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Wisconsin men’s basketball: B1G conference race overview and schedule

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An overview of what should be a wild week across the Big Ten in men’s college hoops.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-2021 season has been up and down for the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team lately. While playing in the top conference in college basketball this season, their 16-8 overall record (10-7 Big Ten) has not lived up to lofty expectations for many fans. However, all things considered the veteran group is still within striking distance of securing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, slated to start up on March 10, with a strong finish to the season.

The Big Ten has been absolutely bananas this season, with puzzling losses, close contests, and winning streaks shifting the makeup of the conference race every few days. With just over a week left in the regular season the Badgers are not in a position to claim a share of the B1G title as they did a season ago, but there is plenty of intrigue remaining as they look to make a run in the conference tournament and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in March.

In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology report he has nine Big Ten members in his field of 68, with both Minnesota and Michigan State just outside with a chance to shake things up. Additionally, at the top of the conference there are presently four teams that are vying for the one or two-seed line, and Indiana barely inside the field for now.

With so much up for grabs in the coming week lets breakdown the remaining schedule for each team in the tournament picture and the potential implications starting with the Badgers.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 Wisconsin Badgers (16-8 overall, 10-7 B1G)

  • Vs. No. 5 Illinois —> Saturday, February 27: 1 p.m. CST @ Kohl Center
  • At Purdue —> Tuesday, March 2: 8 p.m. CST @ Mackey Arena
  • At No. 9 Iowa —> Sunday, March 7: 11:30 a.m. CST @ Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Wisconsin has a tough stretch to finish the season but it is somehow fairly comparable when compared to some others around the conference. The Badgers are currently sitting in the sixth spot in the conference pecking order, but will go up against three opponents who are ahead of them in the standings.

The chances of Wisconsin winning all three is extremely low, especially considering how poorly things went the first time they went up against both Illinois and Iowa, but if Wisconsin could steal two of them, including a win against Iowa, a top-four finish is within reach. The Badgers have finished inside that mark in 18 of the past 19 seasons.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (17-1 overall, 12-1 B1G)

  • At Indiana —> Saturday, February 27: 12 p.m. CST @ Assembly Hall
  • Vs. Illinois —> Tuesday, March 2: 7 p.m. CST @ Crisler Center
  • Vs. Michigan State —> Thursday, March 4: 7 p.m. CST @ Crisler Center
  • At Michigan State —> Sunday, March 7: TBA @ Breslin Center

Michigan is clearly in the driver seat in the conference, and is trending towards locking down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament after beating Iowa. Outside of a total collapse with three losses in their final four, one of which would have to come against Illinois, the Wolverines should take the conference crown. It will be interesting to see how tiring this final four-game stretch is for Michigan before the conference tournament, but right now they are playing some of their best basketball of the season and look for real.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini (17-6 overall, 13-4 B1G)

  • At No. 23 Wisconsin —> Saturday, February 27: 1 p.m. CST @ Kohl Center
  • At No. 3 Michigan —> Tuesday, March 2: 7 p.m. CST @ Crisler Center
  • At No. 4 Ohio State —> Saturday, March 6: TBA @ Schottenstein Center

If Illinois wants to have a chance to claim a share of the Big Ten title they will need to do so on the road, and will need some help along the way. The Fighting Illini have one of the best duos in the entire conference, but the injury status of Ayo Dosunmu is worth monitoring. At this point he should be good to go the rest of the way, but those final three games should be really fun to watch. Illinois is one of the best teams in the conference and are knocking on the door for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can finish strong.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (18-6 overall, 12-6 B1G)

  • Vs. No. 9 Iowa —> Sunday, February 28: 4 p.m. CST @ Schottenstein Center
  • Vs. No. 5 Illinois —> Saturday, March 6: TBA @ Schottenstein Center

All of Ohio State’s losses this season have come inside the conference, but they proved to be one of the best teams in the B1G, and nation, during the months of January and February. Recent back-to-back losses have shifted their placement in the conference slightly, but two huge contests with Iowa and Illinois still loom to finish off the season.

