Dienhart: Expect unexpected in final week

This is it, the last week of Big Ten action. And, that means one thing: Expect the unexpected. As for the title chase, there isn’t much drama left, as Michigan already has wrapped up at least a share of the championship. Other schools are looking to enhance their NCAA resumes.

One story line to watch: Who will finish fourth, thus earning a first-round bye in the Big Ten tourney? Iowa and Nebraska are tied with a 9-7 mark, while Ohio State is 9-8.

[ MORE: View Stephen Bardo's latest Big Ten Power Rankings ]

Game of the week: Nebraska plays at Indiana on Wednesday in an intriguing battle. The Hoosiers are trying to make push for a postseason bid. An NCAA berth looks like a long, long shot, but the NIT is a possibility. No doubt, a win here is key to Indiana’s hopes. The same can be said for the Cornhuskers, who are making an improbable push for their first NCAA bid since 1998. Every win is critical to that cause. While IU has struggled this season, it has been tough at home in knocking off the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State this season. Will Noah Vonleh play? He was in a boot after the Ohio State on Sunday.

Upset alert: In this “man bites dog season,” every team seemingly should be on upset alert each game. Let’s go with Michigan at Illinois on Tuesday. The Fighting Illini are playing well, having won three in a row and four of six behind some rugged defense in a late-season push for a postseason bid. A Wolverines’ victory would give the program its first outright Big Ten title since—Are you ready for this?—1985-86. What a great squad that was, featuring the likes of Roy Tarpley, Richard Reliford, Antoine Joubert, Gary Grant, Glen Rice, Butch Wade and Robert Henderson—all of whom were NBA draft picks. Let’s hope the current edition of Michigan fares better in the NCAA tourney than the 1985-86 team, which lost in the second round as a No. 2 seed.

Big week: Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ Big Ten title hopes are trashed, courtesy of a three-game losing skid that finally was ended on Sunday with a home victory vs. Purdue. Iowa needs to gain some momentum to get back on track with the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys around the corner, or the postseason may not be much fun for Iowa. Job No. 1 for the Hawkeyes: Improve the defense.

Individual matchup to watch: It will be fun to watch Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble battle Michigan State’s Gary Harris. Neither of these teams is playing particularly well, especially a Spartans club that has gone 4-6 in its last 10 games. Each of these players is the bellwether for their respective squad. Marble has scored at least 20 points in the last four games. Harris has scored 25, 21 and 19 in his last three.

[ MORE: Who tops our latest Big Ten Player of the Year Tracker? ]

A LOOK BACK

Big winner: Michigan rolled on with three wins last week, knocking off Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota. That hot streak coupled with Michigan State’s home upset loss to Illinois allowed the Wolverines to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. Wisconsin also merits mention. No league team is hotter, as the Badgers have won seven in a row.

Big loser: Iowa. The Hawkeyes came off the rails, enduring a three-game losing skid that saw Iowa play three games in six days. The suffering ended on Sunday with a win vs. Purdue. Still, the damage has been done. The defense was abysmal during the losing skid, as Iowa allowed 79, 95 and 93 points in the defeats. Any faint hope of winning the program’s first Big Ten crown since 1978-79 went out the window. And more bleeding may be on the horizon with games left at Michigan State and vs. Illinois.

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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Show Comments (1 Comment)
1 Post Your Comment
Bag on 3/4/2014 @ 11:55am EDT Said:

OSU is not 9-7 in conference.

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