The first half of the Big Ten’s men’s basketball season can be summed up this way:
Iowa won at third-ranked Ohio State on Jan. 12. The Buckeyes are now 4-5 in the conference. And every bit as dangerous as they were three weeks ago.
Few rules seem to apply in this league so far this winter. Yes, Michigan State is still Michigan State. But even the mighty Spartans were beaten by 11-9 Georgetown in New York Saturday, the same day Northwestern won a third-straight Big Ten road game for the first time in 54 years.
Home-court advantage? Like Alex Rodriguez, it’s taking 2014 off.
Of the 10 Big Ten games between last Tuesday and Sunday, underdogs won six. Double-digit underdogs won three. Northwestern won two on the road. Penn State won two, including one at Ohio State.
So the second half of league play starts for OSU and Iowa Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. If you thought the Buckeyes were a bumbling bunch ripe for the picking in Carver, your opinion had to be altered Saturday when they pulled out a 59-58 win at Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes played with spirit and hunger. The look on Ohio State Coach Thad Matta’s face after the final horn was one of someone who just got a reprieve from the governor.
That game, by the way, marked Wisconsin’s first 3-game home losing streak in Bo Ryan’s 13 seasons as coach. One of those defeats was Northwestern’s first win at Wisconsin since 1996.
Wisconsin was ranked fourth when it beat Iowa in Madison on Jan. 5. Now, the Badgers are 24th in the USA TODAY coaches’ poll and the Buckeyes are 25th. Neither are ranked by Associated Press.
Every week is a big week in league play, but this is a big, big week for Iowa. Besides Ohio State Tuesday, it hosts Michigan Saturday afternoon. If the Hawkeyes sweep, they will be 8-3 and would have taken league co-leader Michigan down a peg.
Iowa probably will be favored to win both games, but that’s just Las Vegas gibberish. Road teams are 23-31 in the league, 42.6 percent. Last season, they were 39-69 for 36.1 percent.
Iowa was 2-7 on the road in the conference a season ago. It’s 3-2 this year. Michigan is 4-1 away from home in the league. Michigan State is 5-0.
Northwestern, crushed twice by Iowa, won at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota as underdogs by 13, 17 and 10.5 points, respectively. There’s a word for that. It’s called insanity.
Iowa, as you surely recall, was favored to beat Michigan State at home a week ago. That didn’t happen. MSU then went to Madison Square Garden to play Georgetown as an 8-point favorite, and lost.
Mike Tirico, who will call tonight’s OSU-Iowa game for ESPN, nailed it with this comment to The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman:
“Every night you have no idea who’s going to win those games. That’s when the league is, to me, really good. There’s not a bunch of national championship/Final Four teams right now, but I love the fact that every night you have no idea who’s going to win a game.”
Every Big Ten win is golden this season. Every one.