Big Ten Tournament Preview
Regardless of what happens in Indianapolis at this week’s Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin all are dancing. One team – Ohio State – still has realistic dreams of a landing on the right side of the Selection Sunday bubble.
That makes this year’s Big Ten Tournament a little mundane, but there are still some intriguing storylines coming out of Indianapolis.
First off, the Buckeyes are rolling, having won back-to-back games against Purdue and Michigan State to close out the conference season. Still, many experts believe Ohio State still hasn’t done enough to feel comfortable. That means winning a rematch against an angry Michigan State team would be advised. In arguably the most meaningful game in the tournament, the Buckeyes and Spartans battle in the No. 4/5 game on Friday in the quarterfinals.
Here is the schedule and some predictions of what is likely to happen and what that means in terms of the NCAA Tournament seeding.
Thursday’s first round
No. 8 Iowa (13-18 overall, 6-12 Big Ten) vs. No. 9 Michigan (9-21, 5-13) – There is nothing at stake in this game. The defensive-minded Hawkeyes should win a defensive struggle with the young Wolverines.
No. 7 Penn State (15-15, 7-11) vs. No. 10 Illinois (13-18, 5-13) – The Nittany Lions are looking to build on Sunday’s win over Indiana. Despite being the higher seed, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Illinois as a favorite here. Illinois does have the best Big Ten Tournament winning percentage in history, although the Fighting Illini have only once been seeded this low–they nearly pulled off the ultimate Cinderella run, reaching the Final in 1999. Despite nothing but pride on the line, Illinois finally gets a bounce to go its way.
No. 6 Minnesota (18-12, 8-10) vs. No. 11 Northwestern (8-21, 1-17) – Minnesota is the only Big Ten team, outside the top five, to have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament. That said, with a putrid RPI, Minnesota will have to win the conference tournament in order to be in the field of 65. Against the lowly Wildcats, Minnesota gets win No. 19.
No. 1 Wisconsin (26-4, 16-2) vs. No. 8 Iowa – The Hawkeyes, who typically fare well in the conference tournament, will give the possibly too rested Badgers a good game. But, in the end, Wisconsin advances.
No. 4 Michigan State (24-7, 12-6) vs. No. 5 Ohio State (19-12, 10-8) – In Round III between the two schools this season, the Buckeyes will be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. That would normally be enough for the Buckeyes to advance. Michigan State, however, blew a 12-point lead against Ohio State on Sunday and Tom Izzo surely won’t let his team forget it. Michigan State pulls away late.
No. 2 Purdue (24-7, 15-3) vs. No. 10 Illinois – The Baby Boilers will get their first taste of games played one-and-done style. After such a successful regular season, it would be shocking if the Boilermakers don’t win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament. Purdue wins big.
No. 3 Indiana (25-6, 13-5) vs. No. 6 Minnesota – After a few games of the Dan Dakish regime at Indiana, I hadn’t seen too much different between the Kelvin Sampson Hoosiers and the current breed. I’m seeing a difference now and it doesn’t look good. The loss at Penn State only highlights the current state of Indiana basketball. Minnesota has more to play for and is playing better at the moment. Minnesota wins by five, giving Tubby Smith yet another 20-win season, and his first in maroon and gold.
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Michigan State – In the teams’ only meeting this season, Wisconsin won a slugfest, 57-42. In all honestly, the Badgers played a near flawless game (a school-record one turnover) and the Spartans did everything well except make shots. That game was in Madison. On a neutral floor, it should be a much closer game. Historically, the Big Ten’s No. 1 seed doesn’t fare very well in Indianapolis. A gamble here says the trend will continue and the Spartans will prevail on a late Kalin Lucas hoop.
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 6 Minnesota – This is where the Golden Gophers’ magic ends. Purdue’s smothering defense is too much for Minnesota as the game isn’t closer than 10 for most of the second half.
Sunday’s championship game
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Purdue – While the Selection Committee always says it has two separate brackets prepared depending on the result of the Big Ten Tournament, I would like to see that theory tested. How about the Big Ten Tournament final going into overtime? In a back-and-forth battle, Purdue’s youth and in-your-face defense bests Michigan State’s athleticism, as the Boilermakers are the 2008 Big Ten Tournament champions!
What does it all mean? First off, this will make Purdue a tough team to seed in the field of 65. A home loss to Wofford likely won’t be weighed nearly as much as a 15-3 conference record and a conference tournament title but that loss still is on the Boilermakers’ resume. A conference title might put Purdue on the No. 3 line, but Illinois had a better profile in 2006, and was still shipped out west as a #4 seed, despite winning the Tournament title…
By reaching the finals, Michigan State could climb as high as a No. 4 seed. But, because the bracket likely will be somewhat finalized before the game’s ending, MSU will probably end up as a No. 5 seed, possibly in the friendly Midwest Region.
For Wisconsin, the Big Ten’s best regular season team, a No. 3 seed seems pretty likely. Losing in the semifinals to Michigan State is nothing to hang your head on, though it likely will cost Wisconsin a No. 2 seed. Keep in mind Wisconsin will have suffered just five losses on the season.
Indiana’s one-and-done showing and recent play doesn’t sit well with the Selection Committee. Indiana falls down to the No. 7 line and has a tough, unfavorable second round matchup with Duke in Raleigh.
Lastly, the Committee has to think long and hard about the Buckeyes. Beating the Spartans might have put Ohio State in the field, but with some other surprises in major conference tournaments (say, Oregon making a deep run in the Pac-10 Tournament and Syracuse upsetting Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals), Ohio State slowly moves from the “Last Four In” category into the “Last Four Out” list.