Good afternoon, everybody. Despite the poor showing on Saturday in Iowa City, I can confidently say that damn, it still feels good to be a Boiler. I’m ready to count the game against the Hawkeyes as an aberration, an outlier, an anomaly. We still have a chance to hang a banner in Mackey this weekend, as we survive and advance through the gauntlet of the Big Ten Tournament at Conseco. But how will everything go down? What utter madness will transpire? Follow me past the jump to see my best attempts at being basketball Nostradamus.
Game 1: #8 Northwestern vs. #9 Minnesota
Minnesota is a shell of its pre-season self, with key attrition on the team due to both injury and transfers. This was a Gophers team that entered the season with very high hopes of success in the Big Ten regular season as well as postseason play. They are on a downward spiral and I don’t see them pulling up on the stick for this one. In the last meeting between these two teams, the Gophers let a significant, late-ish lead slip away in rather embarrassing fashion. It’s not that I think the Wildcats are head-and-shoulders superior to Minnesota. Rather, I have no confidence at all in Tubby’s squad, necessitating a projection of a Northwestern victory.
Game 2: #7 Michigan State vs. #10 Iowa
Who’d have thunk Sparty would slip to the 7 hole? Not this fortune teller, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, here we are. Like the Gophers above, Michigan State has really underachieved this season, due in part to injuries (e.g. Kalin Lucas’ slow recovery) and attrition (Korie Lucious being dismissed from the team). However, the rest of Sparty’s squad still scares me quite a bit, even if they haven’t lived up to their billing in 2010-2011. Iowa, as we know, is coming off their win of the season, but I don’t think they have the guns to keep up with a Michigan State team that chooses to come to work. Nod to Sparty in this one.
Winner: Michigan State
Game 3: #6 Penn State vs. #11 Indiana
This is a rematch of the game that quickly doused the flames of Indiana’s apparently successful beginning to the 2010-2011 campaign. Indiana has looked lost, dazed and confused as of late, especially in their drubbing at the hands of a less-than-stellar Illini squad this weekend. I could go on and on about the flaws of the Hoosier squad, but I want to keep the word "banners" out of the comments as much as possible, so I’ll just make my pick and move on. Game 3 to Nittany!
Winner: Penn State
Game 4: #1 Ohio State vs. #8 Northwestern
Back a few weeks ago, the Wildcats gave the Buckeyes quite a scare at Welsh-Ryan. This represents one of the many instances where, despite looking vulnerable, pulled out a close game against an inferior opponent. However, given the recent run of success out of Columbus, I don’t see this one being close.
Winner: Ohio State
Game 5: #4 Michigan vs. #5 Illinois
This one should be a dandy. This game features two teams fighting for what may be the last at large bid from the Big Ten, depending on who you ask. Michigan is on a roll, and currently has a slightly better resume than the Illini. Illinois has shown promise this last week, in a tight game at Mackey arena and the aforementioned drubbing of the Hoosiers. Honestly, this one is 50/50 in my head, and will be a must-watch. My heart says it will be the Illini.
Game 6: #2 Purdue vs. #7 Michigan State
The old adage says that it’s very hard to beat a conference opponent three times in a season, and I do believe that. However, Michigan State was done no favors by Iowa when they embarrassed the Boilers on Saturday. Had Purdue won this weekend, I’d be flagging this as a major trap game. Instead, I feel that the Boilers come out swinging, anxious to remove the embarrassment of the Hawkeye debacle. Boilers survive and advance.
Game 7: #3 Wisconsin vs. #6 Penn State
I’m going to say it before you do: Wisconsin was embarrassed very differently than Purdue was. Purdue’s embarrassment was at the hands of an inferior opponent (MOST HATED AS WELL!) that they really had no business losing to. Wisconsin’s embarrassment was to a team thought to be on a comparable tier, and a competitive game was expected. Where Purdue’s loss will leave them furious and motivated, I think Wisconsin will still be hung over after the Ohio State shellacking. Also: this game is not at the Kohl Center, which is huge. The Badgers are much less formidable away from the Grateful Red. The Nittany Lions nip the Badgers in a close one.
Winner: Penn State
(Author’s note: sure, this may defy all logic, but what’s the fun in picking a tournament with no significant upsets?)
Game 8: #1 Ohio State vs. #5 Illinois
It’s all been said before. Ohio State is probably the best team in the country, and Illinois has a hard time sealing the deal against the elite in the league. While I’d be thrilled Weber and co. to pull this one off, I have a hard time not picking the Buckeyes.
Winner: Ohio State
Game 9: #2 Purdue vs. #6 Penn State
Penn State gave the Boilers a scare at home this season, coming as close as anybody to notching a road win on Keady Court. Penn State has some good to great (see: Battle) players on their squad, but I really don’t see Purdue having any business losing to them if they come to play. Again, after the Iowa game (which I will never mention after this post, I promise), I see Purdue rallying around the seniors and showing up for work every day. There are teams that can beat Purdue in this bracket and the Big Dance, but should Purdue fall, I really don’t think it will come down to not coming to play. As such, Purdue still rides the wave of chip on the shoulder-induced momentum and takes care of the Nittany Lions, opening up a close game in the last 8 minutes or so.
Game 10: #1 Ohio State vs. #2 Purdue
So here we are. In a rematch of the 2009 title game, and the third consecutive appearance for Matta and friends, we will have a clash of the elite in the conference. As I said, Ohio State is probably the best team in the country, but Purdue’s sitting close on the perch just below them. The season series is split, so no "3 victories" theory need apply. While Ohio State is still the same excellent squad that thumped the Boilers in Columbus, Purdue (Saturday notwithstanding) has been resurgent and gaining strength. The fanbase ought to be split pretty evenly, given Indianapolis’ proximity to Purdue and Ohio State’s traditional large travelling party. Two Big Ten (and national, for that matter) POY candidates going against each other down low. Two of the most prolific scorers in conference history clashing heads on the perimeter. Pesky point guards to go around on both sides. This one could be great. No, this one will be great. This is a true 50/50 for me in my head, but I’m going with my Old Gold and Black heart here in hopes that my undying optimism spreads.
Winner and Big Ten Tournament Champion: Purdue
Go Boilers! Hail Purdue!