court and raucous crowd. Richard Pitino has Minnesota overachieving and believing in itself. The guard play is pretty good, too. Michigan barely escaped Dinky Town earlier this season. The Buckeyes better be careful. This may come down to the last possession.

***

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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