With all of its key players returning from last year's Sweet 16 team, Purdue opened the 2009-10 season with a realistic goal of winning the Big Ten title.
But just two weeks into league play, those hopes seemed all but dashed after Northwestern handed the Boilermakers their third straight league loss on Jan. 16.
"We've definitely got to have a sense of urgency now," forward E'Twaun Moore said after that game, and teammates such as Robbie Hummel agreed.
"We're about to find out how tough we are," Hummel said.
Robbie Hummel is part of the Boilers big three.
The Boilermakers found out, all right – and the rest of the Big Ten did, too.
Wednesday's 60-57 victory at Ohio State marked the eighth straight win for surging Purdue, which hasn't lost since that dreadful streak back in mid-January. After spotting Michigan State a three-game lead in the Big Ten standings, the Boilermakers are now a half-game behind the Spartans in the race for the conference title.
Michigan State is 11-3 in league play and Purdue is 10-3. There's a strong chance the two teams will be playing for the Big Ten title when they meet on Feb. 28 in West Lafayette, although Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois are close behind with four losses each.
"This was a huge win for us," Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson told reporters after scoring 24 points in Wednesday's victory. "It puts us closer to our goal of winning the Big Ten championship."
The past few weeks of the regular season should be interesting, to say the least.
And now, on to our conference power rankings. Last week's rankings are in parentheses.
Seth Greenberg has the Hokies on the upswing.
1. Duke (22-4, 10-2) – Jon Scheyer missed 12 of his 15 field goal attempts in Wednesday's victory over Miami. (1)
2. Virginia Tech (21-4, 8-3) – Seth Greenberg for ACC Coach of the Year? (4)
3. Wake Forest (18-6, 8-4) – The Demon Deacons are better than some folks expected. (3)
4. Maryland (18-7, 8-3) – Wednesday's game against North Carolina State was the Terrapins' third in five days. (2)
5. Clemson (18-7, 6-5) – Three of the Tigers' final five games are on the road. (6)
6. Florida State (19-7, 7-5) – The Seminoles shot 50 percent from the field against Virginia on Wednesday. (7)
7. Georgia Tech (18-8, 6-6) – The Yellow Jackets have been a disappointment. (8)
8. Virginia (14-10, 5-6) – Sylven Landesberg had just four points in Wednesday's loss to Florida State. (5)
9. Boston College (12-13, 3-8) – The Eagles have lost four straight, but three of the setbacks were by seven points or less. (11)
10. North Carolina (14-12, 3-8) – The loss of Ed Davis is another kick to the gut in a miserable season. (9)
11. Miami (17-9, 3-9) – The Hurricanes squandered a 12-point halftime lead against Duke on Wednesday. (10)
12. North Carolina State (14-13, 2-10) – Sidney Lowe's recruits are defending him on message boards. (12)
Virginia Tech – The Hokies have won eight of their last nine games, but some analysts say they still haven't locked up an NCAA tournament bid because of their lack of quality victories. Luckily big games remain at Duke and Georgia Tech and at home against Maryland.
Virginia – It wasn't long ago that the Cavaliers appeared to have a realistic shot at earning an NCAA berth. But those hopes were all but squelched by three straight losses against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Maryland. That still shouldn't diminish an outstanding coaching effort by Tony Bennett in his first season.
THREE TO WATCH
Georgia Tech at Maryland – The Terrapins are 12-1 at home and Georgia Tech has been maddeningly inconsistent.
Virginia at Clemson – The Tigers can't afford to lose this one.
Virginia Tech at Duke – No matter how hot the Hokies are, they won't win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Could Scottie Reynolds win player of year?
