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The Brand debates the race for the Big Ten Championship

Andrew Holleran and Michael Periatt, The Brand, host a weekly sports podcast called Inside Buckeye Nation. Visit www.thelantern.com/podcasts to listen or subscribe on iTunes.

Andrew: With five teams ranked in the Associated Press’ top 25 poll – including three squads in the top seven – the Big Ten is almost unquestionably the best conference in college basketball this season. Who, though, is the best team in the B1G, Michael?
Michael: It’s got to be Indiana. They’re No. 1 in the country for a reason. They have who I consider to be the best player in the conference in Victor Oladipo, and Cody Zeller and Christian Watford aren’t bad themselves. You saw it when they came to Columbus – when they’re clicking no one is better.
A: Indiana is the most talented and complete team in the conference, no doubt. But right now, no one in the B1G is playing better basketball than Michigan State. Sparty has won five-straight games including an absolute shellacking of then-No. 4 ranked Michigan. Tom Izzo is a better coach than Tom Crean, and that’s the difference for me right now.
M: Here’s why I don’t buy Michigan State as the conference’s top team. Its schedule is completely back-loaded. The next four games the team plays are against No. 1 Indiana, at No. 18 OSU, at No. 7 Michigan and No. 19 Wisconsin. I think the sterling record Sparty currently enjoys is in part bolstered thanks to a slow (for the Big Ten) schedule to this point. Plus Indiana has looked unreal since its last-second loss against Illinois.
A: MSU has done something no other B1G team has done, though: it beat Wisconsin in Madison. We saw how tough it is to even compete in the Kohl Center Sunday when OSU traveled there and got smoked. Indiana lost to the Badgers in Bloomington, too. Your point is correct, however, we’ll find out how good Izzo and company really is over the next two weeks.
M: But Indiana won its head-to-head matchup (granted it was in Bloomington). Speaking of Wisconsin though, I think they have a sneaky good shot to win the regular season title. The Badgers only have one ranked team left on their schedule down the stretch.
A: We’ll find out much more about MSU and Indiana tonight when the Hoosiers take on Sparty in East Lansing. I like Wisconsin a lot. They’re not a typical Bo Ryan squad – there are some serious athletes on that team to go along with the standstill sharpshooters that the Badgers seem to always employ. I think they lose at MSU on March 7, though, which would give them five conference losses. The B1G winner will have no more than four, I say.
M: Probably right, but the great thing about this race is Wisconsin winning isn’t out of the question. Who would have thought that in the beginning of the year?
A: Not many, if anybody outside of the Badger state. But coming off their beat down of the Buckeyes, the Badgers aren’t going to sneak up on anybody in the near future. Speaking of OSU, how do you think Thad Matta’s crew will finish down the stretch? The Buckeyes have Minnesota, MSU, at Northwestern, at Indiana and Illinois to finish their conference schedule.
M: They’ll regroup. I think they beat MSU at home but lose to Indiana. We know who the Buckeyes are at this point. They’re a good team in a great conference. They have one great offensive player and a bunch of above-average defenders. That won’t cut in the Big Ten this year. Overall I’d say it’s a 50-50 shot they make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
A: A 3-2 record to wrap up the regular season is what I’m predicting (losses to MSU and Indiana), good for fifth place in the league. NCAA Tournament wise, it’s all about matchups, so it’s tough to predict right now, but 50-50 odds on making it to the Sweet 16 sounds about right.

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