Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, February 28, 2017
The final week of the season is here. And, it's looking more likely that the Big Ten will get seven teams in the NCAA tourney: Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Maryland, Michigan and Northwestern. And Illinois is coming on strong.
The title chase also has intrigue, too. Purdue has a one-game lead over Wisconsin. And with a home win vs. Indiana on Tuesday, the Boilermakers will clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 2010. If Purdue also wins at Northwestern in the finale, it would take the title outright. Wisconsin needs to hope the Boilers split their two games while the Badgers win their final two games (both at home vs. Iowa and Minnesota) to take a share of the championship.
Here is a look at the week ahead. Enjoy.
Game of the week: Minnesota at Wisconsin, Sunday. These fierce rivals face off in the season finale. And, it could be a doozy. The Golden Gophers are playing like the best team in the Big Ten, winners of seven in a row. Minnesota wants to keep the mojo going as it looks to enhance its NCAA seed and secure a top four seed in the league tourney. The Badgers haven't been playing well down the stretch, losing four of five coming off a defeat at Michigan State on Sunday. But they may have the Big Ten title on the line when Minnesota hits town. Wisconsin won at Minnesota earlier this season, taking a 78-76 decision in OT behind Ethan Happ's 28 points and 12 boards.
Don't overlook this game: Purdue at Northwestern, Sunday. It will be Senior Day for the Wildcats, so emotions should be high. The Wildcats NCAA tourney fate isn't as clear as it was a week ago, but a win vs. the Boilermakers-who may already have a share of the Big Ten title in tow when they arrive in Evanston–would send an emphatic message about NU's NCAA worthiness. The Wildcats have lost two in a row and five of seven, so there is a sense of urgency. Purdue saw its six-game winning streak end with a thud at Michigan on Saturday.
Must win: Iowa at Wisconsin, Thursday. The Badgers are slumping down the stretch but get to finish the season with two home games. Before Minnesota comes to Madison for the finale, the Hawkeyes will come to town for the only meeting of the season between these rivals. Iowa is playing well, winning two in a row with a big triumph at Maryland on Saturday as it makes a season-ending push. If Purdue loses at home to Indiana on Tuesday, Wisconsin can move into a first-place tie with the Boilers with a victory vs. the Hawkeyes.
Best individual matchup: Nebraska's Tai Webster vs. Minnesota's Nate Mason, Thursday. Both are primo point guards. Mason averages 15.1 points and 5.3 assists. Webster is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring with a 17.8 average to go with 4.0 assists.
Upset alert: Iowa at Wisconsin, Thursday? Iowa is a young team and it's never easy to win in the Kohl Center, but it is playing well, winners of two in a row, and the rival Badgers are mired in an extended funk. Plus, Iowa has Peter Jok, the Big Ten's leading scorer, who averages 20.6 points and tallied 35 points in a recent game.
Big week: Michigan. The Wolverines continue to push for an NCAA bid, entering the week with two wins in a row. Ending last week with a triumph vs. No. 14 Purdue was big. Now, Michigan finishes the regular season with two road games: at Northwestern and at Nebraska. Can the Wolverines win both? If so, it would be a heck of a way to punctuate the season and make Michigan one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten.
WEEK 10 SCHEDULE
Indiana at Purdue
Maryland at Rutgers
Ohio State at Penn State
Michigan at Northwestern
Michigan State at Illinois
Nebraska at Minnesota
Iowa at Wisconsin
Illinois at Rutgers
Indiana at Ohio State
Penn State at Iowa
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Michigan at Nebraska
Purdue at Northwestern
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