Illinois' wild week, with wins over MSU (somewhat expected) and Wisconsin (stunning), and subsequent loss to Ohio State (being a fan of the Illini must be awesome) has thrown the Big Ten into disarray. So much so that a four-way tie for the regular season championship is not only possible, but perhaps probable. How does it shape up for the four contenders?
Michigan St. Spartans (10 - 3)
The preseason favorites along with Purdue started off strong at 9-0 in Big Ten play, but lost 3 straight following an injury to Kalin Lucas in a blowout loss to Wisconsin. Their toughest remaining games are at home against Ohio State on the 21st, and at Purdue on the 28th. A likely split nets them a 14 - 4 record.
Purdue Boilermakers (9 - 3)
Purdue went on a 3 game skid of their own, but got Lewis Jackson back in a close win over the Badgers and haven't lost since. They have two remaining games against fellow title contenders - at Ohio State on Wednesday night, and at home against the Spartans on the 28th.
Ohio St. Buckeyes (10 - 3)
Ohio State is also on a win streak of their own, of six games including a 72 - 53 dismantling of Illinois on the road. The Buckeyes have two remaining games against fellow contenders, taking on Purdue at home on Wednesday night and heading to Michigan State on Saturday.
Wisconsin Badgers (9 - 4)
The astute reader will note that the Badgers have the worst record of the four contenders. However, Wisconsin has the only realistic chance in the bunch of winning out.
Can they do so? Three of their final five are on the road, but one is at Indiana, and none of the games are against teams ranked in the top 40 in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings.
Winning at Minnesota is certainly possible, though not easy. The Gophers have the best defense of any non-contending team in the Big Ten, and have only lost one game at home all season. Wisconsin played OSU and Purdue, much better teams than Minnesota, close on the road, so the ability is there, but the streakiness of their jump shooting without a post presence is what will win or lose this game. A wild card for this one is the possible return of Jon Leuer - the game will fall right in the 5 week range from his wrist surgery. A few minutes with a genuine post presence would probably put them over the edge against Tubby's squad.
Despite the surprising home loss to Illinois, a win in Champaign is probably more likely than a win at the Barn. Even if Leuer returns to action on Thursday night, he probably won't see more than 15 minutes of action, but by March 6th he should be back at close to full strength. A healthy post-presence on defense would do wonders for the Badgers' ability to defend those maddening mid-range jumpers from McCamey and Tisdale, and the motivation will likely be there as well - being the last game of the regular season, they'll know if a win would get them a share of the championship.