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February 16, 2014
Michigan, MSU Losses Open The Door For Iowa, Others
ESPN analyst and former coach Dan Dakich was right about one thing when he predicted Michigan and Michigan State would be neck and neck for a title before the two were to meet in Ann Arbor Feb. 23. Like most - well, just about everyone - though, he couldn't have known what would transpire the weekend of Feb. 15 when U-M and MSU lost at home to Wisconsin and Nebraska, respectively, to remain deadlocked at the top of the Big Ten standings at 10-3 with five games to go.
"I guess I'm surprised at 10-2 [for Michigan]," he said before the Wolverines fell to the Badgers, 75-62, Feb. 16. "But I've come to expect them to be good because John [Beilein] does such a good job. He's got it going now, got it figured out. They have good, young players and guys coming in. It's a good setup."
One that has the Wolverines in contention for a Big Ten title late in the season for a third consecutive year. U-M shared the crown two seasons ago and was a missed tip-in (and missed free throws down the stretch) against Indiana in the finale last year from capturing a second.
Michigan will need to play better than it has in recent weeks to hang a 2013-14 championship banner, but the Wolverines still have a great shot.
"They're in a great position because they've already won at Michigan State, and now Michigan State has got to come back to Michigan," Dakich said. "I don't know if they can win in Ann Arbor."
The Spartans also have to travel to Purdue Feb. 20 before playing the Wolverines, while U-M gets a week off.
Here's the predicted order of finish for the Big Ten teams expected to vie for a championship:
1. Michigan (10-3 as of Feb. 16, 14-4 predicted): The Wolverines get Minnesota and Indiana at home and travel to Purdue and Illinois in their final four contests after playing MSU. They'll split with the Spartans and Boilermakers (would it really shock anyone if they beat the former and lost to the latter?) before winning out.
1. (tie) Michigan State (10-3, 14-4): MSU's stunning home loss to Nebraska probably cost them an outright title, and it could keep them from even a share. The Spartans host Illinois and Iowa after playing at Purdue and U-M and finish with a tough road game at Ohio State.
3. Iowa (8-4, 13-5): The Hawkeyes should be able to handle road games at Indiana and Minnesota and home contests with Purdue and Illinois, but Wisconsin in Iowa City Feb. 22 and a game at MSU March 6 will be tricky. They'll win one of those two.
4. Wisconsin (8-5, 12-6): The Badgers are playing their best ball and have a relatively favorable schedule down the stretch. They'll split road games at Iowa and Nebraska, beat Indiana and Purdue at home and win at Penn State.
5. Nebraska (6-6, 11-7): Don't look now, but the Cornhuskers are on the bubble and might even be considered likely to make the tournament given their home prowess and favorable schedule. They get Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin at home, where they've lost one Big Ten game all year, and play at Illinois and Indiana.
5. (tie) Ohio State (7-6, 11-7): The Buckeyes host Northwestern, Minnesota and MSU and play at Penn State and Indiana. This might be optimistic for OSU, but the Bucks have been playing better lately.