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IU has 2-game cushion in race for Big Ten title

Indiana is in the driver’s seat heading into the final two weeks of the Big Ten season.

The No. 1 Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) have a two-game lead for the conference title after No. 9 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) fell 68-60 at No. 16 Ohio State (20-7, 10-5) on Sunday.

Indiana can clinch at least a share of the conference title with two more victories and will have it all to itself with three wins.

But it will not be easy for the Hoosiers to win their first outright Big Ten championship since 1993 with Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan (23-4, 10-4), No. 17 Wisconsin (19-8, 10-4) and Ohio State still mathematically in the title chase.

Indiana travels to Minnesota tonight then plays host to Iowa on Saturday before finishing with Ohio State at home and a road game against Michigan.

“Where we are at right now, we are getting ready with this time that we had off to not only get ready for Minnesota but to sharpen our game up and make sure our skill levels continue to rise,” said Hoosiers coach Tom Crean, whose team hasn’t played since defeating Michigan State 72-68 last Tuesday.

“We’ve had a really good week of practices with one more (Monday) before we leave for Minneapolis,” Crean added.

Michigan State did the most damage to its title hopes last week with back-to-back losses to Indiana and Ohio State, falling from No. 4 to No. 9 in the AP poll.

“We’ve had some things that we’ve had to deal with that were minor in some ways and major in others,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.

“Now we got to get back to saying, ‘OK, we had our chance to compete for a league championship. We’ve damaged that severely; maybe now we can get back to doing things the way we are supposed to.’ ”

Wisconsin has the best chance at taking the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament from Indiana. The Badgers won the teams’ only regular-season matchup, and if they end up with the same conference record as the Hoosiers, the programs would share the Big Ten regular-season title with Wisconsin taking the top seed in the conference tournament, which starts March 14 in Chicago.

“That’s what you get in this league day-in and day-out, you get incredible games,” Crean said. “You’ve got to have some high-level performances to win those games.”

tkrausz@jg.net

Big Ten race

Remaining schedules for teams in the hunt for the Big Ten regular-season title: Indiana
Conference record: 12-2
Remaining schedule: Today at Minnesota; Saturday vs. Iowa; March 5 vs. Ohio State; March 10 at Michigan Michigan State
Conference record: 11-4
Remaining schedule: Sunday at Michigan; March 7 vs. Wisconsin; March 10 vs. Northwestern Michigan
Conference record: 10-4
Remaining schedule: Wednesday at Penn State; Sunday vs. Michigan State; March 6 at Purdue; March 10 vs. Indiana Wisconsin
Conference record: 10-4
Remaining schedule: Today vs. Nebraska; Sunday vs. Purdue; March 7 at Michigan State; March 10 at Penn State Ohio State
Conference record: 10-5
Remaining schedule: Thursday at Northwestern; March 5 at Indiana; March 10 vs. Illinois

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