CHICAGO (AP) -- Indiana is standing tall again.
Michigan and Michigan State are right there with the Hoosiers, and Ohio State and Wisconsin aren't exactly backing down from anyone, either.
The Big Ten tournament starts Thursday, and it's not hard to see why Spartans coach Tom Izzo declared it one of the best ever. And by best ever, he didn't just mean best Big Ten tournament.
"We're looking forward to one of the great conference tournaments of all time, if you ask me," Izzo said. "When you look at the ranked teams and the teams that aren't ranked and everyone else, it should be a heck of a Big Ten tournament in Chicago."
The league is tops in the Sagarin ratings and boasts five teams ranked in the Top 25, including four in the top 10.
One of those top 10 teams -- No. 6 Michigan -- didn't even get one of the four first-round byes. Instead, the Wolverines face Penn State on Thursday after falling a point short of sharing the conference championship with a 72-71 loss to Indiana on Sunday.
They need to regroup and figure out a way to get past the Nittany Lions, a team that rallied from 15 down in the second half to beat Michigan a few weeks ago.
Besides Penn State, Michigan might also need to get by Wisconsin and Indiana to reach the Big Ten tournament title game. Those three teams have combined to hand the Wolverines (25-6) four of their six losses, and No. 22 Wisconsin (21-10) is lurking in the second round on Friday after taking the fourth seed.
No. 3 Indiana (26-5), the top seed after winning its first outright conference title conference championship in two decades, will face the Illinois-Minnesota winner. No. 10 Ohio State (23-7), the second seed, gets Purdue or Nebraska, while eighth-ranked and third-seeded Michigan State (24-7) awaits Iowa or Northwestern.
"Michigan's playing for a share for a title. Unfortunately, they slide out. Now, they have to play on the first day. It just shows you how deep this league is, how good this league is," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "The top four teams get that bye, which is critical, and I know Michigan wanted that. But it's pretty amazing how tough this conference has been."
Standing at the top right now is Indiana after a long climb, and winning the conference tournament would be another notch for a program knocked to the ground not too long ago. It's something the Hoosiers haven't done since the Big Ten started holding a tourney back in 1998.
"You just told me something that I didn't know," coach Tom Crean said. "That's how little concerned we are about the negatives, what hasn't happened. It's really not anything we'll reflect on."
He did, however, reflect on how far Indiana has come since he took over in 2008. That's something he's not shy about doing.
Indiana endured crippling NCAA sanctions in the wake of the phone call scandal involving his predecessor Kelvin Sampson and struggled to get back to the top. The Hoosiers won just six games his first season, but they made a big jump a year ago, orchestrating a turnaround that matched the biggest in Big Ten history on their way to a 27-9 record and a trip to the Sweet 16. With star Cody Zeller leading the way, they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll and spent a good chunk of the season there.
When they rallied from five down in the final minute to beat Michigan on Sunday, it was just another big step for a program that had picked itself up and dusted itself off. Now, the Hoosiers are again staring at some major obstacles, and as they prepared to take that next step, Crean couldn't help but take a look back.
He mentioned the "players that helped get this back" and the support for the team.
"We had hundreds of people waiting at the gym (Sunday) night when we got in," he said. "We had probably 100 to 150 people waiting at the airport when we got there on a Sunday night in the rain. That's what it's about. It really is. The thing to me is we've always said there's no way this program could have endured what it did without the support -- not just the support but the passion, the legitimate passion that our fans have had."
MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT
NO. 15 NEW MEXICO 59,
LAS VEGAS -- Tony Snell scored 15 points and No. 15 New Mexico led from start to finish, beating Wyoming 59-46 in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals.
Cameron Bairstow added 14 and eight rebounds for top-seeded New Mexico (27-5), which will play San Diego State in the semifinals Friday.
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT
NO. 19 SYRACUSE 75,
SETON HALL 63
NEW YORK -- James Southerland hit five 3s in the first half and Brandon Triche keyed a big second-half run to lead Syracuse over Seton Hall in the second round of the Big East tournament.
The fifth-seeded Orange (24-8) extended their Big East tenure with the win and will play fourth-seeded and 17th-ranked Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals Thursday. Both Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference after this season.
NO. 24 NOTRE DAME 69,
NEW YORK -- Pat Connaughton tallied a season-high 21 points and Notre Dame beat Rutgers in the second round of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Tom Knight had a career-high 18 points for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-8), which will face third-seeded and 12th-ranked Marquette in the quarterfinals Thursday night.
The Irish have reached the semifinals in each of the last three years but haven't been able to get that first tournament title -- and this is the Fighting Irish's last chance since they are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next
CINCINNATI 61, PROVIDENCE 44
NEW YORK -- A fast start and a strong finish gave Cincinnati an important win for its NCAA tournament resume.
Sean Kilpatrick scored 17 points to lead the Bearcats past Providence 61-44 on Wednesday in a Big East tournament game between teams desperate to improve their postseason credentials.
"Great effort by our guys on the defensive end of the floor," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "We outrebound people despite our lack of size, and so credit to the kids in the uniforms. They've got great toughness, and they're really committed to winning."
EASTERN MICHIGAN 58,
MIAMI (OHIO) 47
CLEVELAND -- Derek Thompson scored 14 points as Eastern Michigan used a team effort to beat Miami (Ohio) 58-47 Wednesday night in the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Daylen Harrison added 11 points, Da'Shonte Riley and Glen Bryant tallied 10 apiece, and J.R. Sims chipped in eight for the seventh-seeded Eagles, who snapped a two-game skid with a 45-44 with over 10th-seeded Northern Illinois in the opening round.
BUFFALO 76, BALL STATE 61
CLEVELAND -- Will Regan hit five 3-pointers en route to 36 points, and Buffalo defeated Ball State 76-61 Wednesday night in the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Javon McCrea added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls (14-19), whose 74-72 overtime win against Central Michigan in the opening round snapped a two-game skid.
Ball State (15-15) built a 36-26 lead with 1:39 left to play in the opening frame. However, McCrea converted a layup on Buffalo's next possession, sparking a 29-8 run for the Bulls. Regan capped the run, which spanned nearly 8 minutes, with a 3-pointer.