- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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Beware the ides of March?
More like the wrath of Punxsutawney Phil where the Big Ten is concerned.
The usually more conservative and staid conference, the Big Ten has gone downright wild and wacky in the month of February.
Think Jim Delany-in-a-Hawaiian-shirt-and-sockless-Birkenstocks wacky.
It has been consistent at one thing: inconsistency. So wildly unpredictable and upside down that Nebraska -- yes, Nebraska -- currently has the second-longest winning streak in the conference.
The worst place to be? Maybe in first. Wisconsin streaked to a 3-0 start and promptly lost three in a row; Ohio State looked unstoppable for a while, until it looked woefully stoppable, losing four in a row.
Michigan State and Michigan, the two rivals who meet on Sunday (noon ET on CBS), own the hot-potato lead, but no teams have better personified the Big Ten’s wild ways.
From the end of December to the end of January, Michigan won 10 games in a row, the Spartans took 11 straight.
Ever since, they’ve been in a swap meet. The Wolverines have traded a win and a loss for seven consecutive games now, the Spartans on the exchange program for nine.
The two teams’ ups and downs have taken some of the wind out of the game’s sails nationally, but locally, it’s a different story. The hot ticket is reportedly fetching more cash than the Michigan-Ohio State football game, a statement that typically would stand somewhere between impossible hyperbole and blasphemy.
But the $269-a-ticket asking price is a testimony to where the two programs are in the bigger picture. It’s no longer about Michigan closing the gap; the gap is pretty much shut now thanks to John Beilein. Coming off the NCAA championship game, Beilein somehow has refashioned his team sans Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., even adjusting on the fly after an injury to Mitch McGary.
Izzo has been every bit as masterful in keeping his team afloat through a rash of injuries that would make an ER doctor grimace. The Spartans have some head-scratching losses -- to Georgetown and the aforementioned Cornhuskers -- but there is still an overriding sense that when and if Michigan State is healthy, it will be a March force to be reckoned with.
Pardon the Big Ten if it looks longingly at the end of next week, when the new month dawns.
Whether it comes in like a lion or a lamb, it can’t be any wild(er) of a kingdom wacky than February.