Like it or not, the Big Ten Tournament is almost here. While much of the rest of the country is still playing regular season games, Jim Delaney has given us “Big Ten Tournament in NYC: The Search for More Money”. The lone benefit I can see for a team like Purdue, that relies on its starting five for so much production, is that our guys get as little as 10 and as many as 14 days off between games. The longest break we have had in-season this year is 9 days between Tennessee State and Lipscomb over Christmas.
That gap will be the narrative regardless of what happens in the NCAAs, too. If Purdue crashes out in round 2 there will be too much rust. If Purdue goes on a deep run the gap will be just what a tired team needed. Personally, I think the rest will do some good. Vince Edwards can get 100%. Our shooters can get their legs back.
Right now Purdue is set at a 2 seed in the NCAAs and probably does not drop out of that unless it loses its first game in NYC. Making it to the championship probably secures a 2 seed and gives an outside shot at a 1 seed if we were to get wins over Ohio State and Michigan State there (and if Louisville can move into the top 30 for another top tier win).
Also at stake is a 30-win season, something that has never happened in Purdue history. By reaching the tournament final Purdue would need a Sweet 16 appearance (and anything less from this group would not go over well) to set a new single-season wins school record. Winning the tournament gives us another banner in Mackey and ties the current record.
But we have a long way to go before Friday night, where Purdue becomes the 14th and final team to take the floor. By the time we even play a single second nine of the other teams in the conference will already be eliminated. Here are my picks for each game.
Game 1: 12 Seed Iowa vs. 13 Seed Illinois - 5:30pm - BTN
This could be entertaining, as there were wild swings in their regular season meeting. Illinois seems to be coming together just a little but struggles to close games. Iowa has been bad all year. Pick: Illinois
Game 2: 11 Seed Minnesota vs. 14 Seed Rutgers - 8pm – BTN
As I said earlier, Do not watch and I hope there is not a soul in MSG aside from the teams and officials so we never have to have this tournament there again. This game sucks and Minnesota has been awful since early January. At least Rutgers has signs of life. Pick: Rutgers
Game 3: 8 Seed Maryland vs. 9 Seed Wisconsin - Noon - BTN
For Purdue’s sake, I want Maryland to win this. They are at 66 in the RPI, meaning the road win we have over them is in danger of slipping out of tier 1. They have been horrid away from home, however, going just 4-9 in road/neutral games. Wisconsin has won 4 of 6 since losing by 5 at Maryland, so this should be a compelling game. Pick: Maryland
Game 4: 5 Seed Michigan vs. 13 Seed Illinois - 2:30pm – BTN
Michigan should crush either team, but since I picked Illinois they should crush Illinois. Again, to help Purdue, we want Michigan to stay in the top 30 of the RPI so our home win is also a tier 1 win. They enter at 25 and the only thing that could knock them out is a loss to Illinois or Iowa. Pick: Michigan
Game 5: 7 Seed Penn State vs. 10 Seed Northwestern - 6:30pm – BTN
Northwestern is done. Their season is a disaster and they are coming in having lost six in a row. They beat Penn State by 9 in late January, but they are the Big Ten’s most disappointing team and Penn State has a little to play for still. Pick: Penn State
Game 6: 6 Seed Indiana vs. 14 Seed Rutgers - 9pm – BTN
Rutgers managed only 43 points at Indiana on February 5th. Indiana has one of the worst defenses in the conference agaisnt the three. Rutgers will be here because Minnesota is essentially a twitching corpse at this point, but Rutgers has a terrible offense. Pick: Indiana
Game 7: 1 Seed Michigan State vs. 8 Seed Maryland winner - Noon - BTN
Maryland lost to Michigan State twice, but the second time it took a furious comeback by the Spartans on the road to win. I supposed Maryland has an outside chance at an at large with an RPI of 66, but they have no chance without beating Michigan State. Say what you will about MSU, they have been great in close games. Pick: Michigan State
Game 8: 4 Seed Nebraska vs. 5 Seed Michigan - 2:30pm – BTN
This could be the first really fun game of the tournament. Nebraska went 13-5, but it is a testament to a bad Big Ten that their record is not good enough right now for an at large bid. They probably need to beat Michigan to secure an NCAA bid, and they did beat them by 20 in Lincoln. If Nebraska had not lost at Illinois on February 18 they would be coming in at 14-4 on a nine game win streak and would STILL be on the bubble. Pick: Nebraska
Game 9: 2 Seed Ohio State vs. 7 seed Penn State - 6:30pm – BTN
Penn State is Ohio State kryptonite. The Nittany Lions dominated most of the game in Columbus and blew them out by 23 in Happy Valley. They have probably blown too many other chances to get into this year’s tournament (Rider, at NC State, at Maryland, at Indiana, at Northwestern, etc.), but three wins over Ohio State would be impressive. Pick: Penn State
Game 10: 3 Seed Purdue vs. 6 Seed Indiana - 9pm – BTN
We’re likely getting a second IU-Purdue game! The Hoosiers used a home crowd to stay with Purdue until the end down in Bloomington, and they have shown signs of being not completely awful the last few weeks. If not for a late three they would have beaten Ohio State. They also played Purdue and Michigan State strong. They are not going to the NCAAs, but beating Purdue in NYC would be delicious revenge. Of course, our seniors are 5-1 against IU… Pick: Purdue
Game 11: 1 Seed Michigan State vs. 4 Seed Nebraska - 2pm - CBS
Winning this one would punch Nebraska’s ticket for sure, but they already lost by 29 at MSU back in December. The Spartans are very annoying right now. They play with fire only to pull ahead late. That’s what good teams do though. I think Nebraska puts its fate in the hands of the committee at 23-10, 13-5, which is often more than good enough to get in. Pick: Michigan State
Game 12: 7 Seed Penn State vs. 3 Seed Purdue - 4:30pm – CBS
I think the win over Penn State reset Purdue. The Boilers didn’t look particularly great, but survived a push from a hot team. Penn State had won four straight and 6 of 7 before Purdue beat them. With their NCAA hopes on the line the Nittany Lions then lost three straight tier 1 games. They probably need to reach the final to have an at large chance, and even then they had better win it if they do. I think Purdue gets them though on Saturday. Pick: Purdue
Game 13: 1 Seed Michigan State vs. 3 Seed Purdue - 4:30pm – CBS
There are all kinds of storylines here. Purdue led late in East Lansing but Michigan State got the last 5 points in a 3-point win. Purdue didn’t shoot the three well as Izzo let Isaac Haas do whatever. Purdue wants another shot at some sort of hardware this year after faltering in the Big Ten race. Michigan State has struggled with turnover, but mostly kept that in check the first time around. All season long these two have been the Big Ten’s best two teams overall. It is fitting they get to play the last Big Ten game of the season. Pick: Purdue