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Big Ten Tournament Primer

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Today I curse my own malaise and ebay. I was late in getting tickets for this weekend's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. They have already sold out of the allotment of cheap seats for both Friday and Saturday night's games. I guess the allure of seeing both Indiana and Purdue play at the same time was just too much to overcome. As a result, the gougers are out in full force on both Ebay and Stubhub. Any other ticket brokering site will just be worse so I am forced to scramble now if I want to see the Boilers play on Saturday. It's time to pray for a major early round upset so some disgruntled Indiana or Wisconsin fans will be selling tons of tickets as they leave town in droves. Ironically there are some good deals available for the championship game on Sunday, but with that there is the risk the Boilers won't be playing.

Coming into the tournament the Big Ten is pretty cut and dry when it comes to the NCAA's. Unless there is a surprise tournament winner four schools are already considered solid locks. Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are all playing to make a good impression for a better seed come Sunday afternoon. Only Ohio State is on the bubble, and with an opening round win over Michigan State they will likely be in. Minnesota had plenty of chances, but will not dance without four wins in four days. They might have a very small chance if they beat Northwestern, Indiana, and Purdue and play a close one in the final, but if they do get to the final they had better win it to be sure. Penn State still has a shot at making one of the lesser tournaments, but must beat Illinois in the opener. Beating Purdue wouldn't hurt. For Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern it is auto-bid or bust. Those four will be ending their seasons in Indianapolis unless one of them shocks everyone by winning the tournament.

It seems as if every year there is at least one surprise team that at least makes it to Saturday from the Thursday games. One team, Iowa in 2001, even parlayed their #6 seed into a tournament championship. The next year they made a run to the final as a nine seed before falling to Ohio State in the final. Once again the Hawkeyes find themselves in the opening 8/9 game, so can they do it again? It's unlikely, but what follows in ascending order is each team's chances of winning the Big Ten Tournament, their potential for being upset, and how far I expect each team to go.

Northwestern
Upset Potential: You can't upset a last place team
Chance to win tourney: See snowball in hell
Projection: 1st round loss

The Wildcats would be a fantastic story if they backdoored their way to a Big Ten Tournament title and first ever NCAA bid. In reality it has been years since they have even won four straight regular season Big Ten games, let alone in the amped-up environment of the tournament. The closest I could find was a three game streak over #10 Wisconsin, Purdue, and Penn State in 2004. They may be able to surprise Minnesota and even an ever more disinterested Indiana team, but it would be a big stretch to consider even that much. The Cats are likely one and done.

Michigan
Upset Potential: Beating a 9 seed is not an upset
Chance to win tourney: Like a home town business taking on a Wal-Mart
Projection: 1st round loss


Michigan has some talent, but that talent is very limited. They are a team that likes to shoot itself in the foot, but there is a ton of potential there for growth. They are facing the other team in the tournament that also has a new coach and the fans have accepted this year as a losing season as long as the trend goes up next year. Over the course of the entire year, however, Iowa has played better than Michigan. The Wolverines have a shot in any game if Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims both just go off, but they still lost to Northwestern at home. I can't pick them because of that.

Penn State
Upset Potential: As a 7 missing its two best players it is strong against the 10 seed
Chance to win tourney: They have moxie, but moxie only goes so far
Projection: Tight first round game, second round loss if they win it

Penn State has proven they are not going to be an easy out as they have done more with less than any team in the conference. The sheer fact that they will at least finish at .500 with a first round win is a testament to their tenacity. I love that these guys did not quit even in the face of losing their top two players. They need to get one more win and hopefully one of the two minor tournaments will reward them with a postseason game.

Iowa
Upset Potential: There are no upsets in an 8/9 game
Chance to win tourney: It's Iowa, so you never know
Projection: First round win, loss to Wisconsin in round two

The Iowa-Michigan game should be a very good one as both teams split their meetings this season. Early on I was very impressed by how hard Iowa played, but in the end they just did not have enough talent to be taken seriously as a contender. They floundered pretty badly down the stretch, beating Northwestern twice for their only two wins in the last eight games. Logic says they are due for a good game and Michigan isn't playing well themselves, but logic means squat most of time.

Illinois
Upset Potential: If they hit free throws, they can beat anyone
Chance to win tourney: All they need to do is figure out how to win close games
Projection: The most dangerous first day team. Either a first round loss or deep run

It is no coincidence that Illinois is the worst free throw shooting team in the league and 15 of their 18 losses were by 10 points or less. Eight of those losses were by 6 points or less, or in overtime. Clearly this team has closing issues, and that is the result of poor free throw shooting. Teams are better of fouling Shaun Pruitt and sending him to the line as bad as he is. Illinois has the talent to go crazy in Indy, but they have not shown it all year. They could be the surprise team I mentioned, but I doubt it.