1. Syracuse (24-2, 11-2) – Sunday's home loss to Louisville was a shocker. (1)
2. Villanova (22-3, 11-2) – Scottie Reynolds is a longshot player of the year candidate. (2)
3. West Virginia (20-5, 9-4) – Devin Ebanks had 21 points in Wednesday's victory over Providence. (3)
4. Pittsburgh (19-6, 8-4) – Ashton Gibbs is one of the country's most-improved players. (7)
5. Marquette (16-8, 7-5) – The Golden Eagles still have work to do before an NCAA berth is secure.
6. Louisville (17-9, 8-5) – A loss to Luke Harangody-less Notre Dame on Wednesday would've been a disaster. (6)
7. Georgetown (18-6, 8-5) – Losing at Rutgers was inexcusable. (4)
8. Connecticut (15-11, 5-8) – The Huskies' NCAA hopes aren't dead – yet. (9)
9. South Florida (16-9, 6-7) – The return of Gus Gilchrist should help. (10)
10. Notre Dame (17-10, 6-8) – The Irish are playing surprisingly well without Luke Harangody. (8)
11. Seton Hall (15-9, 6-7) – The Pirates may not be a great team, but they're a dangerous one. (12)
12. St. John's (14-11, 4-9) – Wednesday's home loss to Seton Hall was a dagger. The Red Storm shot just 32 percent from the field. (14)
13. Cincinnati (15-10, 6-7) – The Bearcats continue to disappoint. (11)
14. Rutgers (14-12, 4-9) – Fred Hill has done an excellent job down the stretch. (15)
15. Providence (12-14, 4-10) – Jamine Peterson is one of the league's more underrated players. (13)
16. DePaul (8-17, 1-12) – Mac Koshwal had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday's loss to Rutgers. (16)
Louisville – After a dreadful start to the season, the Cardinals are finally beginning to gel into a team that looks more than worthy of an NCAA bid. Beating Syracuse on the road Sunday was huge for a team that lacks wins against quality opponents, and Wednesday's double-overtime victory against Notre Dame moved Rick Pitino's squad one step closer to the postseason.
Georgetown – The Hoyas have lost two of their last four games, which isn't a huge deal until you consider the setbacks came against South Florida and Rutgers. Georgetown fans definitely have cause for concern – especially with an upcoming schedule that includes a home showdown with Syracuse and road games at West Virginia and Louisville.
THREE TO WATCH
Syracuse at Georgetown – The Hoyas are looking for a bounce-back win after their embarrassing loss to Rutgers.
Villanova at Pittsburgh – This is the only meeting between these two schools this season.
West Virginia at Connecticut – This game is a must-win for a Connecticut squad clinging to NCAA hopes.
Draymond Green is chairman of the boards.
1. Purdue (22-3, 10-3) – The Boilermakers beat Ohio State despite just four points from Robbie Hummel. (2)
2. Michigan State (21-6, 11-3) – Draymond Green averages a team-high eight rebounds. (4)
3. Ohio State (20-7, 10-4) – Evan Turner had five turnovers in Wednesday's loss to Purdue. (1)
4. Wisconsin (19-6, 9-4) – Remaining five games are against the league's second-tier teams. (5)
5. Illinois (17-9, 9-4) – Three Top 15 teams remain on the schedule. (3)
6. Minnesota (14-10, 5-7) – This just hasn't been the Gophers' year. (6)
7. Northwestern (17-9, 6-8) – Wednesday's loss to Penn State may have killed the Wildcats' NCAA hopes. (7)
8. Michigan (13-12, 6-7) – The Wolverines nearly hit rock bottom before rallying for a two-point victory over Iowa on Tuesday. (8)
9. Iowa (9-18, 3-11) – The Hawkeyes continue to show fight and improve. (9)
10. Indiana (9-16, 3-10) – That's seven straight losses for the Hoosiers. (10)
11. Penn State (9-16, 1-12) – David Jackson and Chris Babb scored 20 points each in Wednesday's win over Northwestern. (11)
Purdue – Not many teams in college basketball are as hot as the Boilermakers, who won their eighth straight game Wednesday by defeating Ohio State. Purdue appears to have the inside track toward the Big Ten title, but things seem to change quite often in this wacky conference.
Indiana – Even when they've struggled, the Hoosiers have always shown fight. But lately Tom Crean's squad hasn't been very competitive. Indiana has lost seven in a row, including its last four by 17, 17, 18 and 14 points.
THREE TO WATCH
Illinois at Purdue – Defense and a major home-court advantage should be enough to carry the Boilermakers in this one.
