Review & Preview: Badgers, Huskers riding streaks

If you haven’t already made an appointment for the psychiatrist’s couch, do so. The craziness that is 2014 Big Ten basketball continues with plenty more to come. Keep that straightjacket handy.

Here’s my weekly look back at what we just witnessed—with a peek ahead.

THREE STOCKS TO BUY

1. Wisconsin. The Badgers started 16-0, then lost five of six games. To say that self-doubt crept into the mind of Bucky is an understatement. But since that funk, Wisconsin has won four in a row, including triumphs over the likes of Michigan State (home) and Michigan (away). Welcome back, Bucky!

2. Nebraska. I never thought “Nebrasketball” would be cool and hip. But, it’s cool and hip. At least for the moment. The Cornhuskers have won four in a row and six of seven games to push their Big Ten to 7-6. And, it’s not crazy to envision Nebraska winning out to finish 12-6 in league play. Really.

3. Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost back-to-back games all season but did have a 3-3 stretch that caused some consternation and doubt. Iowa has won two in a row and is just a game off the pace for the league lead with some huge games around the bend.

THREE STOCKS TO SELL

Big Ten Standings (through 2/21)
Conference Overall
W-L W-L
Michigan State 11-3 22-5
Michigan 10-3 18-7
Iowa 8-4 19-6
Wisconsin 8-5 21-5
Ohio State 8-6 21-6
Nebraska 7-6 15-10
Minnesota 6-8 17-10
Purdue 5-8 15-11
Northwestern 5-9 12-15
Indiana 4-8 14-11
Illinois 4-10 15-12
Penn State 4-10 13-14
View Full Standings

1. Northwestern. Remember when the Wildcats were a darling? When NU won four of five games with wins on the road at Indiana, at Wisconsin and at Minnesota? Ancient history. Since that spurt, the Wildcats have dropped four in a row. Will NU win another game?

2. Indiana. The Hoosiers are fighting to remain relevant for any postseason tourney. Good luck with that. IU is on a three-game losing skid and is 2-6 in its last eight games. This team just can’t shoot, struggles in the half court and hands out turnovers like Halloween candy.

3. Minnesota. Yes, the Gophers are still in most pundits NCAA fields—but barely. Minnesota is fading, going 2-5 in its last seven games. The home loss to Illinois was devastating. The Gophers are 6-8 in the Big Ten and may have to get to at least eight conference victories to earn a bid to the Big Dance. And that may be difficult to do with games left at Ohio State, vs. Iowa, at Michigan and vs. Penn State.

THREE THINGS I LEARNED

1. Nebraska has a good chance to win out. The Cornhuskers are 7-6 in conference play. The remaining games: Purdue; at Illinois; Northwestern; at Indiana; Wisconsin. See what I mean.

2. Minnesota’s NCAA dreams are hanging by a thread. The home loss to last-place Illinois was brutal. Forty-nine points? Really? The not-so-Golden Gophers are 2-5 in their last seven games. And games are left at Ohio State, vs. Iowa, at Michigan, vs. Penn State.

3. I have a pretty good idea of the pecking order of the top six teams in the Big Ten. The bottom six? No idea. Minnesota? Purdue? Northwestern? Indiana? Penn State? Illinois? They all largely look the same—and often play the same. Are they kinda good? Kinda bad? What’s the worst of the bunch? The best? Please, someone help me.

THREE IMPRESSIVE WINS

1. Nebraska 60, Michigan State 51

The Huskers arrived in East Lansing with some mojo. But were they ready for what they’d encounter in a hostile environment vs. the No. 9 club in America? Nebraska took control early and never let up vs. the first-place team in the Big Ten, as MSU shot just 34 percent. The Huskers’ improbable push to the NCAA bubble continues, as the program searches for its first NCAA bid since 1998.

2. Wisconsin 75, Michigan 62

The Badgers brought a No. 21 ranking to Ann Arbor to face the No. 15 Wolverines. Wisconsin took control right from the start and never looked back, fueled by 25 points and 11 rebounds by Frank Kaminsky. Defense hasn’t been a strength for the Wolverines all season.

3. Illinois 62, Minnesota 49

The Fighting Illini were fueled by a great defensive effort, as the Golden Gophers hit just 37 percent of their shots in losing at home to a last-place Illinois team. Illinois may have found something in freshman Kendrick Nunn. Don’t look now, but the Illini still have some postseason dreams if it can finish with a flurry vs. a schedule that features Nebraska; at Michigan State; Michigan; at Iowa.

THREE GAMES TO LOOK FORWARD TO

1. Michigan State at Michigan, Sun., Feb. 23. It doesn’t get much better than this, as the Big Ten’s first-place teams clash with the top spot on the line in a de facto title game of sort. The winner, of course, will be in prime position to win the championship. The Wolverines won in East Lansing, 80-75, earlier this season. So many good matchups in this one. Oh, and did I mention that these teams aren’t fond of each other? John Beilein may have flipped this rivalry in his favor.

2. Wisconsin at Iowa, Sat., Feb. 22. Two of the hottest clubs in the Big Ten will square off. Iowa has won three of four, while Wisconsin has won four in a row. Each team is still chasing Michigan and Michigan State, as the Hawkeyes are a game behind and the Badgers are two games off the pace. Each team is skilled on the offensive end, so this could be a fun one to watch. The Badgers beat the Hawkeyes, 75-71, earlier this season in Madison.

3. Iowa at Minnesota, Tues., Feb. 25. The Hawkeyes are jockeying for their first Big Ten title since 1978-79. The Golden Gophers are squarely on the NCAA bubble, especially after a confounding home loss to Illinois on Wednesday. Iowa beat Minnesota, 94-73, earlier this season in Iowa City.

***

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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