Big Ten tourney picture clearing up


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With only one week left before the men’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, the picture is almost in focus.

A major shift in the standings occurred Feb. 24, when Purdue’s Robbie Hummel suffered a torn ACL during the Boilermakers’ contest against Minnesota. Purdue escaped “The Barn” with a 59-58 victory, but lost Hummel for the remainder of the season.

His absence proved enormous on Sunday, when the Boilermakers lost a critical home game to Michigan State, 53-44. That defeat left both teams sitting at 12-4 in conference play entering the final week and in position for a share of the regular-season crown.

However, Ohio State benefited the most from Purdue’s failure last weekend. The Buckeyes sit at 13-4 and play their final regular-season game tonight at home against Illinois.

Because of Big Ten tiebreaking procedures, the sixth-ranked Buckeyes will clinch the top seed in next week’s tourney at Conseco Field House should they beat the Fighting Illini this evening — regardless of what happens in conference play this week.

Securing a Big Ten title would be quite an accomplishment for Thad Matta’s squad, considering it began with a 1-3 record in the Big Ten, with National Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner missing those first two contests.

“I think anytime you’re in a conference race, if you peek ahead or look behind, you’re going to end up regretting it,” Matta said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “The thing that you have to control, that’s in your grasp, that’s what my focus is on.”

As for Purdue, the loss of Hummel certainly stings — especially given that the Boilermakers were in a position to possibly become the nation’s new No. 1 team after both Kansas and Kentucky lost over the weekend.

However, a split of the Big Ten crown would give Purdue no worse than the No. 2 seed, provided the seventh-ranked Boilermakers defeat bottom-feeders Indiana and Penn State, which are tied for last place in the Big Ten standings at 3-13.

Purdue head coach Matt Painter knows that while winning the conference outright and earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament may no longer be obtainable, there’s still an opportunity for his squad to finish the year strong, even without its leading scorer.

“Everybody else just has to do a little bit more, but not step out of his box in terms of trying to do things he can’t do,” Painter said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “We’ve got to step up, make plays, and get the job done.”

Then there is Michigan State, which loses any tiebreaker with Ohio State or Purdue should the Spartans share the Big Ten regular-season crown with either. The win at Purdue over the weekend helped Michigan State climb up to 11th in this week’s AP poll, and the Spartans have home games with Penn State and Michigan to conclude its Big Ten slate.

But under the guidance of head coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans know there are bigger things on the horizon entering the month of March.

“Really, every game now is one and done for us as far as having a chance to win the league, a chance to win the Big Ten Tournament, and a chance in the NCAA [Tournament],” Izzo said.

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