It was anti-climactic when the Big Ten race was sewn up on Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin rolled past Northwestern 65-52, asserting control about ten minutes into the game and maintaining a comfortable double-digit margin the rest of the way. In a career filled with ups and downs, Brian Butch ended his regular season career with a big 20-point/14-rebound effort to ensure the Badger fans who made the short trip to Evanston would have a reason to celebrate.
The Ohio State reign is officially over--since Big Ten Country was founded during the '05 football season, the Buckeyes have won or shared the league title in both football & basketball each season of this blog's existence. Congratulations to OSU for their run of success in the Tressel/Matta era, and of course to Bo Ryan and the new champions. Mark Stewart of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is looking ahead to the conference tournament and says it will be no easy run for the Badgers.
Speaking of congratulating Ohio State, the Buckeyes may yet fight their way into the NCAA Tournament. Senior Jamar Butler delivered his second straight big game with the season on the line, scoring 20 points in a win over Michigan State. Butler has stood tall in do-or-die week, knocking down a combined 45 points in home wins over Purdue & MSU that ensure his team will have a fighting chance of hearing its name called on Selection Sunday. The Buckeyes and Spartans will rematch in the tournament quarterfinals on Friday. Bob Hunter at The Columbus Dispatch writes that a repeat win would strengthen OSU's case.
Another team keeping its tournament hopes alive with a home upset was Penn State. The Nittany Lions stunned Indiana in overtime, moving their record to 15-15. The Nittany Lions can play their way into the NIT this week. This achievment would be significant enough on its own merits, but considering that PSU has played almost the entire league schedule with Geary Claxton, and their seven Big Ten wins have to mean even that much more. As for Indiana, they got their usual good games from D.J. White & Eric Gordon. But no one else scored more then five and they turned the ball over seventeen times. If there were further evidence needed regarding how much this team needs a third wheel to step up in tournament play, yesterday provided it. Gordon says there's no need to worry.
Purdue locked up second place with a win at Michigan. The Boilermakers conclude the conference season at 15-3, a mark that is normally good enough to win a championship and a mark of enormous credit to the job Matt Painter did in integrating his freshman into the lineup quickly. And Illinois was able to end the regular season on an up note, beating Minnesota at home.