With five games to go, the bizarre Big Ten has three-way tie for first place
Let's figure out how this confusing league will sort itself out before Selection Sunday
Michigan has thrown the Big Ten into a terrific state of uncertainty.
The Wolverines (17-9), a team I’m entirely befuddled with, nonetheless got the biggest win of their season Thursday night with a poised 64-58 victory against 11th-ranked Wisconsin (21-5).
In doing so, Michigan landed a third straight Big Ten win. The Badgers have responded to not being included in the selection committee’s top 16 seeds last Saturday by losing at home to Northwestern and getting tripped up by Michigan -- neither team being a lock for the NCAA Tournament. (Though, need I remind you weekly: Northwestern’s going to safely be in the field.)
Also, Wisconsin was missing Bronson Koenig due to injury, so that should be factored in, even if slightly.
Anyhow, now the Big Ten (anybody have any idea how good, or not, this league is this season?) is coagulated at the top. Wisconsin’s two-game hold on the conference has vanished in five days. The Badgers are now tied at 10-3 alongside Maryland and Purdue. So who’s going to win this puppy? And could the Big Ten regular-season champ crack onto the 4 line in the NCAA Tournament? Northwestern and Michigan State are 8-5 and with being two games back in the loss column with five to go, it means both are unlikely to be able to win out and leapfrog Purdue, Maryland and/or Wisconsin.
Best case: We get a three-way tie. Embrace the tie, people.
In the wake of Wisconsin’s loss, here’s where things stand with each team having five games remaining.
Record: 21-5 | 10-3
Beat Purdue? No. Lost 65-55 at Purdue on Jan. 8
Beat Maryland? Not yet decided!
- vs. Maryland on Sunday
- @ Ohio State on Feb. 23
- @ Michigan State on Feb. 26
- vs. Iowa on March 2
- vs. Minnesota on March 5
My take: The Badgers losing to Maryland on Sunday would eliminate them from consideration for anything better than a 5 for the rest of the season, even if they managed to win the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin’s road game against Michigan State is tricky, but they should be on a minimum two-game winning streak heading into the league tournament. While the conference bracket can provide wacky results, my estimation is that Wisconsin enters the NCAA Tournament as a 27-win team.
Record: 21-5 | 10-3
Beat Wisconsin? Yes. Won 65-55 at home over the Badgers on Jan. 8
Beat Maryland? Yes. Won 73-72 at Maryland on Feb. 4
- vs. Michigan State on Saturday
- @ Penn State on Feb. 21
- @ Michigan on Feb. 25
- vs. Indiana on Feb. 28
- @ Northwestern on March 4
My take: The Boilermakers have the best chance to vie for a No. 4 seed -- certainly a 3 if they lose only once between now and Selection Sunday -- because they own the sweep over the other two teams in contention here. But there are more road than home games remaining. Things could be tricky. And I get the sense Michigan State could put up a big-time fight at Purdue’s joint on Saturday. I’m thinking Purdue gets to 26 wins when its name is called by Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday.
Record: 22-4 | 10-3
Beat Wisconsin? Not yet decided!
Beat Purdue? No. Lost at home 73-72 on Feb. 4
- @ Wisconsin on Sunday
- vs. Minnesota on Feb. 22
- vs. Iowa on Feb. 25
- @ Rutgers on Feb. 28
- vs. Michigan State on March 5
My take: The Terps are getting great play out of their freshmen, and Melo Trimble is still on the margins of being a top-10 national Player of the Year candidate. The Wisconsin game is huge for the Terps’ overall resume, and it’s only one of two games that can really help Maryland prior to the Big Ten tourney, because it’s likely either beating Minnesota or Michigan State in College Park will be granular in terms of bumping seed lines. I think the Terps, like Wisconsin, get to Selection Sunday one way or another as a 27-win team. Mark me down for them finishing the season 3-2, then getting two wins in the Big Ten tourney.
That means Maryland goes 13-5. As does Purdue. And so does Wisconsin. The Big Ten has been a clog all season, from top to middle, and it’s probably going to end that way as well. I’m all for it. Give a major conference tournament even more urgency. If these three teams finish as five-loss squads, they’ll have true motivation to win out in the league bracket in order to have a good seed.
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