Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 1, 2012

I took my usual spin around the Internet this morning and found my five conversation starters for Thursday. Click inside for a look at those stories, my take on each, and more links to the Big ten stories you need to read today.

Tina Akouris of the Chicago Sun-Times says the Illini are in damage-control mode vs. Michigan tonight. I also think Illinois has a great opportunity at its feet to still earn an at-large spot in the NCAA tourney. Really. If the Illini (17-12 overall; 6-10 Big Ten) can beat Michigan in Champaign, then win at Wisconsin on Sunday and take a game or two at the Big Ten tourney next week, Illinois would have a very impressive resume for an at-large NCAA bid. Illinois already has quality wins over Gonzaga, Ohio State and Michigan State. Add in possible triumphs over the Wolverines and Badgers? Wow. But know this: The Wolverines are extra motivated to win to keep their faint Big Ten title hopes alive. Still, the Illini look like they have some life after playing their best ball in weeks on Sunday in that home win over Iowa. Illinois may be alive, people!

The Spartans need a quick adjustment to win the Big Ten outright, says Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News. No doubt. That loss at Indiana on Tuesday spoiled the Spartans? hopes of clinching the outright Big Ten crown. Now, Michigan State has to win at home vs. Ohio State on Sunday to claim the title all to itself. If they lose, the Spartans must share the championship with the Buckeyes and possibly even Michigan-You know Sparty hates the thought of that!–if the Wolverines win their last two games (at Illinois; at Penn State). In the end, I will be surprised if Michigan State flops at home on Senior Night for Draymond Green with so much on the line. This is an Ohio State team that is just 3-3 in its last six games and barely escaped Northwestern with a victory last night.

The Wildcats were dominated on the glass in that loss at home to Ohio State last night, writes Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. Northwestern also probably saw its NCAA hopes dashed when Buckeye big man Jared Sullinger dropped in that layup with 3.1 seconds left for a 75-73 victory to keep Ohio State?s Big Ten title hopes alive. The Wildcats (17-12 overall; 7-10 Big Ten) now must win at Iowa on Saturday and then make a deep run in the Big Ten tourney to hope for their first-ever NCAA bid. The odds: long. Too bad NU lost so many close, tough games: two overtime contests to Michigan; on a last-second shot to Purdue at home; and last night.

The senior trio of Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith took its final curtain call last night, says Jeff Washburn of the Lafayette Journal-Courier. And, it was a beautiful thing-especially for Hummel. He has fought through two knee injuries to propel the Boilermakers to a likely sixth consecutive NCAA bid and sixth-straight 20-win season. Hummel started the year slowly, as he was limited in practices. But as his practice time has increased, his production has taken off. And that?s why Purdue has won five of its last six games and is one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. It all comes to end with a trip to Indiana this Sunday. Could Hummel and the Boilers knock off the Hoosiers, who drubbed Purdue earlier this season in West Lafayette? More on Hummel's big night here, including video.

John Beilein knows there?s still a chance to win the Big Ten, says Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. The Wolverines need to win at Illinois and at Penn State-and then hope Ohio State knocks off Michigan State. If all of that happens, the Wolverines can call themselves Big Ten champs for the first time since 1985-86. And Beilein just may be the Big Ten coach of the year.

Curiosity abounds about how the new kickoff rule will impact special teams, says Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star.

Big Ten
Where are fans of your team hanging out for the Big Ten tourney? The Indianapolis Star tells you.

The Illini and Bruce Weber draw inspiration from the past, says Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review.

Illinois and the White Sox join forces in a cross promotional relationship, writes Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune.

Tom Crean is still hyped after that big win, says Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press.

The Hoosiers and Boilers are all tied up with one game to play, says Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star.

Who is scary in March? Indiana, says Shane Ryan of Grantland.

Carlton Brundidge to transfer? Rod Beard of the Detroit News fills us in.

Mitch McGary brushes off talk of an early entry to the NBA, says Nick Baumgardner of

Ralph Sampson III is finishing an underwhelming four years, says Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tubby Smith says ?it?s usually upstairs is where the problem is,? blogs Amelia Rayno of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Ohio State
Lenzelle Smith knows he must find a way to ?change the game? and other thoughts from that awesome Northwestern game from Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Ohio State?s approach is March maddening, says Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Cincinnati assistant Kerry Coombes is expected to join the staff, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

Penn State
The Nits land a four-star quarterback, says Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

It was a fine finale for Robbie Hummel, writes Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

Good Badgers bail out bad Badgers, opines Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for and will post his Daily Links on weekdays. You can subscribe to the Daily Links RSS here, find Dienhart?s work at, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.