Of course, Michigan can still win the Big Ten outright if they beat either Illinois or Indiana, giving them their first sole conference title in 28 years (author's note: I was not alive and neither were you most likely). Either way, the Wolverines have locked down the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week, and won't have to play until the Friday evening session. John Beilein has said previously he doesn't enjoy long breaks between games, but six days of practice to morph into Tournament Destroying Mode can't be a bad thing.
With the stage set for another Michigan March madness run, your Big Ten rooting guide and projected seeding:
Non-scientific Seeding Guess:
- Michigan - They stand atop the heap, and have the most impressive road wins out of anyone.
- Wisconsin - Some have Michigan State here, but a loss to Illinois will mess with one's confidence. The Badgers have plowed through everyone with only that bad home loss to Michigan keeping them out of contention for the conference title.
- Michigan State - Tom Izzo doesn't quite seem his coaching self as the season winds down. They got swept by Michigan, lost to Illinois, and lost again to Nebraska. At home. It's Bizarro World when Michigan State has been dethroned as the basketball power in the Big Ten.
- Nebraska - Tim Miles is Big Ten Coach of the Year-In-Waiting. Beating Michigan State and Ohio State in the same month earns you a first round bye in the conference tournament.
The Other Guys
5. Iowa - They had a chance to keep pace with Michigan and MSU, but four losses in February has run them out of the gym where the big boys play.
6. Ohio State - Many analysts call the Buckeyes the most experienced team in the conference. Many analysts would be wrong. Ohio State's misfortune snowballed from Aaron Craft's air ball against Michigan into bad road losses at Penn State and Indiana. However, they might slip into the five spot with a win against Michigan State on Sunday.
7. Minnesota - They hung with Michigan for a half on Saturday, but half of a game doesn't do much for their seed prospects.
8. Indiana - Last season, Tom Crean's team won the conference in Ann Arbor. This year, Michigan can win it in Ann Arbor against the Hoosiers. Unless Yogi Ferrell explodes again.
9. Illinois - I confess I haven't watched Illinois at all this season, but they led against Michigan State almost the entire game. If they strike gold again and best Michigan tonight, they could move up.
10. Purdue - Glenn Robinson III ripped their heart out and dribbled it past three defenders to beat them in overtime. I'm not sure even Matt Painter can recover from that heading to the season's final week.
11. Penn State - Even with a big win against Ohio State, Penn State needs a lot of help to climb higher into the tournament field. They finish their season against Minnesota next Sunday, and Minnesota could quite possibly be playing for their NCAA Tournament life in that game.
12. Northwestern - They have games left against Penn State and Purdue. Then the Wildcat fanbase can start preparing for football season.
Rooting Guide (team in bold benefits Michigan the most)
Wednesday March 5th: Nebraska @ Indiana | Purdue @ Wisconsin
Psychologically, Indiana would like a win heading into the finale against Michigan, but Nebraska is trying to make it into the NCAA Tournament. Every win counts, and Michigan needs a good scouting game for this Saturday. Wisconsin losing benefits Michigan State, and will determine how soon Michigan will have to face the Spartans or Badgers, because avoiding both is not going to happen.
Wisconsin can play their way to the two spot in the Big Ten Tournament, but losing to Purdue would further distance them from Michigan.
Thursday March 6th: Iowa @ Michigan State
An MSU loss in either of their final two games equals a Michigan conference championship outright barring a total Michigan implosion this week. MSU losing to a battered and reeling Iowa team equals a tumble in the NCAA Tourney seeding.
Saturday March 8th: Illinois @ Iowa
Michigan may have to face Iowa again in the conference tournament, but if the Hawkeyes continue their slide, a dangerous threat can be moved out of the way for sure. Illinois winning also likely means Michigan will play against either the Illini or Indiana in the quarterfinal round. Both would be a far easier draw then that dangerous Minnesota team or even Iowa.
Sunday March 9th: Michigan State @ Ohio State | Wisconsin @ Nebraska
Here are two interesting games that affect Michigan directly. A Michigan State win probably solidifies the Spartans in the two seed spot, setting up a championship rematch with Michigan if both get that far. A Nebraska loss might slip the Buckeyes into the upper bracket where Michigan is, but the Huskers, oddly enough, are the hotter team as the season winds down. I feel odd saying it, but Ohio State doesn't scare me anymore. Nebraska does.
It's March. Hold onto yer butts.