If you're like me, you love this week of the year. Of course, if you're like me you have a severe basketball addiction and probably need professional help. My addiction runs so deep I covered the Pike-Ben Davis game last night for a local newspaper. It did allow me to see Marquis Teague, and we should consider ourselves lucky we're probably out of the running for him. Teague had a terrible game thanks to Ben Davis' defense, hitting just 6 of 16 from the field. He was held to seven points and four assists before the final minute when Ben Davis was up by double digits and he exploded for seven more. He is incredibly athletic, but his jump shot is awful.
But enough about future recruits. The present is more important as we head into Big Ten Tournament play. I am planning on attending the entire event since, well, it's free for me this year. I might as well enjoy it. Unfortunately, I already know what is going to happen in every game. You see, I have a strange skill. I can confidently pick basketball games. See my initial season projection for Purdue. I called a 27-3 season with a 15-3 Big Ten record. I missed it by one game, but called that we would lose to Northwestern and Michigan State (though I did say we'd lose in East Lansing. My third predicted loss was at Minnesota, so I was close there.
Being right on 28 of 30 games, even with injuries, gives me the unique perspective to call the Big Ten Tournament. My advice to you is to head to Vegas and bet everything you have on these ten games going exactly like this. If I'm wrong, well, that's your punishment for trusting a silly blogger like me.
Game 1: #8 Michigan (14-16, 7-11) vs. #9 Iowa (10-21, 4-14) - 2:30pm ET, ESPN2 - I hate myself for starting to watch Twitter, but J Money provides some interesting tidbits in his banter with the Paint Crew. Last night they were talking about sleepers for the Big Ten Tournament and the Paint Crew picked Michigan. J Money's response: "Appropriate, because the Wolverines have been asleep all year." That should really tell you all you need to know about this game. Michigan is the better team and they still looked awful. I saw they had seven conference wins and I was stunned. Who on earth did they beat, especially with a pair of losses to Northwestern? The fact that Iowa has four wins is even more stunning. The Hawkeyes swept Indiana, got Northwestern once, and I think beat Penn State once. At least Michigan beat a few decent teams. This is probably the least anticipated game of the tournament.
The Pick: Michigan
Game 2: #7 Northwestern (19-12, 7-11) vs. #10 Indiana (10-20, 4-14) - 25 minutes after game 1, ESPN2 - I want to know what sin northwestern committed in order to receive such punishment from the basketball gods. As Sportscenter mentioned last night with the William & Mary loss, the Wildcats are one of just five schools who have always been Division I members that have never played in the NCAA's. Northwestern hosted the first Final Four, so did they throw chicken blood on the court or something? Oregon won the first championship, so did they sacrifice a Duck and angry Oregon fans have placed an everlasting curse on them? There have to be dark forces at work here. No team loses an NCAA bid because they lose to Iowa, Indiana, and twice to Penn State when the path is reasonably clear for them. Think about it. If you reverse those four games (and it isn't a stretch to do so) the Wildcats are 23-8, 11-7 in conference play, and likely secure in the field. They would even have a first round Big Ten Tournament bye, something the program has also never done.
Indiana, meanwhile, showed signs of life on Saturday for the first time since Purdue visited Bloomington. Jordan Hulls shot the lights out and the Hoosiers hung on in overtime. If they beat Northwestern for a second consecutive game a new banner will be raised to declare Indiana the champion of the four worst Big Ten teams. It would also set up a third IU-Purdue match of the season. Indiana has never played Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, and they only played Purdue in the first event back in 1998. For ticket sales purposes, I wouldn't be surprised if the Big Ten had a rooting interest in the Hoosiers.
The Pick: Indiana
Game 3: #6 Minnesota (18-12, 9-9) vs. #11 Penn State (11-19, 3-15) - 25 minutes after game 2, Big Ten Network - If I were to debate the Bubble points of Illinois and Minnesota right now, I would pick Minnesota. That said, I don't think either team should be in. Minnesota has finished better, but Illinois has better quality wins. Minnesota gets an advantage in the Big Ten Tournament because they can get an extra win over Penn State before facing Michigan State for a marquee win. Illinois has a tougher road. Unfortunately, I have a feeling about this Penn State team. They are tougher than advertised and they may be playing better basketball than a lot of teams in the conference at the moment. They took on the three conference champs in the last two weeks and took all three games into the final minutes. I am going with them as my (very) dark horse in Indy. Minnesota needs to be punished anyway for allowing Indiana storm the court against them.
The Pick: Penn State
Game 4: #1 Ohio State (24-7, 14-4) vs. #8 Michigan (15-16, 7-11) - Friday, Noon ET, ESPN - We do have Michigan to thank for our new trophy. The Wolverines beat Ohio State earlier in the year, but that was when the Buckeyes were sans Evan Turner. With Turner, Ohio State rolled. Few teams in the conference if any have the talent that Ohio State's starting five has. Therein lies the difficulty with me accepting them as a #1 seed in the NCAA's. They have ZERO depth. At least we have some marginal depth to play without Hummel. If Ohio State loses one guy for one game, they are done. It doesn't even have to be Turner. That will get them past Michigan on Friday, but once Ohio State runs into a team that can wear them down they are done.
