I am back as of tonight, and that means you get more T-Mill coverage than my laziness has prevented over the past week as I have lounged in the sun. Thanks to the Purdue athletic department (partially because of your overwhelming anger due to last year's "situation") I will once again be court side as credentialed media at this year's Big Ten Tournament. I'll be hitting the ground running, as here is the rough schedule for the next few days:
Thursday - I must work the day job for part of the day, but I will try to make it to the Fieldhouse for at least part of the Penn State-Indiana game. I will be courtside and running Open Threads during Minnesota-Northwestern and Purdue-Nebraska. I am also going to try and do a spring football post on Thursday.
Friday - The same thing with the day job, as the first game is likely out but Wisconsin vs. Indiana/Penn State will likely see me get there for part of it. I will definitely be at Michigan vs. Northwestern/Minnesota and Ohio State vs. Purdue/Nebraska. There will be afternoon Open Threads for both afternoon sessions.
Saturday - I have the Big Ten Network Fan Council in the morning, and I will be at the afternoon semifinals. If Kokomo defeats Carmel in the Marion Regional morning session I am driving up for their championship game, possibly against Ft. Wayne Northrop and Bryson Scott. Northrop beat Homestead fairly soundly just two weeks ago, while Kokomo beat Carmel by 7 in the regular season. Kokomo, in turn, beat Northrop by 10 in the final game of the regular season, so a Kokomo-Northrop final seems likely, with Kokomo winning (I hope). It would mean I get to see Bryson play in person finally.
Sunday - I am once again running in the Big Ten Hoops Day 5k, followed by the championship game at the Fieldhouse. I'll also set up Selection Sunday Open Threads and as I work my usual SB Nation newsdesk shift Sunday night I'll work on our first round opponent preview.
So that is the plan, with me passing out from exhaustion sometime around midnight Sunday.
In the meantime, we have a tournament to preview, so let's get to it:
Game 1: Iowa vs. Illinois - I would say this is an easy game to pick, but the one time the Fighting Illini have tried in the past month was their victory over Iowa. The Hawkeyes would have entered at 9-9 in the conference with an outside shot at an at large berth had they won that game. Instead, they are 8-10 and still the most dangerous team in terms of one that can get hot and steal the automatic bid. One of the more impressive efforts was their destruction of Indiana, where Melsahn Basabe finally decided to give a crap this year.
Speaking of giving a crap, Illinois can win this whole tournament if it does just that. I just don't see it though. Pick: Iowa
Game 2: Indiana vs. Penn State - The Nittany Lions are certainly trying, but they lack the talent to really compete with most teams. Tim Frazier has taken the Talor Battle Memorial Great player On A Bad Team Award that seems to reside in State College. The Hoosiers are playing for a possible three seed too. While that does not route their tournament path through Bloomington, it could bring them as close as Louisville. It also means they'd avoid a potentially tricky 5/12 or 4/13 matchup. I think Penn State pushes them for a bit, but the Hoosiers are simply too good. Pick: Indiana
Game 3: Northwestern vs. Minnesota - You know how this is going to go for the Wildcats. We've already seen it this year in close home losses to Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, and Ohio State, as well as the overtime loss at Michigan. They are going to hang on to that NCAA possibility until the final possible second, then lose it in the most painful way possible. I don't think they are automatically in if they beat the Golden Gophers, so it means they win this game only to lose the next one in agonizing fashion. Pick: Northwestern
Game 4: Purdue vs. Nebraska - I think this should be the easiest game of the day. Purdue thoroughly dominated Nebraska just a few weeks ago like no other opponent our Boilers have played. It was our most complete Big Ten game of the year in terms of being in firm control throughout. The Cornhuskers already played five overtimes with our ladies this year, but the men's tournament is different. We should be able to hold serve and make it to Friday. Pick: Purdue
Game 5: Michigan State vs. Iowa - Now this is where things can get very interesting, and if there is any way I can get out of work and get to the Fieldhouse for this one, I will. The loss of Brendan Dawson is pretty big for the Spartans, and their confidence can't be too high after Draymond Green was the only player that bothered to show up at Indiana and the home loss on Senior Day to Ohio State. Remember: Iowa crushed this team with many of the same players last year in Iowa City, and the Hawkeyes definitely have confidence. I think I'll call it: Iowa by 3 in the first major upset. Pick: Iowa
Game 6: Wisconsin vs. Indiana - The Badgers won their only game in the state of Indiana this year at Purdue, while the Hoosiers have only lost once within state lines. Something has to give. Fortunately, I think Wisconsin has the bigs to prevent Cody Zeller from getting that inside-out game going. If this is a typical Bo Ryan team it is lying in the weeds, waiting to strike. Think Wisconsin sins this game, sending Indiana to Albuquerque as a five seed in a dangerous 5/12 matchup. At least that's what I hope.
Game 7: Northwestern vs. Michigan - I can already see the storylines. Northwestern has taken Michigan to overtime twice, only to see the Wolverines prevail both times. The Wildcats desperately need a win over them, and the bubble breaks that a victory over Michigan all but assures they are locked into their first NCAA Tournament. The teams battle to four overtimes, with John Shurna beating the buzzer three times to save the Wildcats and send it to successive OTs. Because of fouls, the Wolverines are forced to close the game with their little used bench players, and Northwestern takes a two-point lead with 1.5 seconds left. With no timeouts, Michigan in bounds to little used freshman Sai Tummala, who throws in an 80-foot prayer to knock out Northwestern, give them the No. 1 seed to the NIT, and force all their fans to go on a five-day drinking binge. Pick: Michigan
Game 8: Purdue vs. Ohio State - I have wanted another shot at Ohio State since that whiny petulant child Jared Sullinger got every call in Columbus. I want a chance to defend William Buford again since he did play an impressive game and closed that one out in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won two straight Big Ten Tournaments. Someone needs to step up and end their run. If we're allowed to actually play defense on Sully, we win, because Ohio State is a much different team when he doesn't get calls and starts to sulk. If he is getting the calls and we let Buford run wild, we lose. Pick: Purdue
Game 9: Iowa vs. Wisconsin - If this plays out exactly like this, the story of Iowa stealing the auto-bid will be running wild at this point. Remember: Iowa swept the Badgers this season. If anything, by this point Iowa will have proven that they will be a strong NIT team and the "team on the rise" for next year. Win this one, and an at large bid may not be out of the question. Unfortunately, it is damn hard to beat a Bo Ryan team three times. Pick: Wisconsin
Game 10: Michigan vs. Purdue - I think Michigan is a very good matchup for Purdue. We kind of pissed the game away in West Lafayette and we really handled them quite well in Ann Arbor. That makes me wonder what a third possible game would be like. Both teams one on the road, so it makes it hard to call a neutral floor game. Overall, Michigan is the better team, however, and I admit that putting Purdue in the title game would make me a complete homer. A run to Saturday would be enough for us to get a respectable 7 seed, I think. Pick: Michigan
Game 11: Michigan vs. Wisconsin - Few people remember that Michigan won the first ever Big Ten Tournament in 1998. The Wolverines have the horses to do it again, as they are also trying to get a top three seed and maybe, just maybe, a two with a Big Ten Tourney title. Since we had a three-way tie for the regular season title the Big Ten Tournament is almost like a tiebreaker. That's why I like the Wolverines to be your 2012 Big Ten Tournament champion. This team closes like no one else in the Big Ten. Their one stumble of late was to a motivated Purdue team at home that needed a big road win and played a solid basketball game. Of the three Big Ten champs, Michigan was playing the best at the end. They are my pick.