Thursday’s Three Things to Know: Big Ten leaders struggle, Arizona prevails and Cincy falls

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1. THE TOP OF THE BIG TEN IMPLODES

Michigan State won Thursday without even playing.

The Spartans’ fellow Big Ten championship contenders, Ohio State and Purdue, both loss in rather spectacular fashion.

For Purdue, it was a night in Madison devoid of offense that cost them huge against the rebuilding Badgers. For the Buckeyes, it was an absolute beatdown at the hands of Penn State.

It, simply, was a devastating night for both teams’ Big Ten title hopes. Ohio State had a chance to stay alone in first, but instead got blown out by a good – but not great – team. Purdue’s issue look longer and potentially more dangerous as the Boilermakers have now lost three games in a row, the latest coming against a very down Wisconsin team that’s not even within shouting distance of .500.

Now the Spartans not only have the inside track to the title. Tom Izzo’s team clearly has the easiest path to the end of the regular season with Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin, all of whom are ranked outside the KenPom top-80, left on the slate. Ohio State, while still tied with the Spartans and owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over them, have road trips to Michigan and Indiana. Purdue, which is a game behind the Boilers and Spartans, has Penn State at home before finishing up against Illinois and Minnesota.

The Big Ten has been weird all season, but it looks as though things will finish up as expected – with Michigan State on top.

2. CATS TAKE DUEL IN THE DESERT

Arizona would seem to have the Pac-12 all locked up after beating rival Arizona State, 77-70, in Tempe.

It was a wild game with the Wildcats leading by as many as 18 in the first half and trailing by as many as seven in the early goings of the second half. Ultimately, Arizona State just didn’t have enough to escape a season sweep by their intrastate foe.

Deandre Ayton continues to look like the top pick in June’s NBA Draft as he had 25 points on 8 of 12 shooting along with 16 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. The man is a monster.
Trae Holder scored 2, but the Sun Devils made just 7 of 25 3-pointers and had 14 turnovers.

Arizona is now two games up on UCLA and USC with four games to play on the Pac-12 slate. The Wildcats have battled plenty of issues this season – both on and off the floor – but they’re the toast of the conference. How they hold up against the rest of the country next month is what’s really interesting.

3. BEARCATS GO DOWN

For the first time in over two months, Cincinnati lost.

The Bearcats were bested by Houston, 67-62, on Thursday to take their first loss since Dec. 9.
Cincy still has a two-game cushion on the rest of the AAC, so the loss is far from a killer given how strong the fifth-ranked Bearcats’ resume already is, but it does bring to light whatever lingering doubt there is about a team that’s run roughshod over its conference.

The Bearcats really haven’t been all that good against the best competition they’ve played, as Rob Dauster details here.