This weekend's slate of games will go a long way to frame the Big Ten Conference race heading into the end of February. Let's reset the title race for each contender and highlight today's games on SATURDAY SLATE.
THE INSIDE TRACK
Iowa (19-5, 10-2, T-1 in Big Ten)
Toughest games remaining: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Indiana, at Michigan
Best chance to lose: 66% chance to win at Michigan, per KenPom
KenPom projected record: 15-3
The skinny: Even after dropping last night's contest in Bloomington, the Hawkeyes have the best shot at an outright conference title of any of the remaining contenders. Avoid stumbling at home against a surging Wisconsin team or on the road at Ohio State, and the Hawkeyes will set up a matchup in Carver-Hawkeye on Tuesday, March 1 against Indiana that's poised to be bigger than the first. But, don't overlook at trip to Ann Arbor against a Michigan team that should surely have Caris Levert back on the last day of the season, either. Still, it's hard to imagine with their remaining schedule that Fran McCaffrey's team would finish with anything below a 14-4 record in conference play. Getting the Hawkeyes to 5 losses would require a massive collapse -- to drop 3 of the above four matchups, or to somehow stumble at home against Minnesota or, uh, on the road at Penn State. I mean, hey, I guess it's happened before.
Indiana (20-5, 10-2, T-1 in the Big Ten)
Toughest games remaining: at Michigan State, Purdue, at Iowa, Maryland
Best chance to lose: 21% chance to win at Iowa, 22% chance to win at Michigan State
KenPom projected record: 13-5
The skinny: Indiana's backloaded schedule gives the Hoosiers all a coach can ask for come mid-February: they completely control their own destiny in the conference title race. If Indiana wins out, they'll hold the Big Ten title outright. Of course, that's a heck of a challenge -- with road contests remaining at Michigan State on Sunday at a rematch with Iowa on March 1. But now, if the Hoosiers are able to win on Sunday and not let their guard down against Nebraska or Illinois, Indiana could lose to Purdue by 100 and still have a two-game playoff for the regular season title in the last week of the season against Iowa and Maryland. Even if Hawkeyes and Terps don't drop a single game between now and March 1.
NEEDING A (LITTLE BIT) OF HELP
Maryland (22-3, 10-2, T-1 in the Big Ten)
Toughest games remaining: Wisconsin, Michigan, at Purdue, at Indiana
Best chance to lose: 42% chance to win at Purdue
KenPom projected record: 14-4
The skinny: While the Terps have a lighter schedule than the Hoosiers the rest of the way, they'll face two stiff tests on the road in the state of Indiana in West Lafayette and Bloomington. Still, they won't get another crack at the Hawkeyes, and thus would need a loss from the Hawkeyes elsewhere to take the title outright. If Indiana's able to beat Iowa in Iowa City but lose another game in the meantime, the Terps can afford a loss between now and a playoff game for a likely share of a title with Iowa in Bloomington on March 4.
HANGING BY A THREAD
Purdue (20-5, 8-4, T-4 in the Big Ten)
Toughest games remaining: at Michigan, at Indiana, Maryland, Wisconsin
Best chance to lose: 38% chance to win at Indiana
KenPom projected record: 12-6
The skinny: Could Purdue still win a share of a Big Ten title? Sure! Take a deep breath, here's what the Boilers would basically need to have a crack at splitting a four-way title at 14-4 with Iowa, Indiana, and Maryland.
- Win out
- An Indiana loss to Michigan State
- Indiana to beat Iowa & Maryland
- An Iowa loss to Michigan
Teams also still *technically* alive
Michigan (18-7, 8-4): The still LeVert-less Wolverines have trips to Ohio State, Maryland, and Wisconsin left on the table, and home matchups today against Purdue and to finish the season. That's a lot on the plate left over for a team that's still without its star player -- and his injury and timeline to return continues to be clouded with secrecy.
Wisconsin (15-9, 8-4): Greg Gard's team has won six straight, Nigel Hayes is Nigel Hayes-ing, and the Badgers haven't lost a conference game by more than 6 points. That seems like a team that might still have a shot to sneak in the title race's backdoor... until you look at the remaining schedule. The Badgers finish the season with 5 of 7 on the road in conference play, including trips to Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State, and today's matchup against Maryland in College Park. That stretch, uh, doesn't bode well any team in the country.
Big Ten Saturday Slate
#18 Purdue at Michigan, 2:00, ESPN2. Caris LeVert's return isn't expected in a game that will eliminate one team's very, very, very slim regular season title hopes. Michigan's lost two home matchups versus ranked teams by a a combined 29 points last week. (Indiana, Michigan State). The Wolverines matchup poorly on the inside against AJ Hammons, Caleb Swanigan, and Isaac Haas, who should all have a big day. PICK: Purdue 69, Michigan 54.
Ohio State at Rutgers, 4:00, BTN. Rutgers might win! Don't watch this game! PICK: Ohio State 71, Rutgers 64.
Penn State at Nebraska, 6:00, BTN. Uh, Tim Miles tweets at halftime. That's something. PICK: Nebraska 61, Penn State 51.
Wisconsin at Maryland, 6:00, ESPN. Oh, hell with it. Take the Badgers. Why not? PICK: Wisconsin 72, Maryland 70