Michigan not only took over first place in the Big Ten with Sunday’s 79-70 victory against rival Michigan State, it also set itself up as an extremely strong favorite to finish the job by winning the regular-season title.

At 11-3 in league play, the Wolverines have a half-game lead on MSU and are two games up on Wisconsin, with Iowa and Ohio State lurking behind the Badgers. The schedule favors the Wolverines, too — in a big way. Of the five teams still in contention, only Michigan faces nothing but sub-.500 opponents (Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana) the rest of the way.

John Beilein’s team isn’t choke-proof in 2014, but it’ll have to try pretty hard to screw up this opportunity.

Then again …

The Wolverines did a fine job of blowing their shot at the regular-season title a year ago. They went 4-4 down the stretch and, on their home court, coughed up a five-point lead to Indiana in the final minute of the last game.

Not sure Michigan has the Final Four potential it had in 2013, but it’s having similar February blahs, with a 3-3 record thus far this month. Michigan State has dropped three of its last five games. The hottest contender? Wisconsin, no doubt. The Badgers have won five in a row, knocking off the Spartans and Wolverines in that stretch and, Saturday in Iowa City, a very tough Iowa squad.

The Badgers probably can’t get to first place in the Big Ten even if they win out, but they look like a lock to finish in the top four for the 13th time in Bo Ryan’s 13 seasons as coach. That would tie Wisconsin with Purdue, whose streak of 13 top-four finishes from 1920 to ’32 (we remember it like it was yesterday) is a league record.

March of the Badgers

Are we crazy for thinking Wisconsin has better shot at a 1 or (far more likely) a 2 seed in the tournament than any other Big Ten team?

Pretty sure that’s on target, and here’s why.

Wisconsin’s has the same overall record — 22-5 — as Michigan State, which is plenty better than Michigan’s 19-7. More important, the Badgers have the league’s top RPI and trail only Kansas nationally in strength of schedule.

The selection committee will be very impressed by the Badgers’ nonconference victories over Florida, Saint Louis and Virginia. The Gators could be the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney. SLU is 25-2, for crying out loud, and unbeaten in the Atlantic 10. And all UVa is doing is leading the big, bad ACC with an incredible record of 14-1.

That’s a serious résumé for Ryan and his crew.

American beauty

No league looks better at the top than the American. Seriously. Even the most ardent Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 lovers have to admire a top five of Cincinnati (24-4), Louisville (23-4), SMU (22-6), Memphis (21-6) and Connecticut (21-6).

Louisville’s finish will be fascinating. The defending national champs are 12-2 in league play, right behind 13-2 Cincinnati, after Saturday’s one-point road victory over the Bearcats. Visits to Memphis and SMU await before a home finale against UConn.