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Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student


And the winner is: Just about anybody

Five teams have shot at conference crown

The Big Ten couldn't get any more out of whack. \nIU, Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin all have a legitimate chance to win the conference and are all separated by two games or less. Northwestern and Michigan State are both just three games back. \nRoad teams have won just 22 percent of their games, and top-tier teams with chances to pull ahead in the conference standings keep stumbling. \nWednesday was no different, as Wisconsin upset IU 64-63 in Assembly Hall and Northwestern edged Minnesota 58-56 in Evanston, Ill. Ohio State and Illinois watched it all. \n"The parity and the balance is remarkable this year, which creates the wackiness," Illinois coach Bill Self said. "Anybody can beat anybody."\nAnd they have. \nNorthwestern's upset of Minnesota gives it five Big Ten victories. Only once (1998-1999) since the 1983-1984 season have the Wildcats won more than five league games. Already this season, Northwestern has beaten Michigan State, Iowa,Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. \nThe Wildcats have played well in Welsh-Ryan Arena, where they are 9-2 this season, and coach Bill Carmody's Princeton-style offense -- screens and long possessions -- has confused several foes.\n"Our guys understand how to win," Carmody said. "We have a hard time scoring sometimes, so there's not a lot of room for error. But I've been happy with the consistency of play."\nWisconsin has been just as surprising. Coach Bo Ryan said in October he would have six track and field athletes on his team. Whoever is doing the job is playing. The Badgers boosted their NCAA Tournament hopes Wednesday by winning at IU and are guaranteed at least a .500 finish in the Big Ten. \nWisconsin has two of its final three games at home, but Ryan isn't counting on an NCAA berth just yet.\n"If we win every game we play from here on out, I'd feel pretty comfortable," Ryan said before the Badger victory Wednesday.\nMinnesota coach Dan Monson is taking the same approach, saying his Golden Gophers need to finish in the top three to get an NCAA Tournament invitation. The Gophers have beaten Big Ten leaders Ohio State and IU, bolstering their chances, but are just 2-4 on the road in the conference.

What's left? \nEach Big Ten team has five or fewer remaining conference games. Here's where the top seven teams go and who they welcome:\nIU: Ohio State and Northwestern at home and at Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois.\nOhio State: Purdue and Michigan State at home and at Iowa, IU and Michigan.\nMinnesota: Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois at home and at Michigan State and Penn State.\nWisconsin: Iowa and Michigan at home and at Minnesota. \nIllinois: Penn State and IU at home and at Northwestern and Minnesota.\nMichigan State: Minnesota, IU and Iowa at home and at Purdue and Ohio State.\nNorthwestern: Purdue and Illinois at home and at Minnesota and IU.

What's on tap? \nThis weekend features road matchups for three of the league's top four teams and more games that could clutter the standings. \nNo. 19 Illinois (18-7, 7-5 Big Ten) plays a non-conference game at Seton Hall Saturday, and No. 23 Ohio State (17-5, 8-3) invades Iowa (15-11, 4-8), which continued its season-long skid Wednesday, falling 71-65 at Penn State (7-16, 3-9). \nThe Nittany Lions welcome Northwestern (14-9, 5-6) Saturday, and Wisconsin (15-11, 8-5) meets Minnesota (14-8, 7-4) in Minneapolis. Michigan State (14-10, 5-6) travels to Purdue (12-14, 4-8), which evaded the Big Ten cellar with a 79-43 thumping of Michigan Wednesday. \nThe final game of the weekend is Sunday, as No. 22 IU (16-8, 8-3) travels to Michigan (10-13, 5-7).\nAs for who has the inside track, most coaches agree on IU, Ohio State and Minnesota. Penn State coach Jerry Dunn has lost to all three.\n"Ohio State is a very good team, as is Indiana," Dunn said. "The really good possibility in terms of challenging for the Big Ten title is Minnesota. Those three teams are playing real well right now"

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