The Big Ten race has tightened up.

After Sunday’s loss at Northwestern, Purdue (12-3) has a 2-game lead in the Big Ten with 5 games left, still a significant edge in the chase for a conference crown but perhaps not 1 that is insurmountable. And that might particularly be the case, depending on the outcome of Wednesday night’s game between Northwestern (9-5) and Indiana (9-5).

If the Hoosiers beat the Wildcats — IU is a 1.5-point favorite in the 9 p.m. ET tipoff at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston — then they could be in position for an incredible comeback in the league standings, considering Indiana started 1-4 in the Big Ten. If the Hoosiers win on Wednesday night, they’ll be only 2 games back of Purdue but with an opportunity to gain another game on Feb. 25 when they travel to West Lafayette.

To catch the Boilermakers, Indiana would likely need to win out, meaning not only road victories over Northwestern and Purdue, but 1 over Michigan State, as well as taking care of business against Illinois, Iowa and Michigan at home.

If Northwestern beats Indiana, it’s likely a more challenging climb for the Wildcats, who don’t have the luxury of a return trip to Mackey Arena. Their schedule is also rough, to say the least. After Indiana, only 2 of the ‘Cats’ final 5 games are at home, against Iowa and Penn State, with road trips to Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers. A sweep seems incredibly unlikely.

The Boilermakers’ schedule isn’t easy down the stretch, either, with Thursday night’s matchup at Maryland, then back-to-back home games against Ohio State and Indiana, before finishing on the road against Wisconsin and at home against Illinois.

Pickett brings Lions back to life

Penn State’s NCAA Tournament chances, which were on life support following a 4-game losing streak, received a jolt of life on Tuesday night.

And it came thanks to star Jalen Pickett, who scored a Bryce Jordan Center men’s basketball-record 41 points in the Nittany Lions’ 93-81 win over Illinois. In doing so, Pickett went over 2,000 points in his NCAA career. Pickett was 15 of 20 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range — doing the math, it means he missed only 1 of his 11 2-point attempts — and had 8 assists.

“Sometimes, when you’re going through it (a losing streak), you just need somebody special to have a special performance,” PSU coach Micah Shrewsberry said, “and that’s what he did.”

Pickett is the 1st Nittany Lion to score more than 40 points in a game since Gene Harris scored a school-record 46 in 1961. After reaching his career points milestone late in the 1st half, Pickett became the only active NCAA Division I player with 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 700 assists.

But despite the single-game heroics, Penn State needs to do much more to get on the right side of the NCAA bubble. At 15-11 overall, including a 6-9 mark in the Big Ten, most bracketologists have the Nittany Lions on the outside looking in, with a NET ranking of 69 and a 2-5 record against Quad 1 opponents. Five Quad 2 losses don’t help, nor does the 1 in Quad 3.

But Penn State can still add to its résumé, particularly if it could pick up home victories against Rutgers and Maryland and a road win over Northwestern. Avoiding losses to Minnesota and Ohio State is likely a must, too.

Michigan State in mourning

Athletics is of little relevance at Michigan State right now, where the Spartans community is dealing with the aftermath of a Monday night shooting on campus that left 3 dead and others wounded.

The school paused all activities, including sporting events, for 48 hours, meaning Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game against Minnesota at the Breslin Center is postponed, as is the women’s game at Purdue. Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller released a statement on Tuesday night, which read in part:

“We are all devastated following the tragic events of Monday night. First and foremost, our heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the students who were taken from us much too soon. And our prayers are with those still fighting for their lives in the hospital,” Haller said. “The focus for the athletic department today has been the mental health and wellness of our student-athletes and staff. All across campus, different units are doing the same to make sure everyone is getting the resources they need. Please reach out if you’re in need of assistance and look for ways to support and help your fellow Spartan. I’ve been reminded today that everyone will process trauma in a different manner.”

Behind the scenes, Michigan State and the Big Ten are looking to reschedule games, although that might not be easy given that there are less than 3 weeks left in the regular season. Adding to that is Minnesota’s situation. The Gophers men’s basketball team already has 1 makeup game scheduled, after its Feb. 7 matchup at Illinois was pushed back to Feb. 20 due to a COVID-19 pause at Minnesota.

There is no obvious date available for a makeup.

“We obviously would love to get it in, and I know they would love to get it in,” Minnesota coach Ben Johnson told KFAN radio in Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s kind of up to the scheduling gods.”