Tyler Wahl could build an argument for Big Ten MVP.

The senior forward returned to the Wisconsin lineup on Tuesday night, helping the Badgers hold off Penn State in a 63-60 victory. The win, which improved the Badgers to 12-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten, snapped a 3-game losing streak during the previous week, when Wahl had sat on the bench while rehabbing an ankle injury.

But they stayed undefeated in the Big Ten with Wahl in the starting lineup, as he scored 10 points — he might have been a bit rusty offensively, making only 3 of his 10 attempts and only 3 of 6 free throws — with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal. Wahl’s presence alone made a gigantic difference.

“I know it hasn’t been easy without Tyler,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said after the victory. “To see them get rewarded, the smiles in the locker room — you stay the course, don’t have a panic attack. … You can go coast-to-coast and really good teams are stumbling a bit. It’s hard over 30-plus games to stay consistent.

“And if you have an injury thrown in there, nobody is gonna feel sorry for you.”

It was a big game.

Both Wisconsin and Penn State came into the matchup at the Kohl Center with identical 3-3 league records but thinking a win would help them keep pace in the top half of the Big Ten and within striking distance of Purdue with still more than half the conference’s games remaining. Now, the Badgers are still there, only 2 games back of the Boilermakers in the loss column, with their only game against Purdue coming at the Kohl Center in their 2nd-to-last game.

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Northwestern idled

With Northwestern reportedly down to only 6 healthy players, the Wildcats were forced to postpone their game against Iowa — set to tip off Wednesday night — due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Those are words that nobody wants to read, not after 3 years of dealing with a global pandemic that some experts fear could revive this spring and summer in the United States. The Big Ten announced it would work with both Iowa and Northwestern to reschedule the game for later in the season, which isn’t always an easy task. It might be made harder because it appears unlikely that Northwestern will be ready to play its scheduled home game on Saturday against Wisconsin.

“We don’t think it’s going to happen,” Gard said after Tuesday night’s game. “I learned about it this morning and told our staff and our operations guy that I wanted to focus on our game and let our administration work with the Big Ten office. We’ll learn more in the next 24 hours, but our focus was all about tonight. Whatever happens next will happen.”

If Wisconsin is unable to play Northwestern this weekend, the Badgers’ next game will be a road trip to Maryland on Jan. 25.

In at No. 23

Rutgers is the latest Big Ten team to earn an Associated Press Top 25 ranking.

The Scarlet Knights jumped in for the 1st time this season on Monday with a No. 23 ranking. It’s the 1st time since early February 2021, nearly 2 years ago, that Rutgers has been considered by national writers as a Top 25 team. But the Scarlet Knights are 13-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten, sitting alone in 2nd place in the league.

And they’re the only team that’s beaten Purdue, doing so at Mackey Arena.Ā Rutgers is 16th in the NET rankings and is No. 14 in KenPom.

For the 2nd consecutive week, the Big Ten has only 2 teams in the Top 25, although not the same ones. Purdue maintained its spot at No. 3, while Wisconsin, which had been 18th, dropped out and was replaced by Rutgers. In all, the league has had 10 different teams ranked in at least 1 poll this season but has only the 2 right now, perhaps showing the depth of the Big Ten but a lack of power teams outside of Purdue.

Timetables for the Hoosiers?

Indiana might have saved its season with a win over Wisconsin last Saturday.

Or perhaps it only postponed its death.

Only time will tell.

But the Hoosiers must find a way to continue winning games without 2 of their starters, as Xavier Johnson (foot) and Race Thompson (knee) continue to sit on the bench while rehabbing their injuries. Head coach Mike Woodson was again asked for a timetable for the duo’s return during his weekly media availability on Tuesday.

“I talk to (head athletic trainer) Tim (Garl) every day. The bottom line — they are not on the basketball floor,” Woodson said. “They are in rehab. They basically are in the training room doing rehab. You know, I don’t go in the training room and inquire about what they are doing or get involved. That’s not my expertise. So, when Tim tells me they are ready to get back out on the floor, then I’ll let you guys know that. But that’s not any time soon, I don’t think.”

Although the Hoosiers looked far more energized and defensive-minded against Wisconsin, holding the Badgers to only 45 points, the road isn’t easy for IU (11-6), which is only 2-4 in conference play. This week, Indiana has a road trip to Illinois (Thursday), then hosts Michigan State (Sunday). But Woodson said on his radio show that the Hoosiers have been practicing better, perhaps a sign they can continue to win.

“Not that our practices have been bad,” he said, “but I thought last week we really pushed to get off this slide.”