It is coming down to the stretch run in the most competitive conference in college basketball. Who could win it all and who will? Probably Indiana, but' let's look at things for the hell of it.
The prohibitive favorite
Indiana's toughest remaining test was last night against Michigan State, and the Hoosiers walked out of the Breslin Center as victors while simultaneously taking control of their own destiny (and then some) in the conference race. The remaining slate of games isn't a walkover -- all four teams are capable of giving Indiana a game -- but the Hoosiers get two opponents at home (back to back games against Iowa and Ohio State) sandwiched between trips to Minnesota and Michigan.
All four teams have the talent to overtake the Hoosiers in a one off game. Not one of those teams capitalized on that the first time around, as Indiana has a 4-0 record against the teams it'll see down the stretch run.
What does this mean for Michigan? The Wolverines need to win out -- including that season finale visit from Indiana on March 10th -- and need some help just to earn a share of the title.
What does this mean for Indiana? Four wins over the last four games will lead to a much more comfortable Big Ten title win than anyone really imagined a month ago (16-2). Three and one? Still at least a tie of the title assuming Michigan State wins out. Even two and two has pretty good odds of pulling in a share of the Big Ten title given some of the games the rest of the contenders have left.
Michigan State (11-3)
The Spartans could have handed Indiana its third conference loss before back to back away games at Ohio State and Michigan followed up by a home date with Wisconsin. Now, Michigan State is a game back of Indiana and no longer in control of its own destiny. The Spartans could have a rough time over the next three, but Ohio State has had its own struggles recently and LOL any argument right now that Michigan wins in Crisler (I'm not saying it can't happen, but even my best "it was a tough stretch" argument doesn't explain a 30 point deficit and total interior domination). Wisconsin is Wisconsin and a win against Michigan State at the Breslin would be great, but it probably won't happen without the home cookin' of the Kohl Center. Yes, Northwestern is also on the schedule. No, they don't matter.
What does this mean for Michigan? Beat Sparty. While Indiana put some space between itself and Michigan, the Wolverines now have a chance to even things up against Michigan State if the Wolverines can win the next two before then. Putting Michigan State one game farther back from the conference title wouldn't erase the beatdown in East Lansing, but it would be enough for you to troll over at RCMB. Yes, you.
What does this mean for Michigan State? The Spartans get to spend the next four games rooting for all of Indiana's opponents. This will most likely include rooting for both Ohio State and Michigan, so, enjoy that Spartan fans.
The good news? Michigan gets home dates against both of the teams ahead of it in the standings. The bad news? Indiana can still make all of that irrelevant by winning out.
Although, given the slide that Michigan has been on as of late, Michigan could trip up well before then. The defense is quickly becoming a capital P problem, and the offense has been drug down by the fact that at least one of the top four scorers has taken a game off over the past couple weeks. Michigan has, in order of winnablility: at Penn State, at Purdue, vs. Illinois, vs. Michigan State, vs. Indiana. Those first two should still be fairly good odds, but Illinois is looking a bit more feisty as of late, and yeah, where are the answers for the last two?
Michigan needs a few things to go right to even have a chance at this one.
/shakes fist at Ben Brust
The Bo Ryan's Indiana Voodoo Doll division
Wisconsin needs a bit of help. The Badgers have possibly the easiest slate of games of any of the top teams. Tell me how much you'd like to see four of the last five games: at Northwestern, vs. Nebraska, vs. Purdue, at Penn State. Yup. The four worst, most dysfunctional teams in the conference. That's 13-4 right there, gentlemen.
Even better? A win against Sparty in East Lansing will at least even things up with the Spartans and pull Wisconsin into a tie for second place.
The problem is, despite winning its only matchup of the season against Indiana, Wisconsin still needs Indiana to lose twice.
What does this mean for Michigan? Nothing. WIsconsin can't do anything but tie the Wolverines as long as Michigan takes care of business. However, this whole split title could get pretty weird if Indiana loses twice.
What does this mean for Wisconsin? At this point, win and hope. This is basically Michigan's situation except if Michigan had to hope for Indiana to lose twice without having its own chance at the Hoosiers. Yeah, probably not promising.
On the outside looking in
Ohio State (8-5)
The Buckeyes need Indiana to lose twice, Michigan to lose once, and Wisconsin to lose once. All of this is also dependent on Ohio State winning out with games at home against Minnesota, Michigan State, and Illinois while travelling to Indiana.
What does this mean for Michigan? Win out and stay ahead of Ohio State.
What does this mean for Ohio State? You aren't winning a Big Ten title in 2013 unless things get really weird.