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The Big Ten basketball season is taking shape

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Wisconsin is in the hunt for its 16th straight season of finishing fourth or better in conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the beginning of the 2016-17 season, the Big Ten featured five ranked teams: No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 11 Indiana, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 15 Purdue and No. 25 Maryland.

Nearly two-and-a-half months later, we are now entering the fourth week of play of the Big Ten season and unlike the beginning, only three teams rank in the top 25: No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 21 Purdue and No. 25 Maryland.

Of the three ranked teams, only two remain with a single loss in Big Ten play: the Terrapins (16-2, 4-1) and the Badgers (14-3, 3-1).

Maryland suffered its only loss of conference play at the hands of Nebraska. The Terrapins held a 65-53 lead with six minutes remaining but failed to score while the Cornhuskers poured in the game’s final 14 points to win 67-65. Since the loss, the Terrapins have won three straight. Maryland travels to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes on Jan. 19 for its next Big Ten matchup.

Wisconsin entered the week a half-game behind Maryland but drew even with the Terrapins after shaking off Michigan Tuesday night.

The Badgers struggled in their first loss of conference play against Purdue, shooting 39 percent from the field and only 14.3 percent from behind the three-point line en route to a 66-55 loss that ended Wisconsin’s nine-game win streak.

Wisconsin rebounded from its first Big Ten loss in a big way by defeating Ohio State 89-66 at home on Sunday. In the win, the Badgers shot 49.3 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from behind the arc compared to the Buckeyes, who shot 25 percent from behind the line.

Apart from the top two teams in conference play, only five other teams currently have winning records. Nearly a season ago at the halfway point of the 2015-16 Big Ten campaign, eight teams held winning records on Feb. 1, 2016, with Wisconsin rounding out the list at 5-4. At that point, both Indiana and Iowa sat atop the Big Ten at 8-1.

Currently, Northwestern and Michigan State both sit at 4-2, while Purdue, Penn State and Nebraska check in at 3-2, joining the Badgers and Terrapins as the only other teams in conference play with winning records. Both Minnesota and Iowa currently sit at .500 with 3-3 records.

Illinois, Indiana and Michigan are all 2-3, while Ohio State is 1-4 and Rutgers rounds out the Big Ten at 0-6.

While Rutgers is winless in conference play, it did start the season at 11-2 in non-conference games prior to losing to Wisconsin 75-52 in their Big Ten season opener. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15, Rutgers has only won three conference games—two in 2014-15, including one against Wisconsin and one during the 2015-16 season. The Scarlet Knights have yet to win a Big Ten game on the road, a streak currently 22 games long. Their next chance will come at Maryland Jan. 24.

While Wisconsin sputtered through the first half of its Big Ten slate a season ago, the Badgers won seven of their final nine games to finish at 12-6 in conference play, tied in a four-way tie for fourth place to secure their 15th straight season of finishing in fourth or better in conference play.

Wisconsin now has 14 games remaining in Big Ten play, facing 12 teams and only five currently with winning records. The Badgers have also defeated three of them once already this season; Michigan and Minnesota are the only two Wisconsin will face twice down the stretch.

Unlike last season, Wisconsin is out in front of the pack and controls its fate as it attempts to earn yet another fourth-place-or-better finish.