Big Ten’s last few weeks will be tense times in title race

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Michigan State made its move for the Big Ten title. Now comes the tough part.

The No. 7 Spartans held off Purdue Sunday for a 76-62 road win, moving them one game ahead of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten standings. All four teams have four games remaining. Here’s a peek:

  • Michigan State: Wednesday at Minnesota; Saturday vs. Nebraska; Feb. 28 at Indiana; March 4 vs. Ohio State
  • Ohio State: Tuesday vs. Illinois; Saturday vs. Wisconsin; Feb. 29 at Northwestern; March 4 at Michigan State.
  • Michigan: Tuesday at Northwestern; Saturday vs. Purdue; March 1 at Illinois; March 4 at Penn State.

The Wolverines (20-7, 10-4 in Big Ten) face the toughest slate: Three road games, two of which are at NCAA tournament bubble teams in Northwestern and Illinois. They should and could win all four, but that seems unlikely. Expect at least one more loss.

Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) might face the four best teams among the title contenders, though. Hosting Illinois and Wisconsin makes for a pair of slow-it-down, slug-it-out games, and trekking to Northwestern and Michigan State represents two games that most teams would love to split.

That leaves the Spartans.

At 22-5 and 11-3, they have that one-game lead and get two more home games, including the all-important season finale vs. the Buckeyes. That leaves winning at Minnesota or Indiana to clinch the crown when Ohio State arrives. If there’s a season where they pull off the improbable, it’s this one. They hadn’t won at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue since 1997-98. Tom Izzo’s team could pull off four more wins and take their first Big Ten title since 2009.

But it’s the Big Ten. Nothing comes easy. Even for those in first.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Creighton lands 2016 combo guard

Greg McDermott
Associated Press
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Sunday evening Creighton got on the board in the Class of 2016, as 6-foor-4 combo guard Davion Mintz made his pledge to Greg McDermott’s program. Mintz made the decision on the tail end of his official visit to Creighton, picking the Bluejays over Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Tulsa and Wichita State.

News of Mintz’s commitment was first reported by Rick Lewis of the Phenom Hoop Report, with Mintz confirming the news via Twitter shortly thereafter.

Creighton has just two seniors on its current roster in guard Jams Milliken and forward Geoffrey Groselle, but that doesn’t mean they lack for experience. Among the guards on the roster who will be around when Mintz arrives on campus are redshirt juniors Maurice Watson Jr., Malik Albert, and Isaiah Zierden, and Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster will be eligible in 2016-17.

Mintz, who attends North Mecklenberg HS just outside of Charlotte, can play either on or off the basketball. Creighton’s veteran guards should help Mintz with his transition to the college game when he arrives in Omaha in 2016. Mintz played for the Charlotte Nets grassroots program this summer.

Three-star power forward commits to WVU

Bob Huggins
Associated Press
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Three days after landing one power forward in Sagaba Konate, West Virginia received a verbal commitment from another big man Sunday evening.

6-foot-11 Mountain Mission School (Gurndy, Virginia) power forward Maciej Bender became the Mountaineers’ fourth commitment in the Class of 2016 on Sunday, with the Mountain Mission program announcing the news via Twitter. Bender is a native of Poland, and in addition to Konate he joins guards Brandon Knapper and Chase Harler in West Virginia’s 2016 recruiting class.

West Virginia will lose two forwards in TyQuane Goard and Jonathan Holton at the end of the 2015-16 season, and the additions of Konate and Bender will help the Mountaineers account for those departures from a depth standpoint. Bender can score around the basket, but he’s also capable of facing up and scoring in pick-and-pop situations out beyond the three-point line.

Bender officially visited West Virginia last weekend, and he was a player the WVU coaching staff wanted to get in the fold. Other programs to offer Bender included Arizona State (teammate Jethro Tshisumpa is an ASU commit), Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Providence. Bender played his grassroots basketball for the West Virginia Wildcats program this summer.