Dienhart: Ranking 1 more week of games

The last week of the regular season is at our feet. The Big Ten title already has been decided—well, at least a share of it. Indiana can claim the entire crown with a win tonight at home vs. Ohio State or with a victory at Michigan on Sunday.

And like the other schools, the Hoosiers are still scrambling to enhance their NCAA standing. But first things first: The Big Ten Tourney starts next Thursday and the big drama will be to see which schools among Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State can earn a first-round bye with a top-four finish in the Big Ten.

Here is how I rank this week’s games.

1. Indiana at Michigan, Sunday. These game will be a whole lot more interesting if the Hoosiers lose at home tonight to Ohio State. That would open the door for other schools—including Michigan—to forge a share of the Big The title. The Hoosiers won the first meeting, 81-73.

Big Ten Standings thru 3/4
Conference Overall
W-L W-L
Indiana 13-3 25-4
Michigan 11-5 24-5
Michigan State 11-5 22-7
Ohio State 11-5 21-7
Wisconsin 11-5 20-9
Illinois 8-8 21-9
Minnesota 8-8 20-9
Iowa 7-9 18-11
Purdue 7-9 14-15
Nebraska 4-12 13-16
Northwestern 4-12 13-16
Penn State 1-15 9-19
View Full Standings

2. Ohio State at Indiana, Tuesday. It’s Senior Night in Bloomington. Is there any chance the Hoosiers lose, knowing a win would clinch the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1993? IU played one of its best games of season in taking an 81-68 win in Columbus earlier this season. It’ll take more than just Deshaun Thomas for the Buckeyes to leave Assembly Hall with a win.

3. Wisconsin at Michigan State, Thursday. If Indiana loses at Ohio State on Tuesday, this game will take on more significance as the winner would still have a shot at sharing the league title. At the least, the winner will be good shape to earn a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tourney. MSU won in Madison earlier this season.

4. Illinois at Ohio State, Sunday. This is a key battle to see who can finish among the top four teams in the Big Ten and avoid having to play a first-round game in the league tourney. Can’t wait to watch Brandon Paul vs. Aaron Craft.

5. Illinois at Iowa, Tuesday. The Fighting Illini are looking to improve their NCAA stock. Illinois has played well on the road in the Big Ten, sporting a 3-4 mark. The Hawkeyes retain faint NCAA hopes. A loss here would just about end those hopes.

6. Michigan at Purdue, Wednesday. This is a dreaded sandwich game for the Wolverines, who are coming off a huge win over Michigan State and end the season in Ann Arbor vs. Indiana on Sunday. The Boilermakers led Michigan at halftime in Ann Arbor in the first meeting and are coming off a huge win at Wisconsin. Hmmmm.

7. Minnesota at Purdue, Saturday. The Boilermakers bid goodbye to senior D.J. Byrd, who has a hot hand and could shoot Purdue past the Gophers if they fall into their old turnover habits and struggle on offense. Hey, it’s been known to happen to Minnesota.

8. Wisconsin at Penn State, Sunday. Beware, Badgers: The Nittany Lions are playing well and recently knocked off No. 4 Michigan in Bryce Jordan. And Wisconsin got unceremoniously dumped at home last Sunday by Purdue. Could an upset be brewing?

9. Minnesota at Nebraska, Wednesday. The Huskers are playing out the string, looking to build some mojo for next season. The suddenly hot Golden Gophers have won two in a row and look to bring a head of steam to Chicago for the league tourney. Minnesota should be too physical and tough for Nebraska.

10. Nebraska at Iowa, Saturday. The Hawkeyes are thinking revenge as they still are smarting from a loss in Lincoln on Feb. 23 that dealt their NCAA hopes a severe blow. The Huskers are just 1-7 on the road in the Big Ten. This could be a Senior Day blowout for Iowa.

11. Penn State at Northwestern, Thursday. The records say these are two of the Big Ten’s worst teams. But the Nittany Lions stunned Michigan last week and seem to be getting better. The Wildcats are playing for pride.

12. Northwestern at Michigan State, Sunday. It’s six losses in a row and counting for a shorthanded Wildcats team would seem to have little chance on the road on Senior Day vs. the Spartans. Queue the fight song, Sparty.

***

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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