As conference schedule comes to a close, regular-season title up for grabs

Three teams are still in the running for a Big Ten regular-season championship.

Mark Heise

With just three or four games remaining in the women’s basketball Big Ten schedule, there are a few races remaining that could generate interest heading into the conference tournament.

The biggest race lingering is the one for first place, with three teams still in the running. And with many possible outcomes, here are the scenarios:

Iowa leads Ohio State by a half game and Purdue by a game, holding an 11-4 conference record.

Both the Hawkeyes and the Boilermakers have three games left to play, and while Iowa may hold the lead in the standings, Purdue would have the edge in a tie at the end of the season as long as Iowa loses to the Buckeyes this week.

Ohio State has four games remaining, and will look to improve its 10-4 record at home against Iowa on Thursday.

The Buckeyes have maybe the easiest schedule left after the Iowa game, taking on Indiana before finishing the season against two teams on a collective 22-game losing streak in Penn State and Northwestern.

But if Iowa were to beat Ohio State, all signs would be pointing to the Hawkeyes for a regular-season championship. Iowa would hold an advantage on the tiebreak against Purdue, and would finish out its season against the hapless Wildcats and an underachieving Wisconsin squad.

“Anytime you’re playing at the end of the season and you’re tied for first, it’s exciting,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s fun to be at the top at the end of the year.”

On the bubble

The race for first isn’t the only race remaining, however, as three more teams are fighting to hold one of the two remaining slots in the top five, earning the right to a first round bye in the tournament.

Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan State are within a game of each other, and the Gophers lead the pack with a 9-6 record.

Both the Spartans – holding an 8-7 conference record – and Minnesota have three games remaining, and Michigan State appears to have the weaker schedule facing both Northwestern and Penn State in the final week.

Minnesota swept the Spartans this year, meaning that in the event these two teams tie, the Gophers would take the higher seed.

Indiana’s schedule holds four remaining contests, with both Ohio State and Minnesota on the calendar. Should the Hoosiers beat Minnesota, they would win any tie-breaking scenarios with the Gophers but wouldn’t necessarily hold the edge over Michigan State.

Since the Spartans and the Hoosiers split the season series, the next tie-breaker would go to whoever did better against the conference champion. Michigan State holds the edge with Iowa and Ohio State and could, at worst, tie Indiana’s record against Purdue. This scenario is in the Spartans’ favor.

But what if Michigan, Illinois or Wisconsin beats the odds, something that is still mathematically possible, and jumps into the mix? With so many possibilities, it should shape up to be an exciting last two weeks.