Ohio State at Michigan State – Back-to-back losses to Purdue and Michigan State wouldn't do much to help Evan Turner's player of the year chances.
Northwestern at Wisconsin – The Badgers are 14-1 at home, but Northwestern can almost taste an NCAA berth.
Tweety Carter and Baylor could be dangerous in the NCAAs.
1. Kansas (25-1, 11-0) – The Jayhawks are five wins away from a perfect Big 12 season. (1)
2. Kansas State (21-4, 8-3) – The Octagon of Doom almost became the Octagon of Gloom against Nebraska on Wednesday. (2)
3. Texas A&M (18-7, 7-4) – Mark Turgeon for Big 12 Coach of the Year? (3)
4. Baylor (20-5, 7-4) – Ekpe Udoh hit back-to-back game-winning shots against Nebraska and Missouri. (4)
5. Missouri (19-7, 7-4) – Wednesday's victory over Texas was a huge step toward an NCAA berth. (5)
6. Texas (20-6, 6-5) – Rick Barnes' coaching skills will certainly come into question after this season's collapse. (5)
7. Oklahoma State (18-7, 6-5) – The Cowboys escaped with a much-needed victory Wednesday in Ames. (9)
8. Texas Tech (16-9, 4-7) – The Red Raiders blew a golden opportunity against Texas A&M. (7)
9. Colorado (12-13, 3-8) – How did so many schools miss out on Alec Burks? (10)
10. Oklahoma (13-12, 4-7) – Willie Warren returned to the lineup against Colorado … and it didn't matter. (9)
11. Nebraska (13-13, 1-10) – If the Cornhuskers had just one standout, they'd have five league wins right now. (12)
12. Iowa State (13-13, 2-9) – The Cyclones aren't stirring up much excitement in Ames. (11)
Baylor – The Bears have won 20 games for the third year in a row and appear headed for an NCAA berth for the second time in three seasons. Few trios in college basketball have been as productive as LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter and Ekpe Udoh.
Iowa State – You wouldn't think a team with a potential first-round draft pick would be struggling as mightily as Iowa State, which has lost eight of its last nine games by an average of 11 points.
THREE TO WATCH
Baylor at Oklahoma State – The Cowboys were mauled by the Bears 83-70 on Jan. 16.
Kansas State at Texas Tech – The Wildcats are the better team, but United Spirit Arena can be a nightmare for opposing teams.
Texas A&M at Baylor – Bears officials are hoping for a sellout – and a victory.
Mike Montgomery and Cal have found consistency.
1. Cal (17-8, 9-4) – The Golden Bears' toughest two remaining games (against Arizona and Arizona State) are both at home. (2)
2. USC (15-9, 7-5) – The Trojans have won three in a row. (3)
3. Arizona State (18-8, 8-5) – Not many teams will win 20 games and not make the NCAA tournament. (6)
4. Washington (17-8, 7-6) – Quincy Pondexter's final home game is Saturday. (1)
5. Arizona (13-12, 7-6) – Nic Wise is struggling and, as a result, so are the Wildcats. (4)
6. UCLA (11-13, 6-6) – It's never a good thing to get swept by your crosstown rival. (5)
7. Washington State (15-10, 5-8) – Ken Bone's first season has been so-so at best. (7)
8. Oregon State (11-13, 5-7) – The Beavers are playing better, but it doesn't matter now. (8)
9. Stanford (11-14, 5-8) – And to think, this team almost beat Kentucky. (10)
10. Oregon (12-12, 4-8) – It can't feel good to be last in one of the worst conferences in college basketball. (9)
Cal – Give the Golden Bears credit. In season where every other school failed to sustain any momentum, Cal was the one Pac-10 team that managed to stay somewhat consistent throughout most of conference play.
Washington State – The Cougars started out the season 12-3 and have been in a horrible funk ever since. They have lost five of their last six games including a two-point setback against Pac-10 bottom feeder Stanford.
THREE TO WATCH
Stanford at Oregon – The two worst teams in the Pac-10 duke it out in Eugene.
USC at Washington – A road victory here would be huge for Kevin O'Neill as he continues to rebuild the Trojans' program.
