By Shawn Muller–

Well, B1G Ten fans, we are quickly approaching the meat and potatoes of the basketball season.

Can you believe it?

With twelve conference games remaining until the most wonderful time of the year–also known as March Madness–we are beginning to see separation between the contenders and the pretenders of the league. As it stands right now, there are basically five teams (don’t count the Minnesota Gophers out, however) that still have a realistic shot of winning–at least a share–of the B1G Ten crown.

So how is this thing going to shape up in the end?

Who knows.

The B1G Ten is one of the wackiest conferences in the country.  Any team can win on any given night in this conference (well, maybe not Iowa) more than anywhere else in the country. With that being said, here is how I see things shaping up for the regular season championship.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to change these predictions as the season progresses. What can I say?

Ohio State: (19-0 overall, 6-0 B1G Ten)

It is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention…Ohio State is flying on all-cylinders right now. The Buckeyes are ranked #1 in the country and they are sitting alone at the top of the B1G Ten standings. We know the Buckeyes are good…but how good are they? I’m not trying to down play what Thad Matta and his crew have done, but let’s be honest here. The schedule has been pretty weak thus far. The toughest games have been against the Minnesota Gophers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Other than that, not much else for the Buckeyes to hang their hat on in terms of a “quality” win (maybe Oakland).

Putting the schedule aside, Ohio State is definitely the team to beat in the B1G Ten this season right now and moving forward. They are, without a doubt, my pick to win the conference title.  Not much else needs to be said about the Buckeyes right now, does it?

I really went out on a whim on this one, huh?

Prediction: 15-3

Losses: @ Illinois, @ Purdue, @ Wisconsin

Purdue: (16-3 overall, 5-1 B1G Ten)

Losing a key returning starter for the entire season is quite a blow for any team. Lose an All Big-Ten performer, like Robbie Hummel, and it has the potential to be devastating.

But don’t cry for Matt Painter and his Purdue Boilermakers. His team hasn’t really missed a beat in the absence of Hummel. Lead by the senior-tandem of JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, Purdue is quietly putting together another stellar regular season. Heck, if Robbie Hummel was in the lineup, the Boilers, in my opinion, would probably be the best team in the conference. Unfortunately for Purdue fans (sans Hummel), this is not the case.

But the people of West Lafayette, Indiana aren’t crying in their cereal right now. This  Boilermaker team has played well-above expectations (sans Hummel) up to this point. But, before you folks get too excited, I have to warn you: the schedule is about to get brutal. Just in the next four games, Purdue plays host to #18 Michigan State, travels to #1 Ohio State, comes back home to play # 19 Minnesota, followed by a trip to #17 Wisconsin. Ouch!

We are going to learn a lot about the Boilermakers here shortly, no doubt about it.

Prediction: 14-4

Losses: @ Minnesota, @ Michigan State, @ Ohio State, @ Illinois,

Illinois: (14-5 overall, 4-2 B1G Ten)

Outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, there isn’t one team in the B1G Ten, that has as much individual talent, as Illinois.

The problem is…the Illini are the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” of the conference. One minute, this team looks like they are Elite Eight-caliber, and the next minute, they look like they couldn’t beat a Division II team. In their defense, I will say that Illinois has played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the league, but there is no excuse for losing to UIC and Penn State when you have the talent the Illini have.

Bruce Weber’s squad easily gets the “Toughest Team To Get A Read On Through 19 Games” award. This coming week won’t be any different. I can see them beating Ohio State tomorrow afternoon, only to lose another game they shouldn’t to a team like Indiana on Thursday.  Just keep the faith Illini fans!

Prediction: 12-6

Losses: @ Penn State, @ Wisconsin, @ Minnesota, @ Michigan State, @ Ohio State, @ Purdue

Michigan State (12-6 overall, 4-2 B1G Ten)

Many people had Michigan State ranked #1 or #2 in the polls at the beginning of the season. It was hard to argue against the Spartans. They returned, basically, their entire Final Four team from one season ago. But as we approach the midway point in the season, Tom Izzo’s team has under-performed to say the least. In Sparty’s defense, I will say that they have probably played the toughest schedule in the country, but something just doesn’t seem right with them. It is almost like they are going through the motions of playing out the regular season, only to turn it on–AGAIN–come tournament time.

The truth is, Michigan State is very fortunate to be 4-2 in conference play. They probably should be 2-4. It took a turnover-fest in the final three minutes by the Wisconsin Badgers, to help the Spartans push the game to overtime and clinch the win. The same story basically played out four days later when Northwestern blew a late lead at the Breslin Center giving Michigan State another overtime win.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier…but this is the Spartans. They will probably get hot down the stretch and go to another Final Four.

Prediction: 12-6

Losses: @ Penn State, @ Illinois, @ Purdue, @ Wisconsin, @ Ohio State, @ Minnesota

Wisconsin Badgers (14-4 overall, 4-2 B1G Ten)

Wisconsin may not be pretty in the eyes of many, but they win. And they win a lot. Every year, college basketball analysts and fans across B1G Ten country, think this will finally be the year where the Badgers fall. But that year never seems to come. This season is no different. Bo Ryan has his team chugging along once again, and very quietly, they keep moving up the rankings.

A Bo Ryan coached Wisconsin team has never finished lower than 4th place in the B1G Ten, since he took over as head coach back in 2001 and I don’t expect this stat to change this season either. The Badgers will finish in the upper-half of the B1G Ten, qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and promptly lose in the 1st or 2nd round to another inferior team. It’s like clock work, remember?  Happens every year, so why sway from the status quo now?

Prediction: 12-6

Loses: @ Illinois, @ Michigan State, @ Northwestern, Purdue, @ Purdue, @ Ohio State

Other NCAA tournament qualifiers: Minnesota, Northwestern (They finally do it this year).

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