The 5 biggest games of the final week of the Big Ten regular season
March Madness does not begin when it becomes an officially licensed trademark used to brand the NCAA Tournament.
Heck, it doesn’t even start in March. As last week demonstrated, there’s also a bit of February Fun to be had before things really pick up.
The past week was among the best we’ve seen in years for Big Ten hoops.
There was Iowa’s epic 10-point comeback in the final minute against Michigan State, which was almost enough for people to ignore Fran McCaffery’s bizarre stare-down with referee Kelly Pfieffer.
Illinois rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Northwestern. Not to be outdone, Rutgers came back from a 19-point deficit at Penn State to deliver a crippling blow to the Nittany Lions’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
And Michigan’s overtime battle with Wisconsin was everything you could ask of 2 teams fighting for 1 of the final spots in the field — though had either of them played that way at the beginning of February, neither would be in this predicament.
There are sure to be more thrills in store in the last week of the Big Ten regular season. And many of them will come from the following 5 games.
5. Maryland (20-9, 11-7) at Penn State (17-12, 8-10)
When: Sunday, noon ET, BTN
Maryland completed a perfect 10-0 Big Ten record at home with Sunday’s win over Northwestern. But when it comes to seeding the NCAA Tournament, the selection committee can’t exactly be bowled over with how the Terrapins have performed on the road. Their 1-7 mark in B1G road games does not impress for placement in a tournament played at neutral sites.
This is a chance for the Terps to bag a rare road win. But it’s far more important for the hosts.
After squandering their opportunity against Rutgers, the Nittany Lions must likely win 3 more games to feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday. And beating Maryland at home is an easier formula than winning twice at the Big Ten Tournament.
4. Penn State (17-12, 8-10) at Northwestern (20-9, 11-7)
When: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET, BTN
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The Maryland game becomes more important if Penn State makes it more important.
A road win over the Wildcats brings the Nittany Lions back from the dead, Undertaker-style.
However, Northwestern’s not playing for nothing.
The Cats can still catch Purdue for a share of the Big Ten title. And considering that Northwestern has not won the Big Ten since 1933, a share is definitely something to celebrate. The last time it happened, players probably celebrated by sharing a single loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese during the height of the Great Depression and Prohibition.
Since Northwestern has the tiebreaker over Purdue, the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tourney is in play. And even if the Boilers clinch the top seed, the Wildcats are still vying for an all-important top-4 seed and double-bye.
3. Michigan (17-12, 11-7) at Illinois (19-10, 10-8)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The list of people whom Hunter Dickinson doesn’t like is almost as long as the list of people who don’t like Hunter Dickinson. And Illinois is near the top of both lists.
A couple years ago Dickinson said, “No one likes Illinois.” That disdain probably reached new heights last spring when the interference of Texas Tech coach Mark Adams was perceived as a reason Terrence Shannon Jr. transferred to Illinois rather than Michigan.
Hunter Dickinson didn’t take long to cut a promo after saying he’s back at Michigan. pic.twitter.com/aW8f4ukqfj
— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) April 29, 2022
But the stakes of this game are even bigger than the sideshow.
Michigan is in must-win mode, and picking up a W in Champaign may be just what the Wolverines need to push over the bubble finish line.
On the other side, Illinois is playing for prime position in both the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys. And you know the Illini would relish the chance to make sure Dickinson isn’t playing in the larger of those tournaments.
2. Purdue (24-5, 13-5) at Wisconsin (16-12, 8-10)
When: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, FS1
The Badgers could have bought themselves some grace with a win at Michigan on Sunday, but that sank with Dickinson’s buzzer-beating 3 to send the game to an overtime the Wolverines won.
Wisconsin is now in must-win mode.
Luckily, there’s no better feather for a Big Ten team to put in its cap than beating Purdue. And with the tip coming at 8 p.m. local time, there will be ample opportunity for The Grateful Red to do enough pre-gaming to think they are as tall as Zach Edey.
For Purdue, which has likely slipped behind UCLA for the final No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, this is a chance to get a resume-bolstering road win.
1. Illinois (19-10, 10-8) at Purdue (24-5, 13-5)
When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, FOX
If Purdue beats Wisconsin, this matchup might not mean a whole lot. But if the Boilers are coming home off a loss, things could suddenly be quite interesting.
Remarkably — especially considering how far ahead Purdue was just a couple weeks ago — there are still 4 teams that could catch the Boilermakers for a share of the title. Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern and Michigan — yes, Michigan — are each 2 games behind.
That also means that in theory a game that’s not even on this list — Michigan at Indiana on Sunday — could end up being for a share of the title. And both teams will know whether that’s the case by the time they tip at 4:30 p.m. ET.
And even if Purdue has locked up the Big Ten in its entirety by the time this game starts, both the Boilers and Illini will have some significant seeding implications no matter what.