Mike Wolf, BTN volleyball announcer, November 11, 2014

The Big Ten Title race was points away from a dramatic shift in the standings last week, but despite being challenged, the conference leading Badgers remain in control of their title hopes.

Down 13-11 in the fifth set on the road against Michigan, Wisconsin received crucial plays from senior Ellen Chapman, sophomore star Lauren Carlini and freshman Kelli Bates to avoid losing sole possession of first place. The Badgers have extended their win streak to 13 and the victory against Michigan last Friday is the mark of a championship squad, finding ways to win when you are not playing your best. The Wolverines may have fallen short, but they gain confidence for the rematch that takes place Wednesday on BTN.

Michigan was not the only unranked Big Ten squad that made itself heard last week. The lower half of the conference won two matches against ranked opponents that had been, until now, in the mix for the conference title.

Northwestern may not have achieved its first season sweep of Illinois since 2005, but the Wildcats knocked the Illini out of title contention with a five set win in Evanston last week. Illinois will still face Wisconsin in Madison on Nov. 19, but rather than controlling their own destiny to at least tie for first place, now the Illini must hope for help to reclaim a spot in the race.

After dropping its first seven matches against ranked opponents this year, Iowa finally broke through with a four set win over previous frontrunner No. 12 Purdue on Saturday. The Hawkeyes have won four straight matches and their five wins in conference play are the most for Iowa since 2009 when the team finished 5-15. The upset of Purdue was Iowa?s first win over a ranked opponent since 2012 and while the first three matches of the win streak came against the conference?s bottom teams, first year coach Bond Shymansky has to be encouraged by his team?s play as of late.

Purdue on the other hand is reeling. The Boilermakers have gone 3-5 since starting Big Ten play 6-0 and have lost four of their last five matches. At no point did anyone think Purdue was going to go unbeaten in conference play, but the recent outcomes have not met expectations. Purdue did not face a single ranked team in the first three weeks of the Big Ten schedule and now the league?s early leader has gone just 1-4 against ranked conference foes.

The recent move by Dave Shondell and his staff to implement the 6-2 system is not a bad idea for the Boilers and we saw how effective it can be against Minnesota. However, any transition to a new offense takes time and when you are contending for a title, an adjustment period is something you cannot afford. Purdue may have things sorted out by the time the tournament rolls around, but unfortunately for the Boilermakers, the Big Ten title is now out of reach.

Live on BTN/BTN2GO this week:

Michigan at #4 Wisconsin  – Wednesday at 7:30 ET (Watch on BTN2GO)

Time is dwindling in the Big Ten and both of these teams have work to be done in the final six matches of the regular season. Wisconsin is hoping to close out the final three weeks by keeping its win streak alive and taking home its first conference title since 2001. Michigan knows it has to land several marquee wins in the second half to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines will be looking to keep their postseason hopes alive on Wednesday, while the Badgers will look to assert themselves following a lackluster performance in Ann Arbor.

There may not be a team with a more daunting schedule in the final few weeks than Michigan. The Wolverines will face five ranked teams in their last six matches, three of which will be on the road. For a team that had lost five straight prior to last Saturday?s win against Minnesota, the road to a ninth straight tournament appearance is an imposing one. With an overall record of 11-13, Michigan must win at least four of the final six to meet the minimum requirement of a .500 record. Trips to Madison, Lincoln and Champaign, as well as visits from the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, means the win or go home mentality starts now for Michigan.

Mark Rosen?s team will not be intimidated on Wednesday night in Madison after taking the Badgers to the limit last week. Adeja Lambert and Abby Cole both had 20 kill performances in that match, while Caroline Knop had her then fifth double-double of the year in Michigan?s near miss against Wisconsin. It may be a tall order, but the Maize and Blue will need similar efforts from those three if they hope to pull off the road upset.

Wisconsin did not get its usual pin production last Friday and Kelly Sheffield will hope for more on Wednesday. Ellen Chapman, Courtney Thomas and Kelli Bates combined for 28 kills and hit just .178 in five sets, but the Badgers had excellent middle production to offset the absence on the outside. Haleigh Nelson had 16 kills and Dominique Thompson had 10, while both hit over .400 and added a combined 10 blocks. Wisconsin will need better balance and must find a way to slow Cole to extend its win streak. However, after last Friday?s performance, I would not be surprised to see the Badgers make a statement in the UW Field House.

About Mike Wolf Mike Wolf is a BTN announcer and calls Big Ten volleyball matches on the Big Ten Network. His Volleyball Reports will appear on BTN.com every Tuesday for the rest of the Big Ten volleyball season. You can also follow our extended volleyball coverage on Twitter with @BTNvolleyball.