Arizona State at Arizona – Sean Miller beat mentor Herb Sendek in Tempe last month. Can he do it again in Tucson?
DeAndre Liggins is lighting it up for Kentucky.
1. Kentucky (25-1, 10-1) – DeAndre Liggins is making a huge difference. (1)
2. Vanderbilt (19-5, 8-2) – A.J. Ogilvy is shooting just 33 percent over his last three games. (2)
3. Tennessee (19-6, 7-4) – The Vols' length makes them a threat. (3)
4. Mississippi State (18-8, 6-5) – The Bulldogs – who were without Ravern Johnson – turned in a nice effort against Kentucky. (8)
5. Arkansas (14-12, 7-4) – Marshawn Powell had 26 points in Wednesday's victory over South Carolina. (4)
6. South Carolina (14-11, 5-6) – The Gamecocks are 2-4 since beating Kentucky. (6)
7. Florida (17-8, 6-4) – Three of the Gators' final six games are against Top 25 teams. (7)
8. Ole Miss (17-7, 5-5) – The Rebels have lost three of their last four games – and Vanderbilt is next. (5)
9. Auburn (12-13, 3-7) – The Tigers' last four losses have come by an average of 7.8 points (10)
10. Georgia (11-13, 3-8) – Trey Thompkins is averaging 17.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. (11)
11. Alabama (14-11, 4-7) – The Crimson Tide's reward for snapping a four-game losing streak? A day off. Is that really what it needs right now? (9)
12. LSU (9-16, 0-11) – Could Trent Johnson be fired for pitching a donut in SEC play? (12)
Kentucky – The moxie the Wildcats have shown in close games is uncharacteristic for such a young team. Then again, everyone knows by know that this is a special bunch of players. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins should both be first-team All-Americans.
Ole Miss – Teams this talented shouldn't be on the NCAA tournament bubble but, once again, that's the case with the Rebels, who have fizzled after a hot start. The good news is that Andy Kennedy's squad has a relatively easy schedule following Thursday's showdown against Vanderbilt.
THREE TO WATCH
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss – A victory would be huge for the Rebels' NCAA stock.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt – Are the Commodores the true regular season threat to the Wildcats?
Tennessee at South Carolina – Devan Downey gets a chance to do his thing against the Vols.
Derrick Caracter has the Miners digging in.
1. Gonzaga (21-4, 9-1) – The Zags beat St. Mary's and San Diego by an average of 18 points. (1)
2. New Mexico (24-3, 10-2) – The Lobos have won 10 in a row. (3)
3. Butler (24-4, 17-0) – The Bulldogs set a school record by winning their 16th straight game Wednesday. (5)
4. BYU (24-3, 9-2) – How will Jimmer Fredette fare in the postseason awards race? (4)
5. Temple (21-5, 9-2) – Wednesday's home game against Dayton is the only tough test remaining on the Owls' regular season schedule. (2)
6. UTEP (19-5, 10-1) – Randy Culpepper, Derrick Caracter and Arnet Moultrie are quite a trio. (7)
7. Richmond (21-6, 10-2) – The Spiders appear to be NCAA locks. (NR)
8. Memphis (19-7, 9-2) – Tigers fans couldn't have asked much more of Josh Pastner in his first season. (NR)
9. Northern Iowa (23-3, 14-2) – Center Jordan Eglseder has two more games to go on his three-game suspension. (6)
10. Xavier (18-7, 9-2) – Other than Gonzaga, not many non-power conference teams are as battle-tested as the Musketeers. (NR)
New Mexico – The Lobos appear to be most capable of making a significant run in the NCAA tournament. Steve Alford's squad had a huge win at UNLV last week and is now preparing for a Feb. 27 showdown at BYU.
UNLV – The Runnin' Rebels’ NCAA chances took a major hit Wednesday when they lost to Utah. The defeat was the third straight for UNLV, which has an easy schedule the rest of the way.
THREE TO WATCH
UTEP at Tulsa – A road victory over the Golden Hurricane would be a huge step toward a Conference USA title for UTEP.
Xavier at Charlotte – Two of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 go head-to-head.
SMU at Memphis – The Mustangs upset Memphis in Dallas last month.