Hawks In Solid Spot for Title Push

WARNING: You may want to take some Dramamine before reading the rest of this article. Dizziness is an expected side effect as we break down the sprint to the finish line of the 2006 Big Ten title. With Illinois' Tuesday night loss at Michigan and with Ohio State traveling to Michigan State tonight, things are moving fast and furious and they will not stop until March 2nd.

Life on the road in the Big Ten is a hard life.

Wait a second, haven't I written that about five times already this year? I think that I have.

Still, it seems that each week there is a new reason to bring that up. The past four days of league play forces me to.

Iowa's loss at Minnesota on Saturday brought them back to the pack of the Big Ten. As the Iowa players went to bed on Sunday night, there was a four way tie in the loss column for first place in the Big Ten.

Just two days later, Illinois traveled to Michigan to take on a depleted Wolverine team that showed no signs of life on the road at Michigan State on Saturday. Of course, Michigan beat Illinois.

This was a crucial game for Iowa, aside from the obvious that you want all the teams you are competing with for a title to lose their games.

Let's take this one a little further and make a dangerous yet not so far fetched assumption; Iowa, which is perfect at home this year, beats Penn State and Wisconsin at home to close the year.

Penn State is playing pretty good basketball right now and Wisconsin is going to be a dangerous game, but just humor me a little bit.

Going off of that hypothetical, combined with Illinois' loss at Michigan, it makes the thought of losing at Champaign, something Iowa has done all but two times since 1987, a little easier to stomach from this vantage point.

I know, I know, Iowa has a chance of winning that game. A pretty decent chance, in fact. But just going with the odds of the 20 years worth of history and just two wins there, and the fact that road wins amongst the Top Seven teams in the Big Ten have been hard to come by this year, forgive me if I am not shocked if Iowa loses at Illinois on Saturday.

If they do lose that game, it would put them at 9-5, with Illinois improving to the same 9-5 record. As mentioned, Iowa's last two games are at home against Penn State and Wisconsin while Illinois finishes out on the road at Minnesota and Michigan State. Minnesota has beaten Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana at home by double digits in consecutive weeks and this year's Illini team winning at the Breslin Center in East Lansing seems doubtful.

Now, let's turn our attention to the other two teams that are currently tied in the loss column with Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Remember, I am assuming for this hypothetical scenario that Iowa loses to Illinois and beats both Penn State and Wisconsin the rest of the way, finishing with a record of 11-5.

Wisconsin is now 8-4 and they travel to Northwestern on Wednesday then host Minnesota on Saturday. Then during the final week of the year, they travel to Michigan State for a Thursday night game then have the short turnaround and travel to Iowa City for a Saturday game at a yet to be determined time; CBS is waiting to pick its wildcard game for that weekend. The other attractive contest is Illinois at Michigan State, but depending on how things shake out over the course of the next seven days, it could be Iowa verses Wisconsin for the Big Ten title on the last weekend of the season.

So it's not too hard to envision Wisconsin coming into Iowa City for the last regular season game with the same hypothetical five games in the loss column.

Now, let's turn our attention to Ohio State, the only team in this mix that Iowa does not play the rest of the way.

Iowa does not play a game tonight, but Hawkeye basketball fans will either want to purchase the Ohio State at Michigan State game on ESPN Full Court or make it down to their favorite watering hole to take in the action, because that might be the last chance anyone has of putting loss number five on the Buckeyes, who are currently 8-4.

After that, it's a home game against inconsistent and depleted Michigan, a trip to Northwestern and then the home finale against Purdue.

It seems obvious that Ohio State is in the best position of any of the four title contenders, with Illinois being in the most precarious. Illinois likely ends up with at least six league losses and one could make a case for Iowa winding up with six as well. Wisconsin could also wind up with six losses and Iowa five.

The bottom line; if Ohio State beats Michigan State tonight, then Iowa is likely going to have to run the table to share for the title. If OSU loses and Iowa still runs the table, the Hawks would win the Big Ten title all by themselves.

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