The Big Ten coaching corps seems confident about the possibilities surrounding how many league teams will earn NCAA Tournament berths. \nHistory is on its side. Critics are not. \nIt's been 18 years since the Big Ten hasn't received at least five NCAA invites, but there is danger that streak could be snapped this season. \nThe Big Ten hasn't ranked lower than third in the RPI since 1995 -- it finished seventh that season -- but is currently sixth, behind the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Twelve, Big East and Pacific-10. \nEven with the low RPI in 1995, the Big Ten received six bids, but no team earned better than a No. 3 seed. Only one team won a first-round game that season. This season, only three Big Ten teams -- Illinois, Ohio State and IU -- are ranked in the top 25, but all are No. 16 or worse. All three are in the RPI's top 20. \nIllinois, Ohio State and IU are all virtual locks for the tournament. Wisconsin (RPI No. 51) solidified its place with wins at IU and Minnesota last week and is guaranteed to finish at least 9-7 in Big Ten play. Minnesota (RPI No. 55), which has lost two consecutive games, Michigan State (RPI No. 46) and Northwestern (RPI No. 103) all have a shot to finish at least .500 in the league, normally a qualifier for one of the 34 at-large bids. \nThe likelihood that all seven will go isn't good. \n"Six teams still have a good chance," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I don't think they'll take seven, but they'll take six."\nThe Big Ten Tournament will offer teams the chance to pick up momentum and the favor of the NCAA Selection Committee. Iowa's unlikely run to the title last year gives teams hope, but seven Big Ten representatives still present odd odds. \n"Depending on how things fall, our league will get six teams in," Illinois Coach Bill Self said. "Seven would be a long shot."\nAfter breakdowns at Northwestern and at home against Wisconsin, Minnesota went from potential Big Ten winners to potentially having its NCAA Tournament bubble busted. Most Big Ten coaches concern themselves with the stature of the league, but Minnesota coach Dan Monson doesn't. \n\"I don't know how many wins it's going to take," Monson said. "I'm not really worried about how many teams the Big Ten gets. I'm worried about Minnesota."\nNot so fast\nAfter ESPN's Andy Katz reported earlier this month that Purdue Coach Gene Keady might retire after this season or next, Keady quickly silenced his doubters. \nKeady, who has been at Purdue since 1980, is struggling this season, and his Boilermakers are just one game from the bottom of the Big Ten. \nStill, he's not ready to draw the curtain on his impressive career.\n"Andy Katz, he got that thing out of context," Keady said. "It's not happening, unless my wife tells me to. He repeated what I said, but he didn't put it in the context of the scenarios." \nInstead of saying he planned to retire, Keady, who is under contract through 2005, said he might leave Purdue if the losing continues. \nSome of his fellow coaches don't want him to go.\n"Keady better not be going anywhere," Izzo said. "The conference needs him."\nA lesson learned\nIowa's Reggie Evans watched the Hawkeyes loss to Ohio State from the bench Saturday. The senior forward didn't play a minute after being benched for academic reasons. \n"At the University of Iowa, you are going to be a student-athlete, not an athlete-student," Iowa coach Steve Alford said "That's a message that had to be sent."\nAlford didn't start his normal starting unit and benched senior Luke Recker until several minutes into the first half. The absence of Evans, the Big Ten's leading rebounder, hurt Iowa's chance to upset Ohio State and indirectly damaged IU's shot at a title run. A Buckeye loss would have put IU one game ahead of No. 19 Ohio State, but Alford isn't paying attention to his alma mater or the rest of the Big Ten standings. \n"I don't even think about those things," Alford said. "I have to think about my own program. I'm not concerned with how it affects Ohio State or how it affects Indiana."\nPlayer of the Week\nIllinois' Frank Williams and Wisconsin's Kirk Penney shared Big Ten Player of the Week honors. \nWilliams averaged 20.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals in a pair of road wins at Michigan State and Seton Hall for the 16th-ranked Fighting Illini. It is the second honor of the season for the 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year and the fourth of his career. \nPenney sparked Wisconsin's wins at No. 23 IU and Minnesota. He averaged 20 points and shot 50 percent from the field on the week. He scored 10 points against IU but hit the game-winning three pointer with more than two minutes remaining. \nThe Australia native then scored 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting (six three pointers) against Minnesota. \nIt is Penney's third honor this season, the most in any single season by any Badger in school history.
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