Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has to be thrilled with the first day results in Indianapolis. The scenario to get eight Big Ten teams into the NCAA Tournament went perfectly. Michigan, Penn State, and Minnesota each had convincing wins over the teams that probably needed the automatic bid in order to dance. Only Northwestern had an outside chance at an at large bid without winning the auto-bid. Best of all, Michigan and Penn State weren't immediately eliminated with bad losses. Even ESPN's Bubble Watch agreed this morning.
There has been plenty of help around the country. Miami sucked yesterday, much to my chagrin. Kansas State is likely gone. Providence may be gone. Arizona may be gone. Boston College locking up a bid helps our seeding as that has been a nice win for us all year. If I had my way Virginia Tech and Maryland would already be out because I don't think any team that can't finish at least .500 in their league should get invited unless they get the automatic bid. For those Big Ten bubble teams that lose today they had better hope Baylor does not win the Big 12 tournament. That would steal a bid, and they absolutely have the talent to do so.
Anyone up for round 2?
#1 Michigan State (25-5) vs. #8 Minnesota (22-9) Noon
Michigan State is obviously safe. Minnesota should be safe, but a win over the Spartans would likely take care of business. Taking care of business is exactly what Michigan State did in both meetings. The Spartans won 70-58 in Minneapolis before crushing the Gophers 76-47 in East Lansing. If Minnesota plays the way it did for much of its game with Northwestern yesterday you can expect another Michigan State blowout.
I think Michigan State has been on a mission since getting throttled by Purdue. They practically pitched a shutout in the final five minutes at Illinois to lock up the Big Ten title. They held off a determined Indiana team during the Hoosiers' final game in Bloomington, and judging by Indiana's results in their last two games it may have finally broken their spirits. The Spartans have won five straight since that night in Mackey Arena, and with Oklahoma, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh already waiting they can make a serious case for a #1 seed.
If Michigan State plays as they have lately I have a hard time seeing Minnesota beating them. I think it will take a lackluster effort by the Spartans for Tubby and Co. to move on. The Gophers do have a win over a #1 seed-esque team in Lousiville. They dominated that game as well, so the ability is there. I like Minnesota's size because with it they can compete with Michigan State on the glass. The Gophers didn't use it well yesterday though in getting outrebounded by Northwestern. Northwestern is the worst rebounding team in the league, while Michigan State is easily the best. Michigan State 75, Minnesota 65
#4 Wisconsin (19-11) vs. #5 Ohio State (20-9) 2:30pm
I see two identical teams here, and that is often what you get in the Big Ten's 4/5 game. Wisconsin gets the white jerseys by virtue of their 55-50 win in Madison, which was the only previous meeting between the two this year. Both were 10-8 in Big Ten play. Both played tough non-conference schedules, but Ohio State's win over Butler is a difference maker. Wisconsin lost to Marquette, Texas, and Connecticut. Both teams are likely safe, but I think Wisconsin needs this one just a little bit more. In my mind, getting to 20 overall wins in a tough conference like the Big Ten is still a solid litmus test for an at large berth. Of the eight teams in question, Wisconsin is the only one not there yet. They would be well served not to have that strike against them as competitive as the race for bids is. That 6 game losing streak in the middle of conference play is still a mark against them, as is Minnesota's sweep of them.
Marcus Landry had a big game for Wisconsin the first time around, but Evan Turner was even bigger with 23 points. Dallas Lauderdale was ineffective and Jon Diebler couldn't get open for anything. Wisconsin also kept Ohio State off the glass, winning the rebounding battle 30-21. That helped the Badgers overcome a very poor shooting night. Wisconsin was 20 of 55 the first time around, but allowed just 3 offensive rebounds and limited Ohio State to just 38 field goal attempts. Ohio State also had 19 turnovers.
