Sizing Up The Big Ten Title ContendersPosted by jnowak on February 15th, 2012
With all due respect to the other eight teams still with a handful of meaningful games left on their schedule, the chase for the Big Ten regular season championship is a four-horse contest. Entering Wednesday night, Ohio State has a half-game lead on Michigan State, with Michigan a full game back of the Buckeyes and Wisconsin 1.5 games back of first place. All four teams have proved their worth and — despite the preseason expectations that Ohio State would run away with the conference — have the capabiliy to represent the Big Ten through March. But only one team can win the title, so who has the best shot? Today we’ll take a look at the four teams’ remaining conference schedules to give you an idea.
- #5 Michigan State (20-5 overall, 9-3 Big Ten) — Right off the bat, it’s pretty safe to say the Spartans have the toughest road of the four contenders. If Michigan State can weather this storm (they’ve got five games coming up in 13 days) and win the title, they will certainly be deserving of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s not hard to imagine the Spartans losing five of their last six games (three are on the road, and two at home are against teams mentioned below) and dropping off the table entirely. Thursday’s home game against Wisconsin looms large, with trips to hostile road environments Purdue and Minnesota (both bubble teams, which can translate to desperation). Nebraska at home should be a gimme, but that’s followed by a trip to Bloomington, where the Hoosiers have lost just once this year, and a rematch against Ohio State to end the season. Ouch.
- #6 Ohio State (22-4, 10-3) — The Buckeyes likely already have that rematch in East Lansing circled on the calendar, but they’d be wise not to get too far ahead of themselves. A trip to Ann Arbor for College GameDay this weekend surely won’t be a walk in the park, and Illinois and Wisconsin will both give the Buckeyes a fight in Columbus. Next, they’ve got a date at Northwestern (trap game, anyone?) before that huge showdown in East Lansing on March 4 which could very well determine this race in one fell swoop.
- #15 Michigan (19-7, 9-4) — Of this lot, the Wolverines definitely have the best opportunity to run the table, watch the other teams around them stumble, and let the chips fall where they may. Michigan has been a bit of a dark horse all season, lingering around the Top 20 and near the top of the Big Ten standings, but haven’t caused much more than a ripple. Suddenly winding up with the trophy certainly would change that. It should be a rowdy atmosphere in Ann Arbor this weekend for GameDay, but Michigan is the only of these four teams that doesn’t play another of the four at least twice the rest of the way. Games at Northwestern and Illinois are always tough, but the Wolverines are the superior team. Same goes for a home date against Purdue mixed in there.
- #19 Wisconsin (19-6, 8-4) — The Badgers have the most ground to make up, and they won’t have an easy go of it. They’ll be hungry for revenge in East Lansing on Thursday, but it’d be a surprise if they could steal one on Michigan State’s home floor. Same goes for a road date in Columbus, and home games against bubble teams Minnesota and Illinois can’t be taken for granted to wrap up the season. It’s not out of the question for the Badgers to fare well in this stretch, but in order to make up the necessary ground, they’ll need to pull a rabbit out of their hat and get a little help along the way.