Big Ten links: Wild conference race continues

The outright Big Ten title was there for the taking for Indiana and the Hoosiers blew it—on Senior Night, no less—falling 67-58 to Ohio State. It was Indiana’s lowest point total of the season. Gotta start the daily links there.

Yes, the Hoosiers still have a share of the Big Ten title even if they lose the regular-season finale at Michigan on Sunday. (Heck, IU players actually cut down the nets last night in what had to be the most awkward moment of the season.) But an IU loss on Sunday would open the door for Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin to earn a share of the Big Ten title. But more importantly, is Indiana in trouble going forward? Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star thinks so after the stunning loss to Ohio State denied IU its first outright league title since 1993.

Indiana has now lost two of its last three—and it has been pushed around in doing so. How tough is this team? And now, as Kravitz points out, the Big Ten Tournament means something for Indiana, or at least more than it would have meant had IU beaten Ohio State. If the Hoosiers lose at Michigan Sunday, they can’t afford an early exit, or risk blowing a chance to play in the Midwest Regional, going through Dayton, Ohio, and then Indianapolis.

[ RELATED: Read the full Big Ten Conference tiebreaker rules. ]

Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says if the Buckeyes beat Illinois in Columbus in the regular-season finale, they will be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten tourney.

It’s hard to believe this was the same Ohio State team that lost by 22 points at Wisconsin just 16 days ago. If the Buckeyes continue to play defense like they did at Indiana—and get balanced offensive contributions—this will be a dangerous team come tourney time. How good of a coach is Thad Matta?

The Indiana loss gave life to Michigan’s Big Ten title dreams. In fact, if the Wolverines beat Purdue tonight in West Lafayette and then dump Indiana in Ann Arbor, they’ll earn a share of the Big Ten crown for a second season in a row.

Of course, the last time Michigan controlled its destiny like this, it lost at Penn State last Wednesday.

***

Listen closely … do you hear it? That’s the sound of Iowa’s faint NCAA tourney hopes, which remain alive—barely—after a home win vs. Illinois last night fueled by the shooting of Josh Oglesby.

If the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska in the season finale this weekend, they’ll be 9-9 in the Big Ten. But that won’t be enough to earn Iowa’s first NCAA bid since 2006, I don’t think. Nope. A poor non-conference schedule and a glaring lack of quality wins sullies the Hawkeyes’ resume, which is why they need a deep run in the Big Ten tourney to have any shot at the Big Dance.

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Michigan State sophomore Branden Dawson said yesterday that he plans to return to East Lansing next season. Yes, smart move.

While Dawson is a wonderfully athletic player who is tough and talented, his game is too often marked by inconsistency. He needs to mature and learn to play hard all of the time.

Speaking of Michigan State, Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal says the angst of fans over the recent struggles of Keith Appling is overblown.

Bench Appling? Hogwash. MSU can’t win anything without him and will only go as far as he takes them, says Couch. Correct. But, it certainly would help if Appling got back on track, especially as a long-range shooter. He has missed his last 18 three-pointers.

***

Ohio State opened spring football on Tuesday with a banner emblazoned with “The Chase” hanging at one end of the indoor football complex. As Urban Meyer put it: “We’re all chasing something.” For OSU in 2013, it’s chasing a national title.

I am fascinated by Jordan Hall’s move from running back to the slot receiver spot. Reports say he looked good on Tuesday.

***

Michigan received some big news when quarterback Devin Gardner was awarded a fifth year of eligibility, meaning he has two years left to play if he wants to use them.

If Gardner opts to return to Ann Arbor for the 2014 season, no doubt the talent around him will be bountiful. And his return as a fifth-year senior would allow promising quarterback Shane Morris more time to develop, too, not having to start as a redshirt freshman in 2014.

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The great Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette says the Iowa football program has come to a realization: It needs to do a sales job, which is exactly the Hawkeyes’ goal when they conduct an open practice in West Des Moines, Iowa, on April 20—the same day as Iowa’s State’s spring game.

Hlas states that the Hawkeyes know they can no longer take anything or anyone for granted. As Hlas notes, Kinnick Stadium will be sold out (or close to it) for the unforeseeable future. Game day at Kinnick is still the social event of the season for tens of thousands of Iowans. But after you’ve gone 4-8, slippage is always a distinct possibility. And the Hawkeyes need to start winning consistently again before they can assume they’re the frontrunners for the best high school players in the state, especially from central Iowa.

***

Depth remains an issue for Illinois coach Tim Beckman. And the recent suspension of receiver Darius Millines doesn’t help matters. And key players in tight end Jon Davis, linebacker Jonathan Brown and defensive backs Earnest Thomas and Zane Petty also will be missing from spring drills for various reasons.

This isn’t good news for a program coming off a 2-10 season that just saw offensive line coach Jim Bridge bolt for Purdue after being in Champaign for just a few weeks.

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TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: This about says it all.

My take: Just doesn’t seem right, does it?

My take: This is a nice hire. Genyk is a smart coach who was head coach at Eastern Michigan and a former Northwestern assistant.

My take: Without a doubt.

My take: More proof of the Big Ten’s power this season.

My take: I still think Indiana is the favorite, even though it has lost two of its last three games. Remember: NCAA games are played on neutral courts.

My take: Yes, impressive. And Ohio State is a “football” school?

My take: Agreed. Illinois’ NCAA ticket has been punched already—not matter what the Illini do the rest of the season. They have too many quality wins to be denied.

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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