With two-thirds of the Big Ten basketball season in the books, Indiana and Michigan State are tied at the top with 10-2 conference records. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan all have identical 8-4 records in league play.
The Big Ten champion will come from this group, and right now Indiana has a slight edge on the rest of the league.
Indiana has already beaten Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State and is ranked No. 1 in the nation. In the Hoosiers' remaining six games, they will play the Buckeyes at home, but they must travel to Michigan State and finish the season versus Michigan in the Crisler Center.
Victor Oladipo’s play of late has been nearly “Jordanesque." He seems to be everywhere on the court. He forces turnovers, blocks shots, rebounds, runs the floor and is the catalyst for the Hoosiers. He is the Player of the Year in the Big Ten thus far.
Tom Crean has done an excellent job of meshing his group of players and brings a tremendous amount of energy and excitement to the Hoosier team.
No Big Ten game is easy, but if the Hoosiers can win just two of the three games against OSU, UM and MSU, they will be the Big Ten champion.
Michigan State has been rapidly improving. One of the team's two Big Ten losses came at the hands of Indiana, but the Spartans have beaten OSU, Wisconsin and Michigan. They will get Indiana and Wisconsin at home but have to go to Columbus and Ann Arbor in their last six games. They will lose at least one and possibly two of these four games.
Their size inside with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix gives them an advantage, especially this late in the season. The Spartans have been getting great point guard play from Keith Appling, and freshman Denzel Valentine had a breakout game in the Michigan win.
Never count out coach Tom Izzo. He is the dean of Big Ten coaches and knows just when to have his team peak at key moments.
If MSU can eke out three wins from these four games against OSU, UM, IU and Wisconsin, the team could possibly win the crown but will probably tie IU for the Big Ten title.
Michigan, at 8-4 in the Big Ten, is getting great play from its first six players. The Wolverines' vulnerability is that their bench is not as deep as MSU and IU.
Coach John Beilein has the Wolverines playing at a very high level, but they have lost three of their last four games. They beat OSU but lost to IU, MSU and Wisconsin.
The good news for UM fans is that in their last six games, UM only has to play MSU and IU, but the Wolverines get them both at home in the comfortable confines of the new Crisler Center.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke lead this team, but they have to get some help from Glenn Robinson III and the big guys to be a factor.
UM still has a chance, but it will need some help from other teams, and the Wolverines cannot afford an injury to either Burke or Hardaway.
What can you say about Wisconsin? The Badgers just win. Coach Bo Ryan molds his team into a deliberate, solid passing and strong defensive unit every year. His program works.
He builds his teams for the long haul, and the Badgers are again in the thick of the Big Ten race.
There are no real standouts on the Wisconsin team. The Badgers are strong inside and out. They struggle to find offense at times, but when they can find the scoring touch, they can beat anyone.
Their loss to Minnesota really hurt their chances for the Big Ten title. They will need wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and Penn State, plus at least split with OSU and MSU to even have a chance.
Ohio State is the only other Big Ten team with an outside chance of winning the championship, but the team's time is running out.
Other than Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes have struggled to find scoring opportunities. Aaron Craft is playing at a high level both as a point guard and defensively, but he needs to pick up his offensive scoring efforts.
Amir Willliams has been slow to develop and struggles against good big men. Evan Ravenel is not a scoring threat.
The Buckeyes still have games remaining with Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State. They will be hard-pressed to win two of these three games, and with four losses already, Thad Matta will not be winning another Big Ten Championship this year.
With just the final third of conference play remaining, it has been another great year of Big Ten basketball.
With five solid teams, the Big Ten Tournament should be as exciting as ever. The Big Ten also has five teams ranked in the Top 20 in the nation.
March Madness should bode well for the Big Ten teams.
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