Big Ten Men's Race is Sprint to the Finish

The final weekend of the Big Ten men’s basketball regular season is here. And thanks to some upsets last week, there’s some drama at the top. Yes, Michigan State (13-4 Big Ten) already has sewn up a share of the seventh Big Ten title in the Tom Izzo era, but the Spartans’ loss at Indiana on Tuesday opened the door for Ohio State and Michigan to earn a share of the crown.

For that to happen, the Buckeyes must win in East Lansing on Sunday—and the Wolverines need to win at Penn State on the same day. If that happens, there will be a three-way tie for the crown. There was a three-way tie as recently as 2010, when Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue shared honors.

But if Michigan State topples the Buckeyes for a second time this season (the Spartans took a relatively easy 58-48 win in Columbus on Feb. 11 over an Ohio State team that was picked by the entire galaxy to win the Big Ten), the entire Big Ten title will belong to Michigan State.

The Spartans, who already have clinched the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten tourney, had won seven in a row before that loss to the Hoosiers and will face a struggling Ohio State team that is just 3-3 in its last six games.

And you have to think that this will be a very motivated Spartan team, which will want to win for Draymond Green on Senior Day while also keeping the hands of its chief rivals off the Big Ten trophy. It would be a fitting end to a season that most didn’t think would finish with a league title for Michigan State coming off a disappointing 2010-11 season that saw the Spartans finish 19-15 overall and 9-9 in the Big Ten with a first-round exit in the NCAA tourney.

Standings? Here. RPI? Here. Weekend schedule? Here. The rest of my weekly Three-Pointers column? Keep reading.

THREE STOCKS TO BUY
Indiana. The story just keeps getting better with each passing day. The Hoosiers have won six of seven and are coming off a huge home win over No. 5 Michigan State. That win is significant because it means Indiana has beaten three top-five teams in the regular season for the first time in school annals.

Purdue. The Boilermakers are rolling across the finish line, winning five of their last six games as they trek to Bloomington for a huge season finale. Robbie Hummel has been on fire. How hot? In the last six games, here are Hummel’s point totals: 27; 19; 24; 29; 17; 26. Someone call 911.

Michigan. The Wolverines remained in the hunt for a share of their first Big Ten crown since 1985-86 with a strong win at Illinois last night. Michigan is 6-2 in its last eight games and should push that to 7-2 with a game at Penn State left before the Big Ten tourney.

THREE STOCKS TO SELL
Northwestern. The Wildcats have twice had chances to seize control of their NCAA fate. And each time, Northwestern flopped at home. First, in overtime to Michigan, 67-55. Then, on a last-second shot to Ohio State, 75-73. NU is 2-4 in its last six games. And time may have run out on its NCAA hopes.

Minnesota. Since winning three in a row from January 12-22, the wheels have come off the Golden Gophers. Since then, Minnesota has lost eight of 10. The lone wins? In overtime over slumping Illinois and at Nebraska. In February, the Gophers went 1-8.

Illinois. The door to a possible NCAA at-large berth was slammed shut with that emphatic 72-61 home loss to Michigan last night. That’s seven losses in the last eight games for the Fighting Illini, who finish at Wisconsin on Sunday. The only way this team will punch its ticket to the Big Dance will be to win the league tourney. And just think: Illinois (6-11 Big Ten) was 4-1 in the Big Ten after that huge win over Ohio State on January 10. Seems like ages ago.

THREE THINGS I LEARNED
The Big Ten has no teams left on the bubble with losses by Northwestern to Ohio State on Wednesday and by Illinois to Michigan on Thursday. So, barring any crazy runs to the Big Ten tourney title by the Wildcats, Illini, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska or Penn State, look for the Big Ten to have just six NCAA teams: Michigan State; Ohio State; Michigan; Wisconsin; Indiana; Purdue. There was a time earlier this season when it looked like the Big Ten may get nine tourney teams.

I have no idea who will be Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Indiana’s Cody Zeller or Michigan’s Trey Burke. I seemingly change my mind on the subject on an hourly basis. Just let them share the honor. Sound good?

Maybe Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey should get some consideration for Big Ten coach of the year honors, along with Michigan’s John Beilein, Indiana’s Tom Crean and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Many felt the Hawkeyes wouldn’t even be within ear shot of an NCAA bid this season. But Fran had Iowa in the conversation—at least a bit. The Hawkeyes went 5-3 in February to save their season and offer hope for the future. This could be a dangerous team in the Big Ten tourney.

THREE IMPRESSIVE WINS
Indiana 70, Michigan State 55. This was the Hoosiers’ third win over a top-five team, which the program never had accomplished in the regular season. Indiana out rebounded the No. 5 Spartans, won the turnover battle and shot well from the line and three-point land.

Wisconsin 63, Ohio State 60. The Badgers shocked the Big Ten world by wading into Columbus and beating the Buckeyes. Jared Berggren scored 18 and Jordan Taylor notched 19. The victory solidified Wisconsin’s standing as one of the four best teams in the Big Ten, thus earning a bye in the first round of the league tourney.

Purdue 75, Michigan 61. The ease with which the Boilermakers won in Ann Arbor was stunning. Purdue hit half of its shots, 7-of-15 three-pointers and committed just eight turnovers in dealing the Wolverines their first home loss of the season. It also helped that Terone Johnson notched a career-high 22 points.

THREE GAMES TO LOOK FORWARD TO
Ohio State at Michigan State, March 4. The Spartans won the first meeting in Columbus with relative ease, claiming a 58-48 decision on February 11 to take control of the Big Ten race. The Spartans already have clinched a share of the league title. Win this game, and the entire title will belong to Michigan State.

Northwestern at Iowa, March 3. Each team is clinging to faint—if any–NCAA tourney at-large hopes. The Hawkeyes are the hotter team, winning three of four. In its last two games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa toppled No. 18 Indiana and No. 16 Wisconsin. The Wildcats have lost four of six, coming off a heart-breaking home loss to Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue at Indiana, March 4. Back on February 4th, the Hoosiers invaded Mackey Arena and came away with an emphatic 78-61 victory. Can the Boilermakers get payback? These are the two hottest teams in the Big Ten, with the Hoosiers winning six of seven and the Boilermakers winning five of six. This is the flat out the best rivalry in Big Ten hoops. Great way to end the season. The winner will claim fifth place.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart’s Big Ten Three-Pointers appear every Friday during the basketball season. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and  subscribe to his RSS feed.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (2 Comments)
4dorr on 3/2/2012 @ 2:52pm EDT Said:

Tom,
The B1G seems by far to be the most competitive conference in the College hoops proven by the great struggles from all the top teams. I just hope that one of the teams can make it to the final game, win it all and prove it.

Max on 3/2/2012 @ 4:58pm EDT Said:

I agree with 4dorr, the Big hoops conference is top to bottom the strongest in my opinion, yes even with PSU, LOL.

I feel through a rough regular season and grueling conference tourney the B1G teams leave it on the floor. Hopefully one of the tourney teams has the gas to go all the way.

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