February 27, 2010

Big Ten entering final week of play

MADISON - It may be hard to believe, but the Big Ten season is entering its final week of play. With the recent and unfortunate injury to Robbie Hummel, it seems five teams still have a legitimate shot to claim at least a piece of the conference championship.

With the final week upon us, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look at some important games regarding some top-tier teams.

Note: This feature was put together following Ohio State's win over Michigan.

The standings: (Before the Illinois-Minnesota game)

1st- Purdue: 12-3 Big Ten, 24-3 overall
2nd- Ohio State: 13-4 Big Ten, 22-7 overall
3rd- Michigan State: 11-4 Big Ten, 21-7 overall
4th- Wisconsin: 11-5 Big Ten, 21-7 overall
5th- Illinois: 10-5 Big Ten, 18-10 overall

The schedules:

Purdue: Michigan State (Sunday), Indiana (Wednesday), at Penn State (Saturday). Best possible finish: 15-3

Ohio State: Illinois (Tuesday). Best possible finish: 14-4

Michigan State: at Purdue (Sunday), Penn State (Thursday), Michigan (Sunday). Best possible finish: 14-4

Wisconsin: Iowa (Wednesday), at Illinois (Sunday). Best possible finish: 13-5

Illinois: Minnesota (Today), at Ohio State (Tuesday), Wisconsin (Sunday). Best possible finish: 13-5.

The games:

The following are the five most influential games in regards to deciding the conference title race.

1.) Michigan State at Purdue: Sunday afternoon.

The Boilermakers, who were seemingly hitting their stride entering the game at Minnesota, lost Hummel to a torn ACL during that game. With the injury, Purdue loses not only one of its most instrumental leaders on the court, but it loses one of the best players in all of the Big Ten.

After he suffered the injury in the first half, Purdue found itself in a dogfight with a desperate Minnesota squad. Had Devoe Joseph hit the open eight to 10 footer with time winding down, the conference could very well have a three-way tie for the lead.

But, luckily for Purdue, the shot clanked off the back iron and the Boilermakers left Minneapolis with a one-game lead in the standings. On Sunday, though, all of it will be on the line when the Boilermakers welcome Michigan State to Mackey Arena.

It will be the first time the Boilermakers will be playing from start to finish without Hummel. In a game of this magnitude, with players very capable across the board, somebody is going to need to step up if Purdue is going to remain in the hunt for a one seed and continue to sit alone atop the Big Ten.

2.) Illinois at Ohio State: Tuesday night.

Ohio State will be the leader in the clubhouse regardless of what happens in Tuesday night's game. With a win, the Buckeyes will finish the league slate with a 14-4 record and by doing so, would eliminate Wisconsin and Illinois from title contention.

In the first meeting between the two schools in Champaign, Ohio State walked all over a red hot Illini squad that had just beat Wisconsin in the Kohl Center. Will Illinois have enough firepower to overcome arguably the best starting five in the Big Ten? That's probably doubtful.

3.) Minnesota at Illinois: 3 o'clock central time

Not only is this a classic bubble matchup between two schools fighting to get into the NCAA tournament, it's one that could have conference title ramifications. Should the Gophers head into Assembly Hall and defeat Illinois this afternoon, the Illini would be eliminated from title contention.

If that were to happen would the Illini, a team that is simply fighting for a big in the NCAA's and Big Ten tournament seeding, put together the same type of effort at Ohio State and at home against Wisconsin during the final week? One would think so, but one could also think the wind behind their title aspiration sails could also be taken away.

Regardless, today's game is of major importance not only for two bubble teams, but also for the final week of Big Ten play.

4.) Purdue at Penn State (Saturday) and Michigan State at Michigan (Sunday)

In the first game listed above, Purdue will likely have a shot to at least claim a share of the league title with a win over Penn State. But even though the Nittany Lions have struggled for the large majority of the season, do not count them out on senior day. Ed DeChellis will have his team playing hard in its final showing in front of its fans. Purdue could be in for quite the fight if it came down to that game in Happy Valley.

The same could be said for Michigan State. If the Spartans were to beat Purdue on Sunday, they could potentially vie for a share of the league title with its rivalry game against Michigan. The Wolverines, barring a conference championship title, will not make the tournament and would like nothing more to prevent their hated in state rival from claiming a piece of the conference title.

Remember, the first game between these two schools went down to the wire. Had DeShawn Sims' tip in with time running out gone in, the Big Ten race would be a bit different. Needless to say, the final weekend of the season will go a long way in determining who gets the regular season hardware.

5.) Wisconsin at Illinois: Sunday afternoon:

Should the cards fall perfectly, and nothing short of that will work, Sunday's game in Assembly Hall could be for a share of the conference title. Of course, Illinois will need to beat Ohio State, Michigan State will need to beat Purdue and then each of those two schools would need to falter once more against weaker teams, but crazier things have happened.

Realistically, Sunday's game between the Badgers and Illini will likely just be played to determine seeds for the upcoming Big Ten tournament. And there is a decent chance both teams could wind up playing each other again in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Prediction:

I am not going to beat around the bush. I'll just come out and say that Purdue will win the outright Big Ten championship.

With all the talk about Purdue losing Hummel for the rest of the season, I feel that the Boilermakers will come out as a team on a mission and defeat the Spartans. Therefore, they would have a two game lead in the league with two games to play.

While a letdown is possible after what would be such an emotional win over the Spartans, Purdue would not lose two games to Indiana and Penn State to close out the final week.



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