After the marquee matchup on Sunday between the Big Ten’s top two title contenders, one would think that this week’s slate of games could be lackluster. However, Tuesday night’s games proved to be just the opposite. Iowa squandered an opportunity to stay right in the heat of the Big Ten race with a loss at Minnesota 95-89. On the flip side, Minnesota got a much needed win over a top 20 team to help boost their NCAA Tournament resume. In addition, Indiana was looking for a season sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they also squandered an opportunity after leading Wisconsin by double digits in the first half and ended up losing by double digits 69-58.
What Does This Mean for the Big Ten Title Race?
Wisconsin stays in the hunt for at least a share of the Big Ten Regular Season Championship with a 10-5 conference record. They are two games behind the league leading Michigan Wolverines 19-7 (11-3) in the loss column. Michigan State sits at one back in the loss column with a record of 22-6 (11-4). The Badgers and the Spartans will both be hoping for a Michigan loss at Purdue on Wednesday night.
NCAA Seeding Implications
There are currently five Big Ten teams in both the Associated Press (AP) and USA Today polls. Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State are the five teams in that order in terms of their position in the polls. My prediction is that Michigan will be anywhere from a number 2-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, depending upon what happens in their last four games of the regular season. However, I could see them potentially snatching a number 1 seed if they were to win out in the regular season and win the Big Ten Tournament. As for Wisconsin and Iowa, I see them both as number 3-5 seeds depending on how they finish the regular season, and how they perform in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State could find themselves anywhere from a number 2-4 seed as well, with a slight possibility of still getting a number one seed. However, that would require the Spartans to win out, find a way to earn a share of the regular season title, and win the Big Ten Tournament in my opinion.
Michigan heads to Mackey Arena to take on the upset-minded Boilermakers. To the naked eye this would seem like a blowout win for the Wolverines, much like the one the Spartans came away with last week at Purdue. But that’s just what the Boilermakers want everyone to think, including the Michigan Wolverines. I’m not saying that the Boilermakers will pull the upset, but anything is possible in the Big Ten. If Michigan has one of its off nights, then the Boilermakers could pick up their biggest win of the season. The key to the game for Purdue will be getting the ball inside to sophomore big man A.J. Hammons. He has a big size advantage inside against Horford and Morgan, and could be the difference maker. Nebraska also heads to Illinois to try to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. The Cornhuskers have been one of the Big Ten’s hottest teams lately, and are making a late push to be the Big Ten’s sixth team in the big dance.
Michigan 68, Purdue 64
Nebraska 72, Illinois 67
The Month of Izzo is Approaching
In the 18 years with Tom Izzo at the helm of the Michigan State, the month of March has been known as the month of Izzo. The Spartans have been to 16 straight NCAA Tournaments, and will make it 17 straight this year. That is the 3rd longest active streak in the NCAA. Everyone knows about the Spartans injury problems this season, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. As unfortunate as the injury bug has been for Michigan State, the fortunate side of things is they should have everyone back by tournament time. It is going to be difficult for the Spartans to win the Big Ten regular season at this point, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not really what’s important to this team. This team has been on a National Championship mission or bust from the beginning. Another positive for the Spartans is that I do not believe seeding is going to be as important this year as it has been in years past. I believe there are about 12 teams that have a legitimate chance of capturing a National Championship. This year’s tournament is going to be more about match-ups than it is seeding. However, I do believe that is still fairly important that the Spartans get a 1,2, or 3 seed to ensure they stay close to home. The Midwest Regional is being held in Indianapolis once again, and Milwaukee is a second and third round site (more commonly known as first and second round or first weekend site). The Spartans have the horses to get Tom Izzo his second National Championship when healthy, it is going to come down to the match-ups that they see along the way. One thing I know as a Michigan State basketball fan, you never count out an Izzo coached team in the month of Izzo.