Four Big Ten Storylines to Follow in the Final Week of Regular SeasonPosted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2017
There are now 14 games left in a Big Ten regular season that has been marked by numerous highs and lows throughout. The major takeaway at this point of the season is that almost nothing in terms of the conference standings has yet been settled. That means that every game over the next six days has considerably more meaning than in other conferences where much is already determined. Here are four other Big Ten storylines worth monitoring during the final week of the regular season.
- Can Northwestern Earn One More Win? The Wildcats appeared to be a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament after knocking off Wisconsin on February 12, but they’ve since lost three of four and are really struggling to put points on the board. Northwestern closes out the Big Ten season with two home games this week against Michigan and Purdue, where a victory in either contest would likely be enough to certify things. Two more losses, however, would result in a 9-9 record in conference play, creating a teetering mountain of pressure on Chris Collins‘ team to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament.
- Slumping/Surging Teams: According to most bracket projections, there are seven Big Ten teams that deserve bids to the NCAA Tournament, but five of those seven are surging or slumping as the end of the year approaches. Wisconsin has lost four of its last five contests, while Maryland has lost five of its last seven. On the other hand, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota are a combined 18-3 in their last 21 games. In a season where it is reasonable to wonder whether any Big Ten team will make it past the first weekend of March Madness, the streaky nature of these teams makes it extremely difficult to project how the postseason will go.
- Bubble Long Shots: Another aspect of the closing week of the regular season that could make things even zanier would be if Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State all win their last two games. Illinois could get to 9-9 if it can beat Michigan State at home and Rutgers on the road. Indiana has a chance for another resume-enhancing win tonight if it can beat Purdue in West Lafayette, while Ohio State can finish with an 8-10 record ifthe Buckeyes win their last two games. It’s unlikely that any of these three squads will get to the NCAA Tournament, but a two-win week would at least make their Big Ten Tournament performances more interesting.
- Player of the Year Debate: With Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan already receiving great consideration for National Player of the Year on the strength of his 23 double-doubles and season averages of 18.6 PPG and 12.6 RPG, this may turn out to be a moot point. But if Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ can put the Badgers on his back to win the Big Ten, could he manage to play his way back into the race for Big Ten Player of the Year? As well as Swanigan has played this season, he was less impressive in his last two games against Penn State and Michigan. This is at least worth monitoring.