Title Chances Take a Hit

No.20 Wisconsin will finally get a "break" in the schedule, playing three of its next four games at home. But after losing in overtime to Minnesota Thursday, what are Wisconsin's conference title chance now?

MINNEAPOLIS - When asked what the problems were in the final seconds of Thursday night's 58-53 overtime loss at Minnesota, senior forward Mike Bruesewitz said the Badgers didn't shoot free throws well, didn't shoot the ball great, could have finished better around the basket, could have gotten better looks, had too many turnovers and missed an opportunity to win with the game in hand.

Other than that, it was perfect.

No.20 Wisconsin was up, 49-43, with 5:08 seconds left, but didn't make free throws, didn't take care of the ball and didn't score another point until they were down by five with 1:20 to go in overtime. By that time, it was too much momentum to turn.

"We had plenty of chance to take care of business," said senior forward Jared Berggren, "and we just didn't get it done."

And because of that, Wisconsin's hope for its first Big Ten title in five seasons took a serious hit, now trailing No.1 Indiana and No.8 Michigan State by two games. That makes the final six games – especially with No.13 Ohio State on Sunday – all that more important.

"It's always good to have another opportunity to go play," said guard Traevon Jackson. "In this game, especially in this program, you never arrive. You just have to keep your head up and get ready for the next one."

Although the Big Ten has separated itself as the toughest conference in the country, the Badgers' finishing stretch is arguably the easiest out of the conference's top five teams. Wisconsin only plays two ranked teams and has three games against the three worst teams in the conference (Michigan also plays only two ranked teams, but has just two games against the bottom three teams).

After hosting the Buckeyes, Wisconsin has its only meeting with Northwestern in Evanston Wednesday (the Badgers have won six straight in the series and the last two at Welsh Ryan Arena) before hosting Nebraska Feb.26 and Purdue March 3. Wisconsin beat Nebraska, 47-41, January 6 and hasn't played Purdue.

Wisconsin will close the season with back-to-back road games at No.8 Michigan State March 7 and Penn State March 10. Wisconsin lost to then-No.13 Michigan State, 49-47, January 22 in part because the Badgers went 7-for-18 from the free throw line. UW beat Penn State, 60-51, to open Big Ten play and the Nittany Lions are still looking for its first Big Ten win.

Of the four teams Wisconsin is tied with or behind in the standings, there will be five games were two of those teams will play each other, thus allowing the Badgers to make up ground on one of the teams in the standings if they take care of business.

Here is a look on how the final three-plus weeks of the Big Ten will shake out among the contenders.

No.1 Indiana (10-2 Big Ten) – host Purdue Saturday, at No.8 Michigan State Tuesday, at Minnesota Feb.26, host Iowa March 2, host No.13 Ohio State March 5 and at No.4 Michigan March 10.

No.8 Michigan State (10-2) – at Nebraska Saturday, No.1 Indiana Tuesday, at No.13 Ohio State Feb. 24, at No.4 Michigan March 2, Wisconsin March 7 and host Northwestern March 10.

No.4 Michigan (8-4) - host Penn State Sunday, home Illinois Feb.24, at Penn State Feb.27, host No.8 Michigan State March 2, at Purdue March 6 and host No.1 Indiana March 10.

No.13 Ohio State (8-4) – at Wisconsin Sunday, host Minnesota Wednesday, host No.8 Michigan State Feb.24, at Northwestern Feb.28, at No.1 Indiana March 5, host Illinois March 10.

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