Entering 2013, Northwestern was coming off a 10-win season that saw the program win its first bowl game since the 1948 season, ending a nine-game postseason losing skid. But the Wildcats are ready to turn the page on a 2013 season that opened with great promise but morphed into a season to forget.
Brady Hoke is set to begin his fourth spring in Ann Arbor. And, make no mistake about it: There is a sense of urgency.
There isn’t a marquee matchup this week, but there are some interesting subplots to follow as we hit the homestretch of the season. Among them: Iowa. The Hawkeyes will play three games this week, traveling to Minnesota and Indiana while playing host to Purdue. That’s three games in five days. How will the Hawkeyes respond to this grueling run?
The Big Ten is Michigan’s to lose after that big win on Sunday vs. Michigan State. I mean, look at the rest of the Wolverines’ schedule: at Purdue; Minnesota; at Illinois; Indiana. See what I mean? The victory put Michigan is a good spot to at least share the league crown, as long as it wins three of its last four. But I’m sure the Wolverines would like to win out and claim the school’s first out-right league crown since 1986.
There is a movement afoot to unionize Northwestern football players, with on-going hearings taking place on the subject in Chicago.
If it’s Friday, it’s time for my survey. This week, I asked Big Ten media members who is the best dunker in the conference. A guy from Ohio State was a popular choice.
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.
If there is a theme to this Big Ten season, it would be “expect the unexpected.” Down is up … up is down … in is out … out is in. You get the idea. Each week is like a roller-coaster, as upsets seemingly have become the norm. Heck, we even had one last night, with last-place Illinois winning at Minnesota.
Gonna reach into my mailbag. Let’s start with my survey of Big Ten writers from last week in which I asked them what they thought was the most intimidating home-court edge in the Big Ten. The consensus among the writers I polled said Michigan State’s Breslin Center was the most intimidating.
The Big Ten features many dynamic newcomers who have had a profound impact on the conference this season. Indiana’s Noah Vonleh, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway and Michigan’s Derrick Walton, Jr., among others. Minnesota’s DeAndre Mathieu also belongs in the conversation.
It’s a great debate across the Midwest, stretching from Lincoln over to State College and up to Minneapolis and down to Bloomington: Is the Big Ten the best league in the nation? You can make a case for and against the notion, but the topsy-turvy nature of the season has been crazy. Get this: Since Jan. 25, road teams have won 22 of 40 games. And of the six games played last Saturday or Sunday, the visitor won five.
I long for the days when every Big Ten school played twice every season. It was a symmetrical schedule that crowned a true champ in a neat and tidy 18-game league schedule. The only thing missing was a bow on top.
Despite their missteps on Sunday, Michigan and Michigan State remain atop the Big Ten. But keep an eye on third-place Iowa, which begins a big week tonight with a trip to Indiana. Iowa is just a game behind the front-running Wolverines and Spartans. To have any shot to stake a claim of the crown, the Hawkeyes must win this game vs. the slumbering Hoosiers. That would set up a big visit to Iowa City by Wisconsin over the weekend. This is gonna be a fun ending to the regular-season.
The spotlight this week swings on Ann Arbor, where Michigan will play host to Michigan State in a battle between Big Ten front-runners this weekend. Each squad is 10-3 in league action. Wisconsin and Iowa are right behind the Wolverines and Spartans. And, ironically, the Badgers and Hawkeyes meet in a big game in Iowa City this week.
B.J. Armstrong never did it. Neither did Acie Earl, Ed Horton, Les Jepsen, Dean Oliver, Reggie Evans, Ryan Bowen, Kevin Gamble or Andre Woolridge, among other former Iowa greats over the last 35 years. Not one of those studs won a Big Ten regular-season championship.
By all accounts, this week lacks much pizzazz. The one saving grace: The menu features what looks to be a de facto Big Ten championship game on Sunday, with Michigan State visiting Michigan. Both teams are coming off home losses Sunday – outcomes that have opened up the Big Ten title race. As a result, Iowa is one loss behind the co-leaders and has a big week.
Michigan and Michigan State had been immune to most of the zaniness that has come to define this Big Ten season. But all that ended on Sunday for the league’s first-place teams.
There is no greater asset to a team than a good homecourt advantage. And, there are several intimidating venues in the Big Ten. I polled seven writers who cover the league and asked them what they thought was the most intimidating Big Ten arena.
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It’s Friday, which means it’s time for Three-Pointers, a chance to take the temperature of the Big Ten in several different areas. It’s a good time to be John Beilein and Michigan. Conversely, it’s not such a good time to be Tom Crean and Indiana.
Something strange happened last night: There was no chaos in the Big Ten. No upsets. No unranked teams winning on the road vs. ranked teams. And, as you know, that’s not normal. So, instead of zaniness, we got a dose of predictable outcomes: Michigan State whipped Northwestern in East Lansing, and Wisconsin took care of business in the Kohl Center vs. Minnesota.
Most of us can agree with the notion that five Big Ten schools appear headed for the NCAA tourney: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. And there is one school that’s seemingly on the fringe: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers can spruce up their resume with a win tonight at Wisconsin. And, let’s be honest: Minnesota’s resume needs some polishing.
Indiana’s strange and bizarre season took another unexpected and maddening turn last night with a home loss to last-place Penn State. How can this IU team beat top-10 squads like Wisconsin and Michigan in Bloomington, and then lose to the likes of the Nittany Lions and Northwestern at home? It’s safe to say, panic has set in for Indiana.