The Big Ten basketball race is wide open.

With its win over Purdue on Saturday, Michigan sits in seventh
place in the conference with a 4-4 record (13-6 overall). Seven Big
Ten teams have a conference record equal to or better than
.500.

But in a year when many analysts view the Big Ten as a weaker
conference, only four or five of those seven teams are expected to
earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

As a result, Michigan views an NCAA bid — something which
it hasn’t earned since 1998 — as a motivating factor in
preparing for road games at Minnesota tomorrow and at Iowa on
Saturday.

“We all think about it,” Michigan senior Bernard
Robinson said. “We want to get to the Tournament, and we know
every game counts. A game like (Minnesota) is a must win for us, to
get to the place we want to go.”

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has heard what Big Ten critics are
saying about the number of bids the conference will earn. But he
doesn’t let it bother him one bit.

“For me personally, I think it’s meaningless,
because I think that all these things will take care of themselves
at the end of the year,” Amaker said.

One reason that analysts have criticized the Big Ten is because
of the parity among its teams. No team has established itself as
the squad to beat in a still wide-open conference.

Wisconsin appeared to be the top Big Ten team, jumping out to a
solid 6-1 conference record (15-3 overall) through the end of last
week. But the Badgers were routed 69-51 by Northwestern (4-5, 9-11)
in Evanston on Saturday — a game no one expected Wisconsin to
lose. Now, Michigan State sits atop the Big Ten with a 7-2
conference record.

Robinson believes that regardless of a team’s record, it
is always harder to beat a team on the road — especially in
the Big Ten.

“This is a league where teams at home are very tough to
beat,” Robinson said. “You have to come in there ready
for every team.”

Michigan will need to keep this philosophy in mind against
cellar-dwelling Minnesota (0-9, 8-13), which is still winless in
Big Ten play.

“All the teams are dangerous, because their backs are
against the wall,” freshman Courtney Sims said.
“They’re gonna be scrapping for a win. There’s no
teams we can take lightly in the Big Ten.”

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