A Weekend To Remember On Tap In Big Ten

One final weekend remains before tournament play kicks off, and the Big Ten remains an unsettled conference. Eight of the league's 11 teams enters the final weekend with something to play for, and we provide as many scenarios as possible as you gear up for the close of the 2008-09 regular season.

After two of the Big Ten's top three schools failed to hold serve this week, a number of teams enter the final weekend of conference play facing uncertain futures.

A few things are certain. Only one team – Illinois – is done for the season, finishing conference play at 11-7. Michigan State has clinched the conference crown, and Iowa and Indiana are guaranteed to finish as the bottom two teams in the Big Ten.

Between the Spartans and the bottom of the conference, however, each of the remaining eight teams has something to play for heading into the weekend – NCAA Tournament hopes aside.

Here's what is up for grabs this weekend:

*The Fighting Illini head into the weekend with a legitimate chance of moving up to the No. 2 seed with a little help. Purdue holds a half-game lead on Illinois for that spot, but the Boilermakers finish out the year with a road game at Michigan State (Sunday, noon, CBS).

A Spartan win would deadlock both Purdue and Illinois at 11-7 in Big Ten play. In that case, the tiebreaker would go to the Fighting Illini, who went 2-0 against the Boilermakers this season. Otherwise, Illinois will enter the Big Ten Tournament as both a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and as the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.

*Penn State has likely solidified itself as an NCAA Tournament team after knocking off Purdue on Thursday night. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi removed the Nittany Lions from his list of the last four teams to make the tournament later that evening, one day after picking them as a team likely to play their way out of the tournament.

Instead, PSU heads into a very winnable game at Iowa (Saturday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network) for a chance to improve to 11-7 in conference play. That presents a few scenarios.

If Purdue wins and finishes 12-6, it locks up second place in the Big Ten. If not, an 11-7 finish that ties the Boilermakers with the Illini and the Nittany Lions would actually give the No. 2 seed to Penn State. The Nittany Lions swept Illinois and split with Purdue, giving them the overall tiebreaker. In this case, Illinois would be the No. 3 seed and Purdue would fall all the way to No. 4.

A PSU loss means it can be no better than a No. 4 seed and puts it in the mix with three other teams that enter the final weekend with eight losses each.

*After the top four teams, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State all sit at 9-8. By virtue of the tiebreakers, that currently puts the Golden Gophers as the No. 5 seed, the Badgers as the No. 6 seed and the Buckeyes at No. 7. If these teams remain tied in conference play, the record will remain unchanged.

Of the three, Wisconsin is the closest to a lock to improve to 10-8 by virtue of the fact that it gets to close out the season against cellar-dweller Indiana (Sunday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network). The Buckeyes host a hot Northwestern team riding a three-game winning streak (Sunday, 5 p.m., Big Ten Network), while Minnesota hosts another team fighting for its tournament life in Michigan (Saturday, noon, ESPN).

The battle for these spots has too many variables to discuss here. In all, five teams could finish even at 9-9 in conference play and need a number of tiebreakers to sort them out.

As for the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten looks to get as many as seven teams into the dance. Three of those spots are spoken for thanks to Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois. After that, every team aside from Iowa and Indiana – seven teams in all – finds itself fighting for four remaining spots.

Let the games begin.

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