Don't be surprised when you see a little scarlet and gray dotting Michigan's bandwagon landscape on Sunday afternoon.
That’s because Ohio State’s hopes of a fourth consecutive Big Ten title are directly tied to the outcome of Sunday’s clash between its hated rival and the Indiana Hoosiers. A Wolverine win coupled with a Buckeye victory over Illinois means Ohio State would earn a share of the Big Ten crown.
“I have [never rooted for Michigan], but I do know we have to take care of business against Illinois before anything can happen,” guard Aaron Craft said to Buckeyesports.com following Tuesday’s upset win over Indiana.
He’s right. Ohio State still needs to beat Illinois on Sunday afternoon, which is anything but guaranteed judging from the past two weeks. But should Ohio State handle the Illini, it would be in decent shape to share a conference title by Sunday night.
Former Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger was well aware of the brewing scenario on Tuesday night:
If the Hoosiers beat Michigan, it will mark the program’s first outright title since 1993. Indiana already blew its first chance against Ohio State on Tuesday night. Should the Hoosiers secure the distinction, though, they'll need to win in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines haven’t lost there all season.
If Michigan defends its turf and topples Indiana, it would cause sheer bedlam in the Big Ten. For all the likely scenarios, check out this piece by Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Four teams, including Ohio State, could be tied for first place on Sunday night. Those four teams would be Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and the winner of Thursday's showcase between Wisconsin and Michigan State.
That’s the other game that matters in the whole Big Ten shakedown. Whichever team wins will also be rooting for Michigan to take down Indiana in hopes of claiming a share of the Big Ten title.
If the Spartans beat Wisconsin, Indiana automatically earns the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. A Hoosier loss on Sunday would only mean that the conference title would be shared amongst four teams, but Indiana would still take the top seed in the tournament.
But if Wisconsin were to beat Michigan State and the Hoosiers were to lose to Michigan, Indiana would fall to a No. 3 seed and the Buckeyes would take the No. 2 seed.
The bottom line for Ohio State is this: A Michigan win, coupled with a Buckeye victory over Illinois, gives Ohio State the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and a share of the crown, something very few saw possible a few weeks ago.
This situation isn't without precedent.
Last season, Michigan was put in the exact same scenario in regards to rooting for its rival. The Buckeyes beat Michigan State in East Lansing in the regular-season finale to ensure the Spartans didn’t win the conference outright. It forced a three-way tie atop the conference standings between Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan.
The Buckeyes would certainly accept the favor in return, but Michigan shouldn't be expecting any thank you cards.