What’s on the line

It’s the final weekend of the regular season for Big Ten teams. With weekend action kicking off on Thursday, and running through Saturday, in advance of next week’s conference tournament, a lot is on the line, with every conference series having postseason implications. Here’s a rundown of what’s at steak, conference championship and tournament spots, and who is seeking what as the season is set to end for five teams.

Who can win the Big Ten championship?

Three teams remain in the hunt for the conference championship. Minnesota sits atop the Big Ten table with a 16-4 conference record, followed by Michigan at 15-5 and Purdue at 14-6. Heading into their weekend set at Rutgers, the Gophers control their own destiny in a bid for a second conference championship in three years. Win two games in Piscataway and Minnesota claims at least a share of the title.

If one prefers chaos, it is possible for a three-way tie unfold, in large part due to Michigan and Purdue squaring off in West Lafayette. First, for each to respectively claim a portion of the title, Michigan must win one more game than Minnesota does over the weekend to grab a share of the crown, while Purdue will need to win two more games. If Purdue takes the series against Michigan, 2-1, and Rutgers sweeps Minnesota, the Big Ten standings will have Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue all at 16-7.

For tiebreaking purposes, the weekend winner between Michigan and Purdue will have the head-to-head tiebreaker secured, while Minnesota, thanks to a two-game sweep in April, holds the tiebreaker over Purdue. Weekend results will settle the tie between Michigan and Minnesota, if necessary, coming down to records against common Big Ten opponents as the two did not play this season.

Who makes the Big Ten Tournament?

In addition to Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State have punched their tickets to the conference tournament in Omaha next week. Northwestern and Penn State will have to wait until 2019 for postseason action, leaving Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, and Nebraska vying for the last three spots.

Currently, the remaining three seeds would go to, in order, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland. Those three control their own destiny. But, as Indiana and Maryland square off, there is light for Michigan State, who hosts Ohio State, and Nebraska, who travels to Illinois. Safely in the Big Ten tournament, and not in the running for the Big Ten title, there isn’t as much on the line this weekend for the Buckeyes or Illini, especially for Ohio State as they are sitting pretty comfortable as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament. That may work to the advantage of the Spartans and Huskers.

Michigan State’s 9-11 Big Ten mark is tied with Maryland, but the Terrapins hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, and in turn would make the Big Ten Tournament if the two finish with the same record. Michigan State’s situation is straightforward: win one more game this weekend than Maryland does.

Nebraska, 1.5 games behind the cut, needs a bit more help, and almost needs a weekend sweep. Nebraska’s head-to-head win over Maryland is almost rendered moot, as the Huskers have lost two conference games, where Maryland has only had one game cancelled, bringing winning percentage into the picture. If Nebraska were to win two games in Champaign, their winning percentage would be .409. That would require both Maryland and Michigan State being swept, producing .391 winning percentages for the Huskers to play in Omaha next weekend. A Nebraska sweep gets the team to a 10-12 conference mark, and .454 winning percentage, where 1-2 weekends by Maryland and Michigan State, at minimum would be needed. If Nebraska gets to 10-12, it is possible they could tie Iowa, if they can’t catch one of Maryland or Michigan State, but that would require a sweep at the hands of Penn State.

For Iowa and Indiana to clinch their postseason berths, each team only needs one victory.

Rutgers’ 7-14 conference mark leaves them with the longest shot, but mathetically in the mix. If Rutgers can spoil Minnesota’s title bid and sweep the Gophers, getting to 10-14, the Scarlet Knights would need Nebraska to win less than three games, have a Indiana sweep Maryland and Ohio State sweep Michigan State. That would get Joe Litterio’s club the eighth seed next week.

With every series holding significance, least we forget there seven teams are in the mix for the NCAA Tournament of varying degrees (Minnesota a potential host, and the bubble likely holding Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue), it should be an intense weekend in the Big Ten, from New Jersey to Iowa, a fitting finale.

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