Illini Wonk
Thursday, February 02, 2006
  Big Ten Race at Half Way
With conference play half-way over, the Illinois Fighting Illini are 6-2 and joined by Iowa and Michigan at the top of the standings. Iowa and Michigan play each other on Saturday, so if the Illini beat Penn State at home, they'll share the top spot with only one other.

But, you don't win trophies for leading the conference at the half-way point, so it's time for a preview of the second eight games of conference play and what chances the Illini have for a three-peat.

For a long time now, Illini Wonk has been insisting that 12-4 will be good enough for at least a share of the conference title this season. With eight games behind us and the three leaders at 6-2, that prediction is looking prescient. The formula for reaching that magic 12-4 mark is much easier than the execution: a team must win all eight of their home games and split on the road. That is exactly what Illinois, Iowa and Michigan have done.

For Illinois to continue that pace, they will have to beat Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa at home and win two of four on the road against Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State. That simple formula does not go far enough for reader Illini88, who asks for Wonk to call the two wins in advance. Here it goes: Illinois will win at Ohio State, avenging last year's loss to the Buckeyes, and celebrate a share of their third consecutive conference title on the Gophers home court, just like 2002. But, I could be wrong.

However it ends up, it's probably going to be a nail-biter. In addition to the three teams with only two losses, four teams (Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State) have three losses and any one of those seven could win it all. Michigan State will be looking for any of the top three to slip up, as their next three games are against Northwestern, Purdue and Minnesota.

At Hawkeye Hoops, Ryan Kobliska sees the Hawkeyes winning the conference if the top seven teams win all their home games and trips to the bottom four teams. They do so by virtue of their easier road schedule over the final eight games. But Big Ten Wonk blogger John Gasaway guesses that Iowa's first-place days are numbered.

What are your predictions? Leave it below and don't forget to vote in the poll on the right.
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