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Charboneau: 4 have shot to join Indiana as Big Ten champs

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The Big Ten regular season has been a roller coaster for weeks, so here’s betting the final seven days will also be an adventure.

With Iowa’s third consecutive loss on Sunday — a 68-64 setback at Ohio State — there is only one certainty entering the final week): Indiana will be a Big Ten champion.

Whether the Hoosiers have any company, or not, remains to be seen. And getting an outright championship — one that would give the Hoosiers two in the last four years — is no piece of cake, either. Indiana must travel to face a wounded Iowa team on Tuesday followed by a visit from Maryland on Sunday.

But as the Hoosiers stand on the verge of winning a title, is anyone certain they’re the best team?

The RPI says Maryland is the best in the Big Ten, followed by Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa. Indiana is down at No. 28. The pollsters think Michigan State is the best, but still Iowa and Maryland rank higher than the Hoosiers.

In the world of the unbalanced schedules, however, it’s hard to say which team is truly the best. The days of the round-robin schedule are gone as conferences continue to grow — all thanks to football — and this is simply how it is.

And make no mistake, Indiana will not — nor should it — make any apologies about taking care of business.

Matt Charboneau's Big Ten Power Rankings

Michigan State had its chances, but three one-point losses will, no doubt, have the Spartans shaking their heads. Maryland will be thinking about losses at Minnesota and Michigan, while Iowa has lost the touch it had early in the conference season.

Indiana, so far, has done what it needed to do. Sure, the loss at Penn State was ugly, as was an earlier beat-down at Michigan State. But the Hoosiers have gotten it done, and if they get just one win this week, they’ll have the trophy no one else can stake claim to.

If Indiana happens to lose twice — something that’s not far-fetched — it opens the door for the rest of the contenders, who each would have to win their final two games. Here’s a look at what faces the top half of the Big Ten in the final week of the regular season.

Michigan State (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten)

The Spartans might be playing as well as any team in the conference, winning eight of their last nine with the only loss coming by one point in overtime at Purdue.

As for what’s left, the front-loaded schedule is coming in handy now as Michigan State closes with a game at Rutgers on Wednesday before hosting Ohio State on Saturday. Those games come on the heels of Sunday’s win at home over Penn State and have the Spartans in as good a position as any team to a grab a share if the Hoosiers stumble.

Maryland (23-6, 11-5)

The voters love the Terrapins, who entered the week as the No. 10 team in the nation. However, the individual talent in College Park isn’t translating into the best team as the Terps have now lost three of their last four after falling at Purdue on Saturday.

Maryland hosts Illinois on Thursday, a game it should win, before heading to Indiana for the finale on Sunday. The teams haven’t played this season, but one — Indiana — will be at home playing for a title while the other — Maryland — is trying to right the ship.

Iowa (20-8, 11-5)

Maryland has had its issues of late, but no team is scuffling quite like the Hawkeyes. On a tear early in the conference season, Iowa has now lost three straight and four of its last five. The only victory in that stretch was hardly impressive — a 75-71 win at home over two-win Minnesota.

The slide has eliminated Iowa’s chance at winning its first outright title since 1970, but the final week at least provides the opportunity to salvage a share of the title, something Iowa hasn’t had since 1977.

Tuesday’s matchup at home with Indiana is the big showdown, but Iowa will have to close things out when it heads to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan on Saturday.

Wisconsin (19-10, 11-5)

Two weeks into Big Ten play, few would have guessed Wisconsin would be in this position. But considering the Badgers have lost only once since early January — a 12-point loss at Michigan State on Feb. 18 — it’s hard to find a team on a better roll.

The Badgers go on the road to take on Minnesota on Wednesday before they must go to West Lafayette on Sunday to face Purdue at 7:30 p.m. in the final regular-season game in conference play.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Big Ten standings

 

Conf.

Overall

 

W

L

W

L

Indiana

13

3

23

6

Michigan State

11

5

24

5

Maryland

11

5

23

6

Iowa

11

5

20

8

Wisconsin

11

5

19

10

Ohio State

11

6

19

11

Purdue

10

6

22

7

Michigan

10

7

20

10

Northwestern

6

10

18

11

Penn State

6

10

15

14

Nebraska

6

10

14

15

Illinois

5

11

13

16

Minnesota

2

14

8

20

Rutgers

0

16

6

23

Sunday’s results

Michigan State 88, Penn State 57

Ohio State 68, Iowa 64

Wisconsin 68, Michigan 57

Illinois 84, Minnesota 71

Tuesday’s games

Purdue at Nebraska, 8 p.m.

Indiana at Iowa, 9 p.m.

Wednesday’s games

Michigan State at Rutgers, 7 p.m.

Wisconsin at Minnesota, 9 p.m.

Thursday’s games

Illinois at Maryland, 7 p.m.

Northwestern at Penn State, 9 p.m.

Saturday’s games

Ohio State at Michigan State, noon

Minnesota at Rutgers, 1 p.m.

Iowa at Michigan, 8 p.m.

Sunday’s games

Illinois at Penn State, noon

Nebraska at Northwestern, 2 p.m.

Maryland at Indiana, 4:30 p.m.

Wisconsin at Purdue, 7:30 p.m.

End regular season