Ohio State could wind up anywhere from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament all the way down to a No. 4 seed if they struggle in the conference tournament, but what a way to cap off the season against two top-10 teams at home with plenty of time to prepare in between.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes (18-6 overall, 12-6 B1G)

  • At No. 4 Ohio State —> Sunday, February 28: 4 p.m. CST @ Schottenstein Center
  • Vs. Nebraska —> Thursday, March 4: TBA @ Carver-Hawkeye Arena
  • Vs. No. 23 Wisconsin —> Sunday, March 7: 11:30 a.m. CST @ Carver-Hawkeye Arena

After winning four-straight games, Iowa got handled by Michigan on Thursday night. The Hawkeyes and National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza were held in check all night long, but have three pivotal games remaining if they want to improve their stock ahead of Selection Sunday. As things stand Iowa is a projected three-seed, but they have the talent to easily improve that if they are able to win out. Games at Ohio State and versus Wisconsin will be tough, but an easy game against Nebraska sandwiched in the middle should help.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue Boilermakers (16-8 overall, 11-6 B1G)

  • Vs. No. 23 Wisconsin —> Tuesday, March 2: 8 p.m. CST @ Mackey Arena
  • Vs. Indiana —> Saturday, March 6: TBA @ Mackey Arena

Purdue has won three in a row and has one of the easier paths at the end of the schedule. The Boilermakers have a game edge over the Badgers in the conference race, meaning that the contest on March 2 is critical for that No. 5 spot. Mackey Arena has not been friendly to Wisconsin in the past, and the Boilermakers will have plenty to play for. Right now Purdue is projected as a sixth seed in the Big Dance, but with two winnable (but also very losable) games left on their schedule, their status is very fluid.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-9 overall, 9-9 B1G)

  • At Nebraska —> Monday, March 1: 7 p.m. CST @ Pinnacle Bank Arena
  • At Minnesota —> Saturday, March 6: 12 p.m. CST @ Williams Arena

Rutgers only has two remaining games in the regular season, and could use a couple wins to move off of the 8/9 line to avoid a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Scarlet Knights are looking to make it into the Big Dance for the first time since 1991 behind a really strong group. Right now they are only .500 in conference play, but a road win over Minnesota would not only bolster their resume but also potentially kill the Gophers shot to get in at the same time.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland Terrapins (14-10 overall, 8-9 B1G)

  • Vs. Michigan State —> Sunday, February 28: 2 p.m. CST @ XFINITY Center
  • At Northwestern —> Wednesday, March 3: 9 p.m. CST @ Welsh Ryan Arena
  • Vs. Penn State —> Sunday, March 7: TBA @ XFINITY Center

Maryland has one of the better looking schedules to cap off their season, with a big chance to improve their resume against Michigan at home, and two of the worst teams in the conference remaining. Michigan State is playing really good basketball right now, but Maryland is as well. The Terrapins have won four-straight games, and have pushed themselves out of the bubble. Aaron Wiggins has scored 20+ points in two of their last four games, and has his team ready for that big game against the Spartans on Sunday that could have huge ramifications for the conference.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State Spartans (13-9 overall, 7-9 B1G)

  • At Maryland —> Sunday, February 28: 2 p.m. CST @ XFINITY Center
  • Vs. Indiana —> Tuesday, March 2: 8 p.m. CST @ Breslin Center
  • At No. 3 Michigan —> Thursday, March 4: 7 p.m. CST @ Crisler Center
  • Vs. No. 3 Michigan —> Sunday, March 7: TBA @ Breslin Center

Michigan State might be the hottest team in the Big Ten right now following back-to-back wins over Illinois and Ohio State at home. Aaron Henry has been really good as of late, and Tom Izzo once again has his team playing their best when it matters most. Nothing will come easy though with games against Maryland and Indiana followed by a double-header against the best team in the conference this year.

Realistically Michigan State needs a couple more wins to improve their chance to make the NCAA Tournament, but they have really made things interesting.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Hoosiers (12-11 overall, 7-9 B1G)

  • Vs. No. 3 Michigan —> Saturday, February 27: 12 p.m. CST @ Assembly Hall
  • At Michigan State —> Tuesday, March 2: 8 p.m. CST @ Breslin Center
  • At Purdue —> Saturday, March 6: TBA @ Mackey Arena

Indiana is trending in the wrong direction. They are still in the “last four out” of most NCAA bracket projections, but consecutive losses to Michigan State and Rutgers has them in dire straights. With a home game against Michigan and road contests against Michigan State and Purdue they will have their work cut out for them, and may need some wins in the Big Ten Tournament as well.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Gophers (13-11 overall, 6-11 B1G)

  • At Nebraska —> Saturday, February 27: 6 p.m. CST @ Pinnacle Bank Arena
  • At Penn State —> Wednesday, March 3; 6 p.m. CST @ Bryce Jordan Center
  • Vs. Rutgers —> Saturday, March 6: 12 p.m. CST @ Williams Arena

Minnesota has tumbled in the Big Ten standings thanks to four losses in a row, but they have a favorable schedule to round out the season. Nebraska and Penn State are near the bottom of the conference, and while Minnesota is right down there with them they are still in the discussion to possibly make the NCAA Tournament if they get some breaks. Minnesota is in must win territory to have a chance at making the field, but they are capable against that schedule.