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March 12, 2008
Buckeyes have plenty to play for
Wisconsin: The Badgers have won 22 of their past 24 games and are riding a seven-game winning streak. Only one opponent, Indiana, has reached even 60 points during that stretch. UW ranks ninth nationally in field-goal percentage defense, yielding just 38.3 percent. The Badgers could play their way up to a No. 2 seed if they win the Big Ten tourney. Purdue, UW's Kryptonite as the only team to beat the Badgers in the past 24 games, could be waiting in the final.
AT A GLANCE
Eric Gordon can help make Indiana dangerous in the Big Ten Tournament.
WHEN: March 13-16 title game on CBS at 3:30 p.m. EDT).
WHERE: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
EXPECTED NCAA BIDS: 5. Four league teams – Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan State – are be NCAA locks. Ohio State bolstered its case with season-ending victories over Purdue and Michigan State. The Buckeyes likely earn an at-large bid barring a first-round exit this week.
Indiana: The Hoosiers, to be honest, have looked disjointed since interim coach Dan Dakich took over for Kelvin Sampson with five games remaining in the regular season. IU has gone 3-2 under Dakich, with a blowout loss to Michigan State and an inexplicable loss at lowly Penn State. Still, this is a team with the potential to make a run not only in this tournament but in the one that follows. D.J. White (17.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg) was a unanimous pick as Big Ten Player of the Year, and freshman Eric Gordon led the Big Ten in scoring (21.5 ppg). When you have a 1-2 punch as good as that, you remain a threat to any team.
Michigan State: Once the calendar hit February, the Spartans hit the wall. MSU is 5-5 in its past 10 games. A game after scoring 42 points and getting blown out at Wisconsin, it scored 103 points and crushed Indiana. It has two all-league players in guard Drew Neitzel and forward Raymar Morgan, but it has struggled to score at times this season (71.7 ppg, 120th nationally). It gets Ohio State in a revenge game in the first round; the Buckeyes beat the Spartans 63-54 in Columbus in the regular-season finale.
FILLING OUT THE FIELD
Illinois: On the bright side, the Illini won two of their final three and got senior forward Brian Randle (9.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) back from a shoulder injury. On the dark side is a first-round game with Penn State, which beat Illinois twice during the season.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes haven't beaten anyone other than last-place Northwestern since Feb. 2. Included in those losses was an eight-point home setback against Michigan, their first-round opponent.
Michigan: The Wolverines got four of their five Big Ten wins from Feb. 9 on. It's fair to say they've played better over the final month than they have all season. But it wouldn't be a shock if they lost to Illinois in the first round, either.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers were swept by Illinois, the only thing that separated them from a 20-win season and a possible NCAA bid. They'll beat Northwestern for win No. 19, but Indiana is a tall order in the quarterfinals.
Northwestern: Only a two-point victory at Michigan kept the Wildcats from achieving imperfection. They're one and done courtesy of Minnesota.
Ohio State: In order to ensure an NCAA bid, the Buckeyes may need to prove their victory over Michigan State in the regular-season finale was no fluke. The winner of their game almost assuredly will face Wisconsin in the semis.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions are playing for their CBI life in the first round against Illinois. It's a game they can and probably should win.