Separation Saturdays On Tap for Big Ten

ESPN likes to come up with catchy nicknames for fall football Saturdays. One of those is ‘Separation Saturday', as in a day when the pretenders become separated from the contenders across the college football landscape and those that would be champions rise to the occasion. For this year's Big Ten basketball season, each Saturday will likely do the same thing as the league is so very balanced more than one-third of the way through the loop.

As for today, here is how the standings look for the teams that really have any shot at the title:

Wisconsin 5-1
Iowa 4-2
Indiana 4-2
Illinois 4-2
Michigan 4-2
Ohio State 4-2
Michigan State 3-3

Saturday's slate finds ranked Ohio State paying a visit to Iowa City and ranked Wisconsin making a road trip to Michigan. Though Iowa and Michigan are not ranked, one could make a good argument that they should be. Iowa beat then #11 ranked Indiana at home on Tuesday by 13 points, adding to its already impressive resume; the Hawkeyes sit at #11 in Ken Pomeroy's RPI standings and they have beaten four ranked teams this year, or at least when they played those teams they were ranked. Iowa is 15-5 and should it beat Ohio State, it will certainly be back in the rankings once again next week.

Michigan is coming off of an impressive three-point win at home against archrival Michigan State in a game where they were down big early on, yet showed some intestinal fortitude in coming back against the Spartans, something they have not done during the Tommy Amaker era. Michigan just might have the best talent in the Big Ten, players one through eight or nine, it's just that Amaker has never taken that talent and turned it into a consistent cohesive unit. Look for them to beat Wisconsin, pulling the Badgers back to the pack. I think Iowa beats Ohio State, so that would mean those three teams would sit at 5-2, tied for first place.

But what of the rest of the contenders?

Michigan State gets to put the ride on cruise control for its next three games, starting Saturday against Penn State at home. Purdue goes to Illinois for another beat down while Indiana travels to Minnesota. Minnesota is going to beat someone this year that they are not favored to beat. Let's hope its not Iowa next month…but don't count out the Gophers against Indiana.

Assuming that the favorites win, you are looking at potentially five teams tied for first place with a 5-2 record come Sunday night, with Michigan State and Ohio State one game back at 4-3. I know, I know; don't put the hay in the barn just yet when it comes to Iowa-Ohio State.

However, I think the crowd is going to be sensational on Saturday night, as the game is nearly a sellout and it was deafening in CHA on Tuesday night when there were 4,000 empty seats. The student section has been out of this world for the season, something the players and coaches have noticed and have appreciated. When the students are into it, they bring the rest of the arena along with them.

Before I forget, a look ahead to next week's version of separating the wheat from the chaff; Illinois at Wisconsin on Tuesday night, Iowa at Purdue on Wednesday and Michigan at Iowa next Saturday. The rest of the favorites are playing games they should easily win against the doormats of the league.

Don't forget to set your Tivo for the Indiana vs UConn game on 2/4. It's at Assembly Hall and it's a Noon start.

BIG TEN FLEXING ITS MUSCLES

As of Thursday, six of the Top 16 teams in the RPI were from the Big Ten. Throw in Michigan at #26 and you have one heck of a conference this year.

The Big East is also strong, with seven of the Top 30, in addition to West Virginia at #40. How they are #40 is beyond me, as they are one of the best teams in the nation and someone to consider making it to the Final Four once you get your brackets in March. Their loss to Marshall on Wednesday night did not help their rating, but they are going to make the Big Dance, likely giving the league eight teams, or 50% of its membership. Not quite as impressive as the Big Ten's likely haul of seven out of eleven, but still very good. That might mean that 13 of the available 34 at large bids in the tournament will come from just two conferences, or 38.2%.

Can't you just hear Billy ‘ACC' Packer and ‘Duke' Vitale complaining already?

That also means that the PAC-10 is likely a three-bid league this year and the Big 12 might be in the same boat. The Missouri Valley Conference seems a lock to get three teams and maybe even four; four of its teams are Top 29 RPI teams as of Thursday. The ACC has just three of its teams ranked in the Top 30 of the RPI.

Here is how the conferences rank as of Thursday, with ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lundardi's latest NCAA bids by conference projections in parenthesis:

1. Big Ten (7)
2. Big East (8)
3. ACC (6..they have a lot of work to do)
4. SEC (5- With Kentucky in, but just barely)
5. Missouri Valley (4)
6. Big 12 (4- Lundardi left Kansas out)
7. PAC-10 (3)


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