As Big Ten basketball heads into the second half of the conference season, the race is as wide open as ever. Six teams are ranked, but none in the top 10. The league is considered the best in the country this year, and prognosticators are predicting the NCAA Tournament will selected a record number of Big Ten teams this year.
Neither excellence nor parity are anything new. Ten schools have shared or won a regular season or conference tournament championship in the past 20 years. So while the overall strength of the league this season is nothing unusual, a closer look at the results exposes a distinctly unusual trend.
Life on the road has been brutal in the Big Ten.
Nothing has ever been easy about playing in Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena, the Breslin Center, Chrysler Arena, or most any Big Ten venue. But through the first 71 games of the league slate, home tams are 55-16. Remove the bottom three teams in the league, and the mark is 50-9.
Five teams are undefeated at home, and five others have just one loss. Rutgers and Iowa, a combined 11-0 on their own hardwood, have just two wins in none road contests. Purdue has been its typical tough out at Mackey Arena with a 4-1 mark, but the Boilers are still looking for their first conference victory away from West Lafayette.
The individual wins and losses have taken a strange vibe.
Michigan State, considered the class of the conference, has a 29-point loss at Purdue to go along with 20-point home victories over Michigan and Illinois.
The schizophrenic Boilermakers, just a week before their blowout of the Spartans, lost by 26 at Illinois, scoring just 37 points.
Indiana was road kill at Wisconsin by 20, outran Nebraska at home by scoring 96 points, then scored just 49 in a 15-point loss at Penn State. In a three-day span in December, the Nittany Lions allowed 106 points and absorbed a 32-point loss at Ohio State, then followed with a home win over a ranked Maryland team. In a home rematch with Ohio State, Penn State ran away with a 90-76 victory.
No team has been immune from the Big Ten road rash this season, and fans are riding the emotional rollercoaster. Five weeks remain in the regular season for anyone to snap the curse. Then, of course, the Big Ten teams head to the conference tourney and the NCAA tournament, where every game is away from home.