The first three recipients of the Big Ten tournament’s four double-byes came out as expected. The team in the final slot might not be – even though it was the national runner-up a year ago.
Wisconsin looks to close an improbable run and nab the tourney’s third seed with a win in Sunday night’s regular-season finale at 15th-ranked Purdue, which can steal the spot on Senior Night with some help.
The Badgers (20-10, 12-5) appeared to fall out of the Big Ten race two months ago, dropping four of five games to open the conference schedule after coach Bo Ryan’s sudden retirement in mid-December.
However, an 11-1 run and four straight victories has them right in the middle of a congested top half of the league behind champion Indiana.
Michigan State locked up the No. 2 seed for next week’s tourney in Indianapolis with Saturday’s win over Ohio State, and Maryland is guaranteed a top-four spot regardless of its Sunday result against the Hoosiers.
Iowa’s Saturday win at Michigan means Purdue (23-7, 11-6) will need a win and a Terrapins loss to clinch the fourth seed.
Wisconsin will either grab the third seed with a win or drop to sixth with a loss, a huge disparity as the double-bye supplies teams with two days off to open the five-day tourney, which starts Wednesday.
”The Big Ten is a knock ’em down, drag it out-type battle,” Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard said. ”That’s what makes this league so fun. Makes it stressful, too, at the same time. It prepares you well for the NCAA Tournament play.”
The Badgers were a lost team the last time they faced Purdue, suffering a conference-opening 61-55 loss on Dec. 29 in Madison two games after the retirement announcement from Ryan, who was cleared by the school in a statement Friday of allegations of misuse of the schools resources during his admitted affair with a woman.
The December win snapped the Boilermakers’ four-game losing streak in this series.
Purdue played the role of title contender until losing three of five in February, and it could fall to the sixth seed with a loss Sunday.
They enter the regular season finale with momentum, though, following their second straight win Tuesday, 81-62 at Nebraska.
The Boilermaker bigs dominated inside, led by Vince Edwards (20 points), A.J. Hammons (16) and Caleb Swanigan (10). Purdue shoots only 36.3 percent from 3-point range but made 7 of 15 against the Cornhuskers.
”We don’t need to be a high-volume 3-point shooting team,” coach Matt Painter said. ”We need to probe the defense, move the basketball, drive the ball some, take some 3s, hit some intermediate shots. But our bread and butter is posting up and getting the ball inside.”
The 7-foot senior Hammons was a major force in the paint in the first matchup against Wisconsin, making 9 of 14 shots for 24 points. He has averaged 18.1 points and 8.0 rebounds the last eight games.
While Purdue is 16-1 at home and has won seven straight there, Wisconsin has won five of its last six road games to improve to 6-4 away from Madison.