Here's why loss at Penn State was major blow to Michigan's regular season Big Ten title hopes

First-place Wolverines lose to last-place team in Big Ten

Michigan head coach John Beilein (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Michigan head coach John Beilein (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan basketball team is already a lock for the NCAA Tournament and will likely have a very good seed, but with a loss to last-place Penn State, the Wolverines' regular season conference title hopes took a big hit.

Michigan is tied with Michigan State and Purdue with three Big Ten losses. Michigan and MSU have six games remaining and Purdue has seven. The Wolverines hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Purdue and have yet to play either game against Michigan State.

That doesn't sound too bad, right? At 22-3, Michigan still has the best record in the Big Ten despite the dreadful loss in Happy Valley.

Unfortunately for John Beilein's team, the schedule doesn't set up favorably when compared with Purdue and Michigan State.

Here's a look at Michigan's final six games:

  • Saturday: vs. Maryland (10-4, fourth place in Big Ten)
  • Feb. 21: at Minnesota (6-7, eighth place)
  • Feb. 24: vs. Michigan State (11-3, first place)
  • Feb. 28: vs. Nebraska (3-10, 13th place)
  • March 3: at Maryland (10-4, fourth place)
  • March 9: at Michigan State (11-3, first place)

So between now and the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan will play the other first-place team twice and the fourth-place team twice. The game at Minnesota will also be tricky for a team that's dropped three of its last five road games.

Here's a look at Purdue's final seven games:

  • Saturday: vs. Penn State (2-11, 14th place)
  • Tuesday: at Indiana (4-9, 10th place)
  • Feb. 23: at Nebraska (3-10, 13th place)
  • Feb. 27: vs. Illinois (5-8, ninth place)
  • March 2: vs. Ohio State (6-6, seventh place)
  • March 5: at Minnesota (6-7, eighth place)
  • March 9: at Northwestern (3-9, 12th place)

Purdue doesn't play a single game against a team that's a lock to be in the NCAA Tournament. It will play seven of the bottom eight teams in the Big Ten, with its toughest game -- at Minnesota -- being Michigan's second-easiest remaining game.

If Purdue slips up along the way, Michigan would still have to go 5-1 on that tough six-game stretch to finish in a tie atop the standings.

Here's a look at Michigan State's final six games:

  • Sunday: vs. Ohio State (6-6, seventh place)
  • Feb. 20: vs. Rutgers (4-9, 10th place)
  • Feb. 24: at Michigan (11-3, first place)
  • March 2: at Indiana (4-9, 10th place)
  • March 5: vs. Nebraska (3-10, 13th place)
  • March 9: vs. Michigan (11-3, first place)

If Michigan and Michigan State split their two meetings -- which feels likely since both have been so strong at home -- the Spartans have four winnable games, including three at home, while Michigan has two games against Maryland and a road game at Minnesota.

It's not that Michigan has a tougher schedule overall. Michigan State and Purdue have already survived their toughest stretches, and Michigan's is just about to begin.

In 2012-13, Michigan lost to a Penn State team that was 0-14 in Big Ten play. The Wolverines finished tied for fourth in the conference but made a run to the national championship game in March.

In terms of the NCAA Tournament, Tuesday night's loss means very little for Michigan. But in terms of the Big Ten regular season title race, it was a significant setback.

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