Purdue fans were getting a little antsy last night.
The Boilermakers (No. 16 AP/No. 19 USA Today) had blown an early double-digit lead against visiting Minnesota and trailed 24-21 late in the first half of their Big Ten contest. After an eight-day layoff, Purdue's execution seemed suspect, the offense ragged, and the Gophers had all the momentum.
Enter Keaton Grant.
Grant, a sophomore guard from Kissimmee, Florida, had been battling the flu all week and didn't start in the game. Sickness or no sickness, when Purdue needed a big shot, they looked to their playmaker and he delivered.
Grant's three-pointer from the left wing tied the game and turned the tide - and that was only his second biggest shot of the half. Less than a minute later, Grant buried a 40-foot heave at the half-court buzzer to give the Boilermakers a lead they would never relinquish.
Purdue went on to post a 65-53 victory over the Gophers and move back into a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings.
E'Twaun Moore finished with a game-high 22 points for Purdue, while Robbie Hummel added 12 with eight rebounds. With wins in their remaining three games, the Boilermakers can assure themselves no worse than a share of their first league title since 1996.
Looking at the conference race, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Indiana are each 13-2 with three games to play. Whether the championship is outright or shared, each team gets a banner and trophy for their respective gymnasium. The automatic berth to the NCAA tournament is reserved for the Big Ten tournament winner, so the tiebreaker procedure for the regular season only matters as far as seeding for the league tournament, which is held March 13-16 in Indianapolis.
Here are the remaining schedules and tiebreaker scenarios of the three first-place schools.
vs. Northwestern 3/1
at Ohio State 3/4
at Michigan 3/9
vs. Michigan State 2/28
vs. Penn State 3/5
at Northwestern 3/8
at Michigan State 3/2
vs. Minnesota 3/5
at Penn State 3/9
Each team has potential potholes in their final three games: Indiana, playing at Michigan State, probably has the toughest remaining contest. Purdue could struggle in Columbus against the Buckeyes, while tonight's game between MSU and Wisconsin will also shed some light on the situation.
As far as the tiebreaker and tournament seeding, here are the details you should know.
If all three teams are tied at the end of the season, Purdue would win the tiebreaker because of a 2-1 record against the others, with two wins over Wisconsin and a loss to Indiana. Wisconsin would get the two-seed in this scenario because of two wins against the Hoosiers and two losses against Purdue. Indiana would take the three-seed with a 1-2 record against Purdue and Wisconsin.
If any of the three teams fall out of the first-place tie between now and season's end, the tiebreakers change:
Purdue would hold a tiebreaker over Wisconsin.
Indiana would hold a tiebreaker over Purdue.
Wisconsin would hold a tiebreaker over Indiana.
As if this isn't all complicated enough, Michigan State could make a late charge with wins over the Badgers tonight and the Hoosiers next week.
I will be attending part of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time ever (and look forward to writing about it here on Bleacher Report)—I can't wait to see all these talented teams battle on the hardwood, and I know the rest of the conference race and tournament is going to be just as exciting and unpredictable as the last few months have been.
Purdue? Indiana? Wisconsin? All three? The championship could come down to the last day of the season...and it most likely will.