All about the Big Ten: Parity rules

The Big Ten is the only conference nationally in which every team has at least two victories and two losses in league play.

Is that an example of the league’s depth or that the league lacks elite teams?

It looks as if it is a reflection of the league’s depth. The conference definitely has a lot of positives (all of the following stats are through Monday’s games).

• It’s No. 1 in conference RPI and the top conference in the Sagarin ratings.

Patrick Chambers and Penn State are part of a balanced Big Ten.

• It has three of the top four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

• It’s the only league in the nation with as many as four 16-win teams.

• It’s also the only conference with four teams that have three wins over teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. Ohio State’s three such wins all came over teams in the top 10. Every league team except Purdue has at least one win over a top-25 team. The Big Ten has a nation’s-best 80.2 nonconference winning percentage, including victories over the likes of Kentucky, Duke, Seton Hall, Florida, UNLV, Gonzaga, Memphis and Temple.

“There are a lot of good teams in this league,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said during the league’s teleconference Monday. “There are so many good coaches. There’s talent in this league.”

And, yes, Chambers also used the word “parity.” How else to explain some of the results:

Illinois beat Ohio State, which beat Penn State, which beat Illinois.

[Forde Minutes: It’s the year of the dragon in college hoops]

Michigan State beat Wisconsin, which beat Northwestern, which beat Michigan State.

Indiana beat Michigan, which beat Minnesota, which beat Indiana.

“I’m not sure what’s an upset, if there are upsets,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said Monday. “You’ve got a very balanced league. … Your main guys have got to play and be consistent if you’re going to have success, and you can’t have any off days.”

Home teams have enjoyed a lot of success in the past two weeks. From Jan. 10 through Monday night, home teams were 16-5 in league games. Holding serve at home is going to be vital for the top contenders.

“If somebody is ready to play and they’re hooked up and they have the talent, it’s going to be tough to beat them on their home court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Monday. “It just is in this league. You really have to be special when you go on the road, or the other team has to be down or something has to be going on within their program, an injury, things of that nature.”

This is the fifth season of an 18-game conference schedule, and in four of the previous five seasons, the league’s regular-season champ had three or fewer losses. In the other season, three teams tied at the top with a 14-4 league mark.

This season, seven of the league’s 12 teams currently are at least .500 in the league.

“It seems like when you look at the schedule down the road, it’s hard [to find] any games where you can just relax a little bit even,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday. “I think with the number of teams that are either 2-5 or 5-2 or 4-3, it seems like everybody’s close enough that they still have something to play for.”

After Monday night’s play, nine of the league’s 12 teams had RPIs of 49th or better (all but Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State, all of whom have at least one win over a team in the top 50; Iowa has three such victories). Given that an RPI of 50th is generally the cut-off point for an NCAA at-large bid, there is going to be a lot of jockeying going on in the final five weeks of the regular season.

Here’s a quick look at the contending teams and how many games they have left against teams in the RPI top 50: Illinois has nine, Indiana has eight, Michigan has eight, Michigan State has nine, Minnesota has eight, Ohio State has 10, Purdue has eight and Wisconsin has seven.

“The league, by far, is the best it’s been top to bottom, and I don’t think anybody wants to … look at [their schedule] and say. ‘We’ve got a win here,’ ” Izzo said Monday.

3 to watch

Indiana at Wisconsin, Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN2: Wisconsin looks to have righted itself, while the Hoosiers have been a bit wobbly of late. IU falls below .500 in league play with a loss. This is the teams’ only meeting this season. After this one, Wisconsin plays five of its next seven games on the road.

Illinois at Minnesota, Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network: Illinois is backsliding and Minnesota is coming on. The Golden Gophers have been much better on offense of late. This is the teams’ only meeting.

Michigan at Ohio State, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS: This will conclude a three-game road swing for the Wolverines, who had lost four of five on the road entering the week. The Buckeyes play Penn State on Wednesday, then finish the regular season with 10 consecutive games against teams that, right now, are harboring legit NCAA tournament hopes.

Who’s hot?

Wisconsin G Jordan Taylor: The Badgers have won four in a row and Taylor’s play is a big reason. During the winning streak, he has averaged 16.3 points, 4.0 assists and 0.8 turnovers. He is being aggressive with the ball, evidenced by his 38 free throw attempts in that span; he had attempted 37 free throws in the previous eight games.

Iowa F Zach McCabe: He has averaged 17.5 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 61.1 percent from the floor in the Hawkeyes’ past two games. McCabe, a sophomore, had a career-high 20 points in a loss to Purdue. For the season, he is averaging 8.1 points and shooting 50.4 percent.

Ohio State’s defense: The Buckeyes have won four of their past five, and their defense has led the way. Their opponents have averaged 54.8 points and shot 38.9 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from 3-point range during that span. Ohio State also has forced 19.8 turnovers per game during the stretch.

Who’s not?

Illinois: After sitting alone in first place in the league, the Illini dropped two in a row to fall into the middle of the pack. This isn’t a gifted offensive team anyway, but Illinois struggled from the field (39.4 percent, including 29.4 percent from 3-point range) in the losses.

Indiana G Jordan Hulls: Thankfully for the Hoosiers, Hulls is hitting his free throws. But he sure has gone cold from the field. Over the past four games, Hulls has averaged 12.5 points, which is a tad bit better than his season-long average of 12.4. But while he is shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 49.5 from 3-point range for the season, he shot 37.8 percent and 25.0 percent, respectively, in those four games. He also was 16-of-17 from the line in that span.

Nebraska G Toney McCray: He is struggling with his shot and with turnovers. In the past three games, McCray is just 9-of-28 from the floor (32.1 percent) and has committed nine turnovers (to just four assists). He didn’t attempt a free throw in any of the three games, either.

Good win last week

Wisconsin 67, Illinois 64: This was Wisconsin’s most impressive road win to date and the Badgers’ fourth victory in a row overall.

Bad loss last week

Nebraska 70, Indiana 69: IU coach Tom Crean had to be alarmed that his team surrendered 70 points to the punchless Huskers. This also was the Hoosiers’ third consecutive loss.

Numbers game

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is one win away from No. 400 in his career. Izzo (399-165) would become just the fourth coach in league history to win 400 games at a Big Ten school. The others: Indiana’s Bob Knight (661), Purdue’s Gene Keady (512) and Illinois’ Lou Henson (423). “What I’d be proudest about in the 400 wins [is] that we’ve done it in a decent period of time and, for the most part, we did it playing an incredibly demanding schedule just about every year, and it means there is some consistency in winning,” Izzo told reporters Monday.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012