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Michigan State has locked down a share of the Big Ten Championship and with one more victory the Spartans will own the crown outright. That feat won’t come easily – the Spartans play at Indiana and host Ohio State – but there’s no denying that Tom Izzo’s team has emerged as the class of the conference. With an escape in Minneapolis and a bludgeoning of Nebraska at home, the Spartans are outscoring league foes by a league best .20 points per possession.
It’s still possible for Michigan and Ohio State to earn a share of the league crown by winning their final two games and hoping that the Spartans lose out. Based on the efficiency numbers as much as raw talent, Michigan has overachieved and Ohio State has underachieved. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are both 11-5 but Ohio State has outscored Big Ten opponents by 4.5 times more points per possession. Much has been made of Jordan Taylor’s down season but the senior guard was lethal in Columbus on Sunday and the Badgers are still very much in the mix to earn a high Big Ten Tournament seed if they can close out the season effectively at home.
Indiana and Purdue are the only other Big Ten teams that haven’t been outscored by their opponents this season. They are also the only other schools that have locked down an NCAA tournament bid in spite of their lackluster defense. It’s tough to imagine that Northwestern is being outscored by as many points per trip as Minnesota yet somehow still has an outside shot at an NCAA tournament bid – can the Wildcats shock the Buckeyes in Evanston this weekend? – Dylan Burkhardt
Biggest surprise: Wisconsin wins 63-60 over Ohio State in Columbus
Ohio State absolutely needed a win on Sunday in order to stay in the Big Ten race. With six conference losses, Wisconsin was already out of the race and is now playing mainly for a higher seeding in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes had all the motivation in the world and have been all but unbeatable at home this season, losing only to conference front-runner Michigan State. With an eight-point lead and eight minutes to play, it looked like Ohio State had this one in hand, as expected. Not so fast. The Badgers stormed back and took the lead with 3:31 to play. After Jared Sullinger hit a bucket with 49 seconds left to give the Buckeyes a one-point lead, Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead and then hit two free throws with 14 seconds to go to seal the win for the Badgers. – Kevin Raftery
Stat line: Iowa’s Matt Gatens’ 33 points paces Hawkeyes in 67-66 upset win over Wisconsin
After pouring in a career-high 30 points in a 78-66 win against Indiana last Sunday, Iowa senior Matt Gatens one-upped himself against the Badgers, pouring in a new career-high 33 points in a thrilling one-point victory. And to top it off, it was Matt Gatens bobblehead night on Thursday as well. The only way life could get better for Gatens would be if the Hawkeyes could somehow secure an NCAA bid for the first time since 2006. Looking at the Hawkeyes wins (at Wisconsin, home against Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin) you’d think they’d have a solid chance. However, bad losses against Campbell, Northern Iowa and Creighton and an RPI well over 100 are really holding the Hawkeyes back. If Gatens can remain hot in Indianapolis then just maybe the Hawkeyes can sneak their way into the NCAA tournament with a surprising Big Ten Tournament championship run. – Kevin Raftery
Game of last week: Northwestern 67, Penn State 66
With their tournament hopes hanging by a limb following an overtime loss to Michigan on Tuesday, the Wildcats got the job done in the closing seconds against the Nittany Lions in State College. Northwestern led by as many as nine in the second half, but Penn State took the lead with under nine minutes to play. With 14 seconds to go, Penn State’s Jon Graham had a chance to extend Penn State’s one-point lead to three, but he missed two free throws. Northwestern grabbed the rebound, and John Shurna was fouled on the shot with 2.6 seconds left on the clock. The Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer sunk both free throws, and Tim Frazier’s desperation heave at the buzzer felt short, giving Northwestern a much-needed win for its tournament resume. – Kevin Raftery
Disappointment of the week: Purdue 75, Michigan 61
There was more than just the opportunity to finish off the season undefeated at home on Saturday. For one, it was Senior Night — what better way to send Zack Novak, Stu Douglass and Corey Person off than with a win in front of a sold-out Crisler Center? Most importantly, a win would keep Michigan’s conference championship hopes very alive, with very winnable games at Illinois and Penn State left on the schedule. Instead, the Wolverines laid an egg and seemed to be fighting from behind all game. After pulling to within four with 4:36 to play, Robbie Hummel hit back-to-back threes to increase the Purdue lead to 10 with 3:40 to go. The mountain would prove to be too high to climb for Michigan, and the Boilermakers came away with the 14-point win. Still, even after the disappointing loss, the Wolverines have a shot at a share of the conference title if they can win out and get some help from Michigan State. – Kevin Raftery
Unsung hero: Northwestern junior Alex Marcotullio
In a must-win game for the Wildcats, Michigan native Alex Marcotullio (Warren De La Salle) played arguably his best game of the season, pouring in 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc in Northwestern’s 67-66 win at Penn State. The junior guard averages just five points per game, and his 12 points on Saturday were just one point off his season-high of 13, set earlier this month in a win against Iowa. Without Marcotullio’s performance, it’s safe to say the outcome would have been much different for the Wildcats on Saturday, and they’d be back on the wrong side of the bubble looking in. – Kevin Raftery
Upcoming game of the week: Michigan St. at Indiana, 7:00 Tuesday
The Spartans have already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, but a win at Indiana on Tuesday would clinch the title outright and knock Michigan and Ohio State out of the race. But a win certainly will not come easily. Assembly Hall has proved to be one of the most difficult places to win this year not only in the conference, but in the nation. The Hoosiers simply play like a different team at home and, still fighting for high seeding in the tournament, Indiana will give Michigan State everything it’s got. – Kevin Raftery