This weekend's Big Ten Tournament should be a lot of fun. A last second shot by Glenn Robinson III against Purdue is all that prevented every team in the conference from entering the tournament with six conference victories. That is almost unheard of in any conference. We have seen this season that anyone is capable of beating anyone else. Northwestern won at Wisconsin. Indiana beat Michigan at home but lost to Northwestern. Purdue, as mentioned above, was a defensive stop away from beating Michigan in a last over first game. That makes this one of the hardest tournaments to predict out there, especially with only Nebraska and Minnesota having much to play for.
As usual when the tournament is in Indianapolis, I will be courtside running Open Threads on all the action. Here are my predictions for every game in every round.
Game 1: #8 Indiana (17-14, 7-11) vs. #9 Illinois (18-13, 7-11)
At one point both of these teams were top 25 programs. Then they were NCAA locks. Then they slid past the Bubble and are now out. Should the Illini make a run to Sunday taking out Michigan and Nebraska along the way it might be enough for them to punch their way out of the coffin like the Bride in Kill Bill and get into the Dance, but if they make it to Sunday they might as well erase all doubt and win the auto-bid. Indiana is the most schizophrenic team in the league. Had they simply held serve against Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue they would be solidly in the field. They too have an outside shot at an at large bid if they get to Sunday, but it is still unlikely.
Illinois has been playing more consistent of late and did beat Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska down the stretch. I'll give them the edge in what should be an exciting game. Illinois 71, Indiana 69
Game 2: #5 Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) vs. #12 Purdue (15-16, 5-13)
Do I think Purdue is capable of beating Ohio State? Absolutely. In both matchups the Buckeyes did not have an answer for A.J. Hammons, so if the motivated A.J. shows up Purdue has a chance. Unfortunately, I have also watched Purdue play over the past month. It was a month of selfish basketball, dumb mistakes, and a team that looks as if it doesn't even like each other. The pathetic display of basketball against Northwestern on Sunday was the final straw.
On its senior day Ohio State fought like mad bastards and got leadership from a senior point guard who willed them to victory. On Purdue's senior day our top senior passively rolled over and let one of the worst scoring teams in the nation roll up 46 second half points. That's all you need to know about this one, as Ohio State will mercifully euthanize this lost season since they have won 23 of the last 29 against Purdue. Ohio State 82, Purdue 64
Game 3: #7 Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) vs. #10 Penn State (15-16, 6-12)
I am firmly of the belief that no team with a losing record in conference play should be eligible for an at large berth. Who would you rather see in the NCAA Tournament: a Belmont team that was good all year, won at North Carolina, and faltered on the final day of the season, or a middling Minnesota team that lost at home to Northwestern and at Purdue? Amazingly, the Golden Gophers are on the Bubble and probably need two victories to feel good about themselves.
They get a rematch with Penn State, whom they just beat. The Nittany Lions need two victories in Indianapolis to be NIT eligible and have two of the best guards in the conference in D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier. Their home loss to Minnesota was close, but Sunday's loss was pretty ugly. I think that bodes well for Minnesota. Minnesota 68, Penn State 60
Game 4: #6 Iowa (20-11, 9-9) vs. #11 Northwestern (13-18, 6-2)
This has the potential for ugliness. Iowa is one of the highest scoring teams in the nation, rating 6th at 82.6 points per game. Northwestern is 349th out of 351 at 59.5 points per game. Iowa also won both games by 26 points and if not for Purdue's generosity Northwestern would be on an eight game losing streak.
Iowa takes this one in a walk. Iowa 82, Northwestern 60
Game 5: #1 Michigan (23-7, 15-3) vs. #9 Illinois (19-13, 7-11)
Once the dust cleared Michigan won the league by three games. That is amazing when you consider the parity below them. Only the Indiana game can really be considered a bad loss, and that was even in Bloomington. The Wolverines only played Illinois once and it was a blowout at 84-53 just last week. With the outside chance of a No. 1 seed Michigan is not going to screw this up. Michigan 75, Illinois 65
Game 6: #4 Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) vs. #5 Ohio State (24-8, 10-8)
Is Nebraska in the NCAAs? An 11-7 Big Ten mark and very strong finish should be enough, but the non-conference record was iffy. I think they need one more victory to seal it, mostly because they were 8-1 at home (with only a one point loss to Michigan) and just 3-6 on the road in league play. They still lost to Purdue, Penn State, and Illinois away from home. They did split with the Buckeyes, but the loss in Columbus was by 31.
That was a different Cornhusker team though. They are working some pretty strong magic at the moment and I think they get the win they need. Nebraska 67, Ohio State 65
Game 7: #2 Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) vs. #7 Minnesota (20-12, 8-10)
Assuming that Minnesota gets by Penn State this becomes a virtual play-in game for them. It would also be the second straight game in which Wisconsin faces a team up against the Bubble. The teams split their season series and it is a strong rivalry, so a third game with high stakes would be pretty entertaining. If Wisconsin had not been so hot before the Nebraska game I would go with the Gophers, but Wisconsin is playing some damn fine basketball and there was no shame in losing that game at Nebraska. Wisconsin 74, Minnesota 67
Game 8: #3 Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) vs. #7 Iowa (21-11, 9-9)
When healthy, Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten. They are not healthy. They are facing every ailment short of tom Izzo with scurvy. That led to four losses in their last six games, one of them by 10 against Iowa at home. The Hawkeyes also took them to overtime in Iowa City, so I think they have an edge here. Invariably, one team makes it to Saturday from Thursday, and Iowa has the best chance. Iowa 79, Michigan State 72
Game 9: #1 Michigan (24-7, 15-3) vs. #4 Nebraska (20-11, 11-7)
Michigan was the only Big Ten team to win in Lincoln this season, and that was by a point on a late basket by Derrick Walton Jr. Nebraska knows it can play with Michigan from that game, but Michigan blew them out by 29 in Ann Arbor. Even with that game, this one should be a dandy. I like what Terran Petteway is doing and I think he should have been Player of the Year in the Big Ten. I think he keeps their train rolling. Nebraska 72, Michigan 71
Game 10: #2 Wisconsin (26-6, 12-6) vs. #6 Iowa (22-11, 9-9)
This would be Iowa's third game in three days, but they may be able to rest quite a bit if they blow out Northwestern again. That could be a factor against a fresher Wisconsin team. Wisconsin won both games during the season, but each was within five points. Given how close they were I have to go with the better defensive team. Wisconsin 75, Iowa 70
Game 11: #4 Nebraska (21-11, 11-7) vs. #2 Wisconsin (27-7, 12-6)
When Nebraska started the conference season he thought of them making the Big Ten championship game was laughable. Now it is a very real possibility. The good news for them is that if they reach the title game they'll be an NCAA lock. On a neutral floor I do think Wisconsin is the better team and that is why they are my pick to win the tournament. Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 66