Michigan State has to be the presumptive conference favorite at this point - thanks to an 11 team Big Ten they avoid OSU on the road, and their only remaining road challenges are at Wisconsin and Purdue. Their two game lead over the 4 - 2 Badgers gives them the inside line to the championship.
Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue will probably come in at 13 - 5.
Both OSU and Purdue have three conference losses, and both have road games at MSU and face each other on the road.
See below for game by game predictions for the Badgers, who have the most wiggle room in their remaining schedule to move up.
Barring any major upsets (and they don't seem likely, given the pervasive conference mediocrity this season), the four teams above should go into the NCAA tourney seeded between 1 - 6, with the top two teams getting 2 or 3 seeds, and the other two going in seeded 5 - 6 thanks to mediocre out of conference play.
Game by game predictions after the jump for the next seven Leuer-less games:
A loss here to the conference-winless Nittany Lions would be shocking. Leuer's loss shouldn't hurt too much for this one - in his absence, the offense has been atrocious but the defense has stayed fairly airtight, giving up less than 55 points a game. Don't look for Talor Battle to do much damage. And take the under. Prediction: Wisconsin 62 - Penn State 45.
Wisconsin @ Purdue, January 28th
Even with Leuer, this game would be tough to win. UW hasn't won at Mackey since 2005 - going in there without a post presence certainly isn't going to change that. Unless Nankivil plays the game of his life and gets JaJuan Johnson in foul trouble (or gets hot from outside), this is almost certainly a loss. Prediction: Purdue 67 - Wisconsin 54.
Michigan State @ Wisconsin, February 2nd
Can the Badgers notch their third top-10 win of the season? With Leuer, the answer would probably be yes. MSU had no answer for him in the second half at East Lansing, and the crowd probably could goad some extra production out of the guards. Without him, the game is pretty much a coin flip. Tom Izzo has never beat Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center, yet this year his squad (though not as good as 2008) is definitely stronger than the postless wonders. The closest analog to this game is their 2007 matchup in Madison, won by a similarly shorthanded squad by Kammron Taylor on a clutch three with under 10 seconds to play. Prediction: Wisconsin 54 - Michigan State 53.
Wisconsin @ Michigan, February 6th
Another coin flip. The Badgers stole one in Madison on Wednesday, but were thoroughly dominated inside by DeShawn Sims for the first 30 minutes. One would think the home-court advantage might give the Wolverines the edge, but they dropped games to Northwestern and Boston College at Crisler earlier this season, and the Badgers have known success there in the past few years. Without Leuer, though, another close game probably goes to Michigan, who dismantled a similarly shorthanded OSU squad in early January. Prediction: Michigan 57 - Wisconsin 54.
Illinois @ Wisconsin, February 9th
Even without Leuer this game should be a Wisconsin win, but look for the Badgers to shoot atrociously from outside again. Three games in a week tends to take the air out of a team's three-ball production, as Hughes and co. ably demonstrated on Wednesday night against Michigan. Luckily for the Badgers, Mike Tisdale and Demetri McCamey aren't yet the one-two punch of Sims and Harris, so they should have a little easier night on the defensive end. Another low-scoring goes the Badgers' way. Prediction: Wisconsin 60 - Illinois 53.
Indiana @ Wisconsin, February 13th
While somewhat resurgent in Big Ten play, Indiana still isn't very good. They'll be forced into too many turnovers to keep this one too competitive. This game is also the first one that could conceivably see the return of Jon Leuer, coming 4.5 weeks after his surgery. Even if he's still out, look for the fresh-legged guards to combine with Indiana's relatively up-tempo play and push the Badgers over 70 points for the first time since early January. Prediction: Wisconsin 72 - Indiana 53.
Wisconsin @ Minnesota, February 18th
The coin-flippiest coin flip of them all. Leuer has even a better chance of being back for this one, and with him in the lineup UW should be able to get revenge on the Gophers for the unfortunate business last season. Without him, its the Badgers and their limited frontcourt going up against Minnesota and their limited backcourt. Hughes and Bohannon match up perfectly with Westbrook and Hoffarber. Jordan Taylor might be the key for the Badgers here - without Al Nolen the Gophers won't have a true point guard or a bulldog defender, and Hughes and Taylor will have opportunities to exploit that. Similarly, Sampson, Johnson and Bostick should have the edge over Nankivil, Evans and Jarmusz/Bruesewitz. A truly fascinating matchup, but in the absence of Leuer the Gophers take a close one. Prediction: Minnesota 55 - Wisconsin 54.