Writing this article late Thursday night as I often tend to, it sometimes makes it much more difficult to write after certain games. Last night was one of those. But we must move on, for our own sanity, and because there's still a few weeks left to play before tournament time.
This weekend brings us a full slate of games with teams still vying for position. Even at 8-6, Indiana is still in OK shape to try and fight for a double bye in the Big Ten Tourney, but the margin of error just got really slim. Wisconsin is (currently) 3 games clear of the conference with each team having about 4-5 games left, so they're basically locked in barring a massive collapse. 7 teams, including the Hoosiers, are within 2 games in the loss column of each other. Of the 6 non-IU teams, Maryland and Purdue have the weekend off, and the other four are all being covered in this preview.
#24 Ohio State @ Michigan, 1pm, CBS
Why this game is important: Rivalry bragging rights aside, if Michigan could pull off the upset here, that would not only boost their hopes of having a top half seed, but damage Ohio State's hopes of sitting top 4 in Chicago. That said, the Wolverines have struggled mightily at times, but at home with a very partisan crowd and on national television, it would be a big statement if they could get this win.
What can we learn: Is counting out Michigan right now a mistake? Will Ohio State continue to be a top team through the end of the season? Will the Maize Rage get TV time and allow any IU fan watching to continue to bemoan how poorly the student section is seated in Assembly Hall?
Iowa @ Nebraska, 3pm, BTN(?)
Why this game is important: It clearly can't be that important, since ESPN isn't sure if it's being shown on TV, but for the Hawkeyes, this game is a must-win if they want to keep pace in the hunt for a double bye. Also, Nebraska has shown that they are beatable at home this year, so Iowa could make their stand here and stay in touch with the pack. If not, Iowa picks up their 7th loss, and probably is condemned to the 5th through 10th pile at the Big Ten Tourney.
What can we learn: Is Iowa a contender or a pretender? Will Nebraska be able to save face after failing to live up to some lofty expectations? If this game isn't on TV, is that really a big loss?
Michigan State @ Illinois, 7:30pm, BTN
Why this game is important: Both of these teams are in the "7 for 3" scenario I described at the beginning of the article. Illinois actually won the earlier matchup between these teams at the Breslin Center, so the Spartans will be looking for revenge and the opportunity to join Maryland and Purdue at 10-4 and put themselves firmly in the driver's seat for the double bye. Illinois will be hoping to pull the Spartan sweep, and pull Michigan State back towards the chasing pack a bit more, as well as keeping themselves alive for the double bye.
What can we learn: Will Illinois provide a blueprint for how to beat the Spartans this late in the year? Can Michigan State shut the door on quite a few team's hopes? With Rayvonte Rice, does Illinois have a good shot at the NCAAs again?