The regular season reaches its conclusion on Saturday and confusion still reigns. Five teams will go to Chicago for the conference tournament with their NCAA status uncertain. I don't ever recall a league tourney as consequential as this one will be.
Iowa's win over Illinois is the key trigger of the confusion. An Illini win would have surely marked them as a lock, and also ended whatever faint hopes the Hawks have for an at-large bid. But Illinois missed their chance in Iowa City, and tiebreakers dropped them to the #6 seed, meaning they must play on Thursday. Presuming that taking care of Penn State will be just a formality, the Illini may need to beat Indiana on Friday night in the quarterfinals to ensure a bid. As for Iowa, I would still be very surprised to see them get an at-large. But at 17-13 right now, if they win two games in Chicago, which would get them to the final, you can't rule them out at 19-14 (obviously if they win three and win the event, they'll be in the NCAA automatically). And winning two games is doable for Alford & Co. They open with Purdue on Friday afternoon. The likely semifinal opponent would be Ohio State, and it's anybody's guess how fired up the Buckeyes will be, with a regular season championship and probable #1 NCAA seed all but clinched.
The two schools from the basketball hotbed of the world took care of their business on Saturday. Indiana thumped Penn State at home, and with the Illinois loss took third place outright. There will be no sweaty palms in Bloomington come early Sunday evening. Prior to Saturday's game, Terry Hutchens at The Indianapolis Star wrote that a key to Kelvin Sampson's success in his rookie year has been his restoration of home-court advantage. Purdue thumped Northwestern in Mackey and got to 20-10. On Saturday night, I was watching ESPN's Gameday coverage and most of the commentators think the Boilermakers need some wins in Chicago if they are to dance. However it plays out, Matt Painter's turnaround job is one of the feel-good stories in the conference this season. His players honored Carl Landry and David Teague as co-MVPs for their efforts.
Michigan looked to have Ohio State on the ropes, but let it slip away. The Wolverines finish 8-8 in the league and almost surely need to win at least twice this weekend. Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free Press continues his critical approach to the Amaker regime. However, the columnist feels like the coach's job is safe, due to some intriguing campus politics. I've indicated before my own mixed feelings on this subject. I doubt that firing Amaker is going to solve anything in Ann Arbor, and I do think he's a decent coach. But at the same time, consistent failure to make the NCAA (presuming that ends up the case this year) can't be overlooked at a school with the resources of UM. If I were the AD, he'd stay, but I do understand where the frustration of fans and writers like Sharp is coming from. Sorry if that position sounds a little John Kerry-esque, but I'm ambivalent on this one.
Michigan State and Wisconsin played the best game of the day, with the Badgers winning on a last-second three-pointer by Kammron Taylor. It was ironic, because the normally disciplined Badgers played sluggish and then ran an absolutely atrocious offensive set on the final possession, forcing Taylor into an off-balance trey. But nailing the shot heals all wounds, and UW avoids a three-game losing streak to end the regular season. The loss means MSU at least needs to take care of the formality of beating Northwestern in Thursday's first-round, and at 8-8 in the league, they might need to win the rematch against Wisconsin on Friday. Those schools will no doubt be sick of each other by then, as it will mark their third clash in two weeks.
And way down south, the General got a big win on Saturday night. Texas Tech escaped Iowa State with a 63-61 win, they got them to 20 W's for the year. The Red Raiders will probably get their coach's record-setting 28th NCAA bid, so long as they beat last-place Colorado in the first round of the Big 12 tourney on Thursday.