If Wisconsin puts up those defensive numbers again the Buckeyes will have a difficult time getting the win. Ohio State had to grit out wins over Iowa and Northwestern to close the season as well. Wisconsin has gotten every game it absolutely had to win down the stretch here except the loss at Minnesota. Indiana is the only team to score more than 60 against them in that span, and Wisconsin countered that by scoring 85 for the first time since the second game of the year. They are playing great defense right now, and that is why I give them a slight edge in what should be a great Big Ten-style game. First team to 60 wins. Wisconsin 61, Ohio State 55
#2 Illinois (23-8) vs. #7 Michigan (20-12) 6:30pm
Maize N' Brew practically had a party yesterday during their Cover it Live event with Black Heart Gold Pants. The convincing win over Iowa combined with solid victories over Purdue and Minnesota to finish the year likely put the Wolverines into the Dance for the first time in 11 years. That is the longest non-Northwestern drought in the conference. If Michigan wins the rubber match with Illinois they are definitely in. The Wolverines won in Ann Arbor 74-64 while The Illini won in Champaign 66-51.
Few teams in America rely on two guys as much as Michigan relies on DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. They combined for 45 points yesterday and Michigan won in convincing fashion. If one or both are off Michigan looks awful. If Laval Lucas-Perry helps out like he did against Minnesota, Michigan becomes that much tougher to beat. Illinois has to prevent Sims from establishing himself down low early. If they can do that it allows them to get out on Harris.
A big factor in Michigan's favor could be the status of Chester Frazier. He is one of Illinois' top defensive players and he is doubtful with a hand injury. He also is the catalyst of Illinois offense with 5.3 assists per game. The Illini offense wasn't exactly a well-oiled machine down the stretch in losses to Michigan State and Penn State. It has had a tendency to disappear at times this season, especially in the infamous 38-33 loss to Penn State.
Michigan is on a mission right now. They want to erase any lingering doubt about an NCAA bid and they can do that with another win over the Illini. I can't see Illinois functioning the same way without a player like Frazier who means so much to them on both sides of the ball. Michigan 70, Illinois 61
#3 Purdue (22-9) vs. #3 Penn State (22-10) 9pm
Our historical performance in the Big Ten Tournament is awful. Since winning our first two games ever in 1998 we're 2-11. That's just sad. Only Northwestern has been worse, never making it to Saturday or having a first round bye. They are now 4-12 in the event, and with a loss tonight we will join them. We also played like crap in our last two games.
Despite that, I like our chances tonight. While the fans have been grousing, things have been strangely quiet from Mackey Arena since the Michigan State loss on Sunday. No players have spoken. Coach Painter hasn't said much. You get the sense this team is simmering right now after having their nose rubbed in two straight dismal performances. And they should be pissed off. We're better than this, and we need to freakin' act like it.
I honestly don't see how you can have Penn State listed as the worst of the Big Ten Bubble teams. If you say that the Big Ten definitely has three locks right now Penn State went 4-2 against them. Rhode Island, Temple, and even at Iowa in double OT aren't horrible losses. They have 22 wins and I think they should be in with yesterday's convincing win over IU.
They won 67-64 in Happy Valley, but we were without both Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel in that game. Even then, I felt like we let one get away. We were dominating in the second half and had actually built a small lead before we froze up at the end. With both Kramer and Hummel in West Lafayette we dominated, shutting out Talor Battle and winning. 61-47.
We need angry Purdue tonight. This is our fourth two game losing streak. We followed the previous three with convincing wins over Arkansas Pine Bluff, Wisconsin, and Penn State. We also showed we like the rims at Conseco Fieldhouse before the season by blowing out Davidson there. We will be the last team to take the floor in the Big Ten Tournament, but we were the only ones to play a regular season game there. I think we're going to come out angry tonight. We have a lot to prove and we're a dangerous team when that is the case. We need to keep harassing Battle and not let Cornley dominate down low. We also absolutely need Calasan and Green to show up tonight. They have been absent the last two games and need to start playing like men again. Purdue 68, Penn State 62
I'll be in and out throughout the day to comment on games. I'll also likely do a separate open thread for tonight's game at 9. I am still hoping to score some cheap tickets, so I may actually be there. If not, I may try a Cover it Live event.