The Voice: Madness already underway in the Big Ten

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgThere seems to be little if any argument that the Big Ten is college basketball's best conference. Not only is the top half of the league strong, but it appears that everyone is dangerous. At home, or on the road.

While protecting the home court is an annual theme, this year home security is proving to be anything but a given. Through about one third of the conference season, winning in a team's friendly confines is about a 50-50 proposition.

Yes, under Bo Ryan the Badgers have enjoyed incredible success at the Kohl Center, but in such an evenly-balanced league, we have discovered it is unwise to simply assume the home team will always prevail.

Indiana found out the hard way last week in Bloomington, courtesy of Wisconsin.

Illinois found out much the same last week in a home loss to Northwestern.

Minnesota found out more of the same in a home loss to Michigan.

And yes, the Badgers fell two points short on Tuesday night against Michigan State.

On and on it goes in what is shaping up to be a wild conference race.

Last week I wrote about how the Badgers have every intention of being a serious player in the Big Ten title chase. At the same time, I suggested that it is realistic to expect some bumps along the way.

Well, here are those bumps. An eye injury to Frank Kaminsky. The flu bug that caught up with George Marshall. And a pair of close losses to Iowa and Michigan State.

Now, a deep and athletic Minnesota team comes to town for a Saturday afternoon game at the Kohl Center. The latest in a series of difficult challenges that will continue through the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, and hopefully beyond.

A Badgers-Gophers game usually has fans excited, as does a Badgers-Spartans matchup. This year, every conference game should get our attention. After Saturday's game, the next home date is the Feb. 6 rematch with Iowa. Eleven days later the Buckeyes come calling. Then it's Michigan.

March Madness? In the Big Ten, the madness is well underway.

Some observers firmly believe the league champ could have four or five losses. That alone might not be startling, but keep in mind -- for what it is worth -- in this week's AP and coaches' polls, there are five conference teams ranked in the top 15.

It is easy to get the sense that teams in this conference will spend the next several weeks beating up on each other. As of this writing, Michigan State leads the pack with a 6-1 record. To MSU's credit, it has closed out the tight games very well.

The best teams finds ways to win the close ones, but even a diehard Michigan State supporter might need to admit that Sparty is walking a fine line, especially in this league. Especially this year.

After last week's inspiring effort at Indiana, the Badgers' head coach talked about being a believer in the saying "What you did yesterday means little today." That was his way of saying there is a long way to go, and the focus should always be on "next."

That saying applies now as well. Certainly Tuesday's game was there for the taking, but off-target shooting proved costly. That game is done, so you move on.

There is another big game on the horizon. How big? Really big. The biggest game they will play this season -- until the next game on the schedule.