It’s amazing how quickly things can change in any sport. The Big Ten portion of the 2012 college basketball season offers a perfect case in point.
A few weeks ago, the Indiana Hoosiers were on track to get a very high seed for the NCAA Tournament. Coach Tom Crean's club had defeated both Kentucky and Ohio State at home, and then beat Michigan for good measure. A team with three wins of that caliber surely looked like an outfit that was going to clean up against most of the rest of the Big Ten. Instead, the opposite has happened: Indiana has gotten its clock cleaned. The Hoosiers lost at home to Minnesota, fell at Nebraska, dropped a revenge game at Ohio State (the one acceptable loss of the past few weeks), and then - this past week - lost at Wisconsin, yes, the same Wisconsin team that couldn't get out of its own way in the first two weeks of January. Indiana is now swimming in the middle of a crowded Big Ten, and look at who's joining the Hoosiers on that list of teams.
Illinois had led the Big Ten when Indiana began to falter, but the Illini, once 4-1 in the league, are now 4-4 after losing Saturday night at Minnesota in overtime. Illinois had beaten the Golden Gophers in double overtime at the beginning of the Big Ten season, but they couldn't dig out a single-overtime game four weeks later in Minneapolis. Speaking of Minnesota, coach Tubby Smith - whose team was drowning at 0-4 in the league - has now won four of five to catapult itself into that mushy middle and radically reshape its own postseason prospects. Minnesota looked like a fringe NIT team in early January, but the Gophers' resurgence makes them an NCAA bubble team, an impressive feat for a club that lost its best player, bruising forward Trevor Mbakwe, to an injury early in the season.
What else is different about the Big Ten? Nebraska won at Iowa, slowing down the Hawkeyes' momentum and reaffirming the notion that no team is safe on any night. Nebraska is the least talented team in the Big Ten, but coach Doc Sadler still has his boys playing with passion each and every time they hit the court. Purdue lost an important game to Michigan but then rebounded to win by a bucket at Northwestern, preventing its season from slip-sliding out of control.