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Indiana University

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Making a case
On the right track: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota
Needing to make a run: Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State
Purdue and Indiana are projected to make the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN.com and CBSSports.com.

Bunch of Big Ten teams could wind up dancing

Associated Press photos
Although Illinois appears on track to make the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern must get on a run to keep its hopes up for making the field for the first time ever.

Ten of the 12 Big Ten teams participated in a bowl this past football season.

Selection Sunday is a little more than a month away, but conference coaches think the number of Big Ten teams in the field could be similar.

“You’ve got a league that’s been on top from the very beginning and has never wavered,” IU coach Tom Crean said during the Big Ten teleconference Monday. “ … When you look at the number of wins, how close so many people are to 20 wins already early in February, I think it says a lot about the league.

“So much of what it’s supposed to come down to is criteria and who you choose to play and strength of schedule and RPI and all those different things that show. I think our league has done a great job of that. I don’t think it’s any question, depending how the next month goes, it would be a complete shock if we didn’t have as many or more than anybody in college basketball in the tournament.”

Eight teams in the conference have at least 15 victories. This week’s ESPN.com projections included eight Big Ten teams in the field. Last week, CBSSports.com projections had nine conference teams (Northwestern being the added squad).

Indiana and Purdue are included in both lists. The Hoosiers face Illinois on Thursday. Purdue is at No. 3 Ohio State today and has a home game Sunday against Northwestern.

The Indiana game begins a stretch of three out of four on the road for the Illini (16-7, 5-5 Big Ten).

“We’re going to have to show some real character here in the next two weeks,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

Illinois split two home games last week, beating Michigan State and losing to Northwestern.

“We felt pretty good ourselves after a really tough loss at Minnesota (by beating Michigan State),” Weber said, “and now you come home for a second home game and you have Northwestern, we’ve had pretty good success at defending them, but not in this case. They had one of those special games with some players making a lot of shots. We just had no answers against them.”

The Wildcats (14-8, 4-6) have some work to do as they try to make the NCAA tournament for the first time. Northwestern snapped a three-game losing streak with wins against Nebraska and the Illini last week.

“You look at them right now, it’s a team that’s making a run to get into the NCAA tournament,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey. The Hawkeyes play Northwestern on Thursday. “They’ve got some real quality wins, they had a great non-conference part of the schedule, and I think right now they are playing as well as they’ve been playing all year long.”

“It’s a good win for us,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said of Sunday’s victory against Illinois. “ … I told our guys it’s the beginning of the second half and we’re 1-0 and we just have to put together a few wins to see if we can get back into the race.”

lpope@jg.net

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