Will Iowa and Maryland finish as Big Ten’s best?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With upsets and unlikely underdogs seemingly more common than ever, nobody should’ve been shocked when nine members of last week’s Associated Press Top-25 fell to lower-ranked opponents on Saturday. In fact, we probably should’ve expected it.

But now that the madness of March is closing in, this latest round of upsets will undoubtedly impact the post-season hopes of its victims more than any of its predecessors. And for teams currently fighting their way through the final weeks of Big Ten basketball, that’s especially true.

In College Park, interim head coach Greg Gard definitely earned points with his employers by guiding Wisconsin [16-9] to a 70-57 victory over sixth-ranked Maryland [22-4], and moving his team into NCAA tourney contention with a win that also ended the hosts’ 27-game, home winning streak.

Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin won’t hurt the Terps’ chances of earning a top seed in the NCAA tourney as much as it would’ve a month ago. For now, the Badgers’ recent rise coupled with the consistent inconsistency among teams with an actual shot at entering the dance as one of those four teams still makes Maryland look very solid.

Last week’s meaningless match-up against D-2’s Bowie State robbed Maryland of another chance to pad its post-season resume. As a result, leading scorer Melo Trimble and the Terps will now have to reassure the selection committee that they’re still worthy of receiving its highest honor with dominant efforts at Minnesota [6-19], and versus Michigan [19-7] this week, and in their final three games at no.17 Purdue [20-6], versus Illinois [11-14], and at unpredictable Indiana [20-6] on March 6th.

Just a few short days after beginning the week at number four in the Associated Press Top-25, last Thursday’s seven-point loss at 22nd-ranked Indiana definitely brought Iowa [20-5] back down to earth.

Holding-off the miserable Golden Gophers on Sunday put the Hawkeyes back on track. But this week, Iowa’s only game is slated for Wednesday at Penn State [12-13], and the other four games remaining on its schedule are against probable tournament-teams such as Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, before it meets the N.I.T.-bound Buckeyes of Ohio State [16-10] in the regular season finale.

Fortunately for Jared Uthoff and company, losing at Indiana and barely beating Minnesota hasn’t hurt the Hawkeyes as they remain first in the conference, fourth in this week’s AP poll, and are listed as a two seed in the latest edition of Joe Lunardi’s ”Bracketology”.

Now fifth in the Big Ten, it’s somewhat hard to believe that Michigan State [21-5] was ranked as the top team in the country for four weeks after starting the season 13-0. But an 0-2 mark against Iowa and losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska sent the Spartans tumbling down the polls in January, and they’ve been trying to make up for lost ground ever since.

A tough, overtime-loss on the road to the Boiliermakers last week didn’t help Michigan State’s cause, but wins in five of its last six games, including victories versus Maryland, at Michigan, and versus Indiana on Valentine’s Day, have kept Tom Izzo’s team within the AP’s top ten.

After hosting the Badgers on Thursday in their only game of the week, the Spartans should have some fairly smooth sailing as long as they can avoid disaster in home games versus Penn State and Ohio State, and road games against the Buckeyes and at Rutgers.

While it won’t be easy for Maryland, Iowa, and the rest of the conference’s likely post-season participants to impress the selection committee against mediocre remaining schedules, almost any one of those seven teams still has time to make a move toward winning the Big Ten title.

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