Minnesota
Upset Potetnial: Against Indiana in round 2 they are potentially frisky
Chance to win tourney: If they make it to Saturday and there are upsets elsewhere, it's possible. Avoid Illinois
Projection: At least one win. Don't be surprised if they shock Indiana

I keep waiting for Goldy to break through and knock a top team off, but has not happened. Minnesota had a great chance at Indiana last week, but the Hoosiers finally muscled up enough pride to not lose on Senior Day. If the Gophers can get past Northwestern they will get a rematch Friday night, and as bad as Indiana is playing right now I like their chances. The Gophers don't have enough horses to go all the way, but with Tubby Smith they have a coaching advantage over a number of teams in the league. That is big in postseason play.

Indiana
Upset Potential: More likely to be upset than pull one
Chance to win tourney: worst among the five bye teams
Projection: Semi-final loss to Purdue

After Sunday's craptacular performance in State College is anyone confident about Indiana right now? I hate to say it, but if they could get vintage Bobby Knight in the locker room for the tournament they might be more dangerous. He wouldn't tolerate their self-moping and bullcrap right now. I am embarrassed for them even as a Purdue fan. Their collective attitude lately is making them easy to dislike once again. I can appreciate the talent they have, but their attitude is making them waste that talent. Players as good as D.J. White and Eric Gordon should not be such whiny head cases and just let themselves be coached.

Michigan State
Upset Potential: Very high if they get past Ohio State
Chance to win tourney: Good
Projection: opening round loss to Ohio State

I like Michigan State. I like their chances of winning this tournament if they get past Ohio State in the first round. It is that game with the Buckeyes, however, that is making me shy away from picking them to win the whole thing. Ohio State played like a team on a mission last week in beating Purdue and Michigan State. They suddenly look like they are playing to their talent level and they know one more win gets them in. I don't think they will blow it in a second straight game against the Spartans. Michigan State hasn't lost in its white unis all season though, and they will have them Friday.

Ohio State
Upset Potential: The highest among many teams in the tourney
Chance to win tourney: If they get to the final they may just coast knowing they are in.
Projection: opening win over MSU, close game with Wisconsin in semifinals

The Buckeyes are hot right now, but it is almost unfortunate they get Michigan State in round one after beating them Sunday. Even in East Lansing the Buckeyes played very well, giving me confidence behind this pick. They have seen a number of lower-level bubble teams bow out before them, and by the time they play on Friday even more could be out of the way. By tip off I expect Ohio State to be a "win and they are in" team. They should rise to the challenge.

Purdue
Upset Potential: The only upset would be beating Wisconsin a third time
Chance to win tourney: Good being in the worst half of the bracket
Projection: Finals loss to Wisconsin

I like this Boiler team and I like our chances of getting to Sunday. It's always tough to beat a team there times in one season, but that will be a requirement if we're to get out of round one. It is a little known fact that Purdue has the fewest wins (4) of any team in the Big Ten Tournament except Northwestern who also has four. Two of those came in the very first tournament back in 1998, so historically this has not been a good stage for us. I like us against an undermanned Penn State team or an underachieving Illinois team. I like us in a rematch with Indiana, but I we're not my pick to win.

Wisconsin
Upset Potential: None, they are the favorite
Chance to win tourney: Again, they are the favorite
Projection: They finally get past Purdue in the final

I am honestly very surprised Purdue beat this team twice with the way they handled everyone else in conference play. The Big Ten Tournament is a place for unfinished business. Michigan State beat every team in the conference at least once except for Wisconsin, but I don't think they will get a second chance. Purdue beat everyone but Indiana, and I think they will deny the Hoosiers a chance at their nemesis in Wisconsin. That sets up Purdue and Wisconsin in the final, where as good as we are I don't think we can pull off the trifecta.

Final NCAA seedings for the Big Ten after the tournament (barring a miracle run by another team):

Wisconsin low #2 or High #3
Purdue #4 (possibly a 3 if they win the tourney)
Michigan State #5 (A four if they win the tourney)
Indiana #5 (Can jump as high as a 3 with tourney win)
Ohio State #7
Minnesota (NIT), Penn State (NIT), Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern out of tourney