Wisconsin Badgers: Upcoming Schedule Conducive To Big Ten Title Run

Sam OlesonCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 13:  Jason Bohannon #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers gestures against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the second round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With two straight conference losses for Michigan State, to Wisconsin and Illinois, the Big Ten regular season title is once again up for grabs.

Up until about a week ago, it looked as though the Spartans were going to run away with the crown. Undefeated in the conference and 18-3 overall, Michigan State was off to the best start in school history and on a roll.

A trip to the Kohl Center put the first chink in their armor. After their loss to Illinois in Champaign, there's a considerable dent.

Now at 9-2, Michigan State leads the Big Ten by only one game over Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Illinois, with Purdue just a half game further back.

So, with five teams all within a game-and-a-half of first place, the race to the finish should be the most intense it has been in years.

It's hard to predict who is going to come out on top, but based on the remaining schedule and overall momentum, the favorite has to be Wisconsin.

Coming off two dominant wins (Michigan State at home and Michigan on the road), the Badgers are playing at a level that resembles the play of 2006-07's 30-win team. Their three losses in Big Ten play, all on the road, were decided by a total of 19 points and they've been unbeatable at home.

Their offense, though not flashy or high-scoring by any means, simply gets the job done. Although one could complain about their lack of an inside presence, Wisconsin's outside shooting has been lights-out in 2010.

And if those performances continue, it will be tough for anyone to knock off the Badgers.

It's certainly a risky strategy living and dying by the three-pointer, but so far, there's been a lot more living than dying.

As far as Wisconsin's defense, not much really needs to be said. 56 points a game and already five Big Ten opponents held under 50 points says it all.

However, Wisconsin isn't the only Big Ten team that has momentum on their side.

Ohio State has won four in a row and eight of 10 since Evan Turner returned to the lineup.

Illinois has also won four in a row after a three-game losing streak and are right back in the thick of things.

Purdue, after their own three-game losing streak, has won five in a row and are all the way up to No. 6 in the country.

So Wisconsin certainly isn't the only team in the Big Ten on a roll. 

But the Badgers have done one thing that the other teams in the hunt haven't yet: They've played the toughest portion of their schedule.

Wisconsin has already played Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State (twice), and have split with each team. Although Wisconsin plays Illinois twice in the upcoming weeks (tomorrow in Madison and in March at Champaign), that looks to be their only real challenge for the rest of the year.

Wisconsin will likely defeat Illinois tomorrow night and may go undefeated before they take on the Illini in their final regular season game of the year.

Not to say the rest of Wisconsin's schedule is easy (they go to Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois), but unless they play very poor basketball, the game at Illinois should be their only major challenge the rest of the way.

Going to Minnesota is always difficult and Northwestern could play them tough in the Kohl Center, but realistically, Wisconsin should finish the year with only four conference losses.

Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue still have huge challenges in front of them, mostly against each other, which could lead to Wisconsin coming out on top.

The Spartans still have to play Purdue twice and Ohio State once. Michigan State still controls their own destiny, but with a battered Kalin Lucas and little momentum on their side, two or three more losses could be a definite possibility.

Ohio State still has home games against Purdue and Illinois and hits the road against Michigan State.

Purdue still has two games against Michigan State, one at Ohio State, and one at home against Illinois.

Illinois, with probably the toughest remaining schedule, takes on Wisconsin twice, Ohio State twice, and heads to Purdue as well.

Virtually every other game for the rest of the season is a primetime matchup. It's a Big Ten fan's dream.

And luckily for Wisconsin, they're not taking part.