The Pick: Ohio State
Game 5: #4 Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5) vs. #5 Illinois (18-13, 10-8) - 25 minutes after previous game, ESPN - Wisconsin just pantsed Illinois in Champaign to end the regular season. That avenged the Badgers' lone home loss of the year from earlier. The Illini needed to have a solid finish in conference play to secure a bid, but couldn't do it. To be fair, they played a brutal schedule at the end. Can they make enough adjustments in just five days to get past Wisconsin? I doubt it. Everyone seems to be sleeping on the Badgers, but they are the only team in the league that beat all three of the tri-champions. In fact, had they not lost at home to Illinois they would have had a piece of the championship themselves.
The Pick: Wisconsin
Game 6: #2 Purdue (26-4, 14-4) vs. #10 Indiana (11-20, 4-14) - 6:30pm ET, Big Ten Network - This is the main reason that I want Indiana to win on Thursday. Any time you can beat a rival three times in one season you take it. I am sure that many of the more delusional Indiana fans would see a two-game winning streak over Northwestern as reason to claim they were back among the elite. Nothing would shut them up faster than a thorough beating by Purdue. Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant were robbed of two career games against the Hoosiers because the Big Ten is too stupid to protect basketball rivalries like it does in football. We need to give Kramer another gift as a Senior sendoff, so beating the Hoosiers again should be it. I am sure the Big Ten and Conseco Fieldhouse would not mind the boost in ticket sales from having the two Indiana teams face off, either.
The Pick: Purdue
Game 7: #3 Michigan State (24-7, 14-4) vs. #11 Penn State (12-19, 3-15) - 25 minutes after previous game, Big Ten Network - It is tempting to pick Penn State here. The Nittany Lions very nearly won in East Lansing last week and they have nothing to lose. Michigan State really has little to gain. They are probably a 3-4 seed right now. They might move up to a two by winning the tournament, but I I have my doubts. For some strange reason Penn State is also a poor matchup for them. I feel like I am trying to talk myself into a Penn State upset here. It seems like some good will is due to happen to the Nittany Lions after last year's NCAA snub. There is also usually at least one first day team that makes it to Saturday too. You know what? I just called it. Talor Battle hits a last second shot to send the fan in Happy Valley into delirium.
The Pick: Penn State (This is my least sure prediction of the ten games)
Game 8: #1 Ohio State (25-7, 14-4) vs. #4 Wisconsin (24-8, 13-5) Saturday, 1:40pm ET, CBS - Remember that team that can wear down Ohio State? You're looking at them with Wisconsin. I think I want Ohio State to lose in order to end this silly discussion that the Buckeyes should be a #1 seed with 7 losses. Of course, I would rather they have that #1 seed than West Virginia. At least if it went to Duke or OSU it would go to a conference champ. Ohio State's depth issues are a glaring weakness that no one is talking about. Wisconsin is the type of team that can get someone like Dallas Lauderdale into foul trouble and force the Buckeyes deep into their bench. Since Mark Titus had shoulder surgery, Ohio State can't even rely on Mr. Rainmaker. This is a big chance for Wisconsin to play their way into a top 4 seed and a pair of relative home games in Milwaukee. If you're the Big Ten and you're only going to get four teams into the NCAA's, don't you want them to be all top four protected seeds anyway?
The Pick: Wisconsin
Game 9: #2 Purdue (27-4, 14-4) vs. #11 Penn State (13-19, 3-15) - 25 minutes after previous game, CBS - Sorry Nittany Lions, but this is where your run ends. Penn State can hang around for a few days because they can shoot the three pretty well. That is enough to grab a couple of upsets, but facing a team like Purdue on the third day would be too much. They would already be fatigued by three games in three days. Now they would have to face a physical Purdue team that can wear them down even further. The first thing to go in that case is the jump shot. With no legs by the second half, Purdue wins going away. It is a shame too. I'd honestly love to face Michigan State in this spot and see what Purdue could do after an extra two weeks and three games to get used to life without Hummel. Remember, that game was still close in the last few minutes even though Purdue looked dreadful. I don't think you get as poor of a shooting and rebounding performance again, but I also don't think you get 23 Michigan State turnovers again.
The Pick: Purdue
Championship game: #2 Purdue (28-4, 14-4) vs. #4 Wisconsin (25-8, 13-5) Sunday, 1:40pm ET, CBS - So here you have it: The conference's two best and most physical defensive teams. These are the last two conference tournament winners as well. Wisconsin won in Madison and came close without Jon Leuer in West Lafayette. The Badgers are a sneaky good team this year. They only have one truly bad loss and that was at Wisconsin-Green Bay. They have improved greatly since beating the Phoenix and they have beaten four teams (Purdue, Duke, Ohio State, and Michigan State) that spent time in the top 10. Purdue can say the same with wins over Tennessee, West Virginia, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Together, these are the only two teams in the country that can boast of four wins over top 10 caliber teams.
I do like Wisconsin in a third game with Purdue though. I'll admit, we were lucky to beat them in West Lafayette and Keaton Nankivil loves to play against us. Getting to Sunday assures Purdue of at least a #2 seed and maybe gets them a #1 if Duke loses early in the ACC tourney, but I still doubt it. Since this would give Wisconsin a 2-1 edge of Purdue this season we must pray that they do not get placed in the same NCAA region as us. I don't think I could bear a repeat of 2000.
The Pick: Wisconsin