To steal a line from Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early.
Two weeks remain in a Big Ten men’s basketball season interrupted by COVID-19 pauses. It appears all 14 teams will reach the finish line, maybe not by playing a full 20 games but by playing enough to determine a league champion. No. 3 Michigan continued its late-season push toward a league crown, knocking off No. 4 Ohio State 92-87 in a back-and-forth offensive battle that could serve as a prelude to the Big Ten Tournament championship game.
Six Big Ten teams are locks for NCAA Tournament berths — Michigan, Ohio State, No. 5 Illinois, No. 9 Iowa, No. 23 Wisconsin and Purdue. Five more teams are in the mix for at-large berths, with the possibility of two or three of those five sneaking into the all-Hoosier State tournament, which starts March 17.
Here’s a look at the five teams in the mix and what they have to do between now and Selection Sunday:
The Scarlet Knight (12-9, 8-9 Big Ten) have hit an offensive funk in losing three of the last four games, averaging 63.3 points during that stretch. Rutgers hosts Indiana on Wednesday, then plays at Nebraska and Minnesota to close the season. Winning two of the final three games should cement a bid. Win one and there will be work to do in the Big Ten Tournament in order to secure an at-large berth.
Fourth-year coach Archie Miller’s seat got warmer following a 78-71 home loss to Michigan State on Saturday. If the Hoosiers (12-10, 7-8) don’t make the dance for a fifth straight year, they could look back on a disappointing 6-5 record at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as the reason. IU plays three of its last four on the road, including a huge showdown Wednesday in a bubble game at Rutgers, which is going through its own recent struggles. IU also has games against Michigan, at Purdue and a rematch at Michigan State on March 2 to make up a January postponed game. The Hoosiers need to at least split two of the last four games to remain on the bubble — 1-3 or 0-4 in the last four won’t cut it.
The Terrapins (14-10, 8-9) are peaking at the right time, coming off an impressive 68-59 win at Rutgers on Sunday. They have won four straight, and their remaining schedule is favorable. Maryland hosts Michigan State on Sunday before playing at Northwestern on March 3 and closing the season at home March 7 against Penn State. Two more wins should get Maryland in the tournament. That would be a significant coaching job by Mark Turgeon, considering the Terrapins lost their two best players -- point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and forward Jalen Smith, from last year’s Big Ten championship team.
The Golden Gophers (13-10, 6-10) remain lions at home (13-2) and lambs on the road (0-8). Minnesota’s remaining schedule includes two more home games (Thursday against Northwestern and March 6 against Rutgers) and two on the road (Saturday at Nebraska and March 3 at Penn State). Getting one road win would be critical down the stretch, and Nebraska and Penn State present prime opportunities to achieve that goal. If not, Minnesota’s season could hinge on its home regular season finale against fellow bubble team Rutgers.
The Spartans (11-9, 5-9) stayed on life support with a 78-71 win at Indiana on Saturday, rallying from an early 13-6 deficit. The remaining schedule is brutal – Michigan State hosts Illinois on Tuesday, Ohio State on Thursday then plays at Maryland on Sunday. The following week includes a rematch with Indiana at home (March 2) and two games with Michigan (March 4 and March 7). There are plenty of chances for statement wins, but given Michigan State’s shaky guard play, it’s hard to see the Spartans surviving that stretch and getting closer to .500 in league play.
RECORD RANKING FOR IU WOMEN
The Indiana women’s basketball team was picked to win the Big Ten before the season began. The Hoosiers (14-4, 12-2) find themselves a half game behind Maryland in the league standings entering the final two weeks of the season and achieved another significant program mark Monday.
After beating last week’s No. 11 Michigan 70-65 at home Thursday, Indiana moved up to No. 11 in this week’s AP women’s basketball poll, its highest ranking in school history.
Indiana has won five straight since a 78-70 loss to Ohio State, which was ranked No. 14 on Jan. 28. IU has spent 34 straight weeks in the AP Top 25, dating back to the 2019-20 season.