After the Wolverines beat Penn State 71-65, they were left to wait and watch and hope for an OSU win over Michigan State on Sunday. It wasn’t easy to endure, but they got what they needed as Ohio State rallied to for a 72-70 win that left MSU, OSU and Michigan all tied at the top of the Big Ten with 13-5 records.
“I was going crazy, man, No. 1,” Michigan’s Zack Novak said. “I was standing in the video room with my shirt off on my head, jumping on chairs, going crazy. On the bus [to Ann Arbor], we told the bus driver to drive fast, he was driving too slow. It was nerve-wracking.”
The conference tournament begins Thursday and Michigan State, the No. 1 seed with a 24-7 record, plays the winner of the Iowa-Illinois game on Friday. No. 2 Michigan (23-8) plays the Northwestern-Minnesota winner Friday and No. 3 OSU (25-6) plays the Purdue-Nebraska winner Friday.
The Spartans aren’t rolling into tournament play; they coughed up a 15-point lead against the Buckeyes and lost freshman Branden Dawson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. ESPN, in fact, has Ohio State atop its conference power rankings, with Michigan No. 2 and MSU No. 3.
The Spartans had a two-game lead in the conference with two regular-season games left and lost to Indiana before falling to OSU. The Buckeyes, who lost last week to Wisconsin, “never thought Michigan State would let their guard down against Indiana and give us a chance to play for a share of the Big Ten title,” Jared Sullinger said. “With them doing that, there's nothing better.”
Hands down the best conference in the country this season, the Big Ten could get as many as seven NCAA tournament bids. The Spartans, Buckeyes, Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers are all considered locks, and Northwestern helped itself with a big road win at Iowa to close out the regular season. But for the Wildcats to make their first NCAA tournament field ever, they probably need to beat Minnesota on Thursday and avoid a blowout loss to Michigan. Beating the Wolverines would likely ensure their spot in the field.
The tournament schedule (all times Eastern):
Thursday, March 8
Game 1: No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Illinois (11:30 a.m., Big Ten Network)
Game 2: No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 12 Penn State (2 p.m., BTN)
Game 3: No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Minnesota (5:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Game 4: No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Nebraska (8 p.m., ESPN2)
Friday, March 9
Game 5: No. 1 Michigan State vs. Game 1 winner (Noon, ESPN)
Game 6: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. Game 2 winner (2:30 p.m., ESPN)
Game 7: No. 2 Michigan vs. Game 3 winner (6:30 p.m., BTN)
Game 8: No. 3 Ohio State vs. Game 4 winner (9 p.m., BTN)
Saturday, March 10
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner (1:40 p.m., CBS)
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner (4:10 p.m., CBS)
Sunday, March 11
Championship Game: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner (3:30 p.m. CBS)
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