It is Big Ten Tournament time again and it is good to have it back in the Midwest where it belongs. We will have full coverage of Purdue’s games all week as Casey is heading up to Chicago to cover the games. We did not have anyone in New York last year (apologies), but Jumboheroes was in DC two years ago and I was in Indy three years ago. This is always a fun event to attend, especially if Purdue can win a few games. The Boilers have reached the championship game in two of the last three years, but have not won it since 2009. The Michigan schools have been especially difficult for us to beat as Michigan or Michigan State has knocked us out the last three years. Michigan is also riding an 8-game, two year win streak here.
In terms of what this means for the NCAA Tournament there is some interesting in the early games. Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue are all safely in the field and playing for top 3 seeds. Wisconsin and Maryland are locks. Iowa could be on dangerous ground if it loses to the Northwestern or Illinois winner. Minnesota would do well to beat Penn State if it wants to feel safe. The Ohio State-Indiana game could be an elimination game.
Let’s take a look at each game and I’ll make a pick for all 13.
#12 Rutgers (14-16, 7-13) vs. #13 Nebraska (16-15, 6-14) 5:30pm, BTN
Depending on how the committee considers Nebraska’s non-D1 win over SW Minnesota State the Cornhuskers could be playing for a potential NIT bid. A win over Rutgers clinches a winning season and Nebraska’s overtime win over Iowa on the final day of the season was at least a sign of a turnaround. Rutgers won the lone regular season meeting 76-69 in Piscataway and has been much better in the last part of the season. Pick: Rutgers
#11 Illinois (11-20, 7-13) vs. #14 Northwestern (13-18, 4-16) 8pm, BTN
This game is sadness personified. Illinois has established a new school record for losses in a single season and lost 5 of 6 after a promising four game win streak. Northwestern is tragically Northwestern again just two years after finally reaching the promised land. Vic Law at least gets to play after smashing his shin into Carsen Edwards. The teams split their two regular season meetings, each winning at home, but this is still a sad, sad game. Both of these vestigial games need to be done away with and we need to allow only the top 12 teams into the tournament. Pick: Illinois
#8 Ohio State (18-13, 8-12) vs. #9 Indiana (17-14, 8-12) 11:30am, BTN
If I had my way this game would not have an NCAA team in it because I am a firm believer that no team with a losing conference record in a major conference deserves an at large bid. Fortunately for these teams (and Minnesota) I am not in charge. The Buckeyes get Kaleb Wesson back after three straight losses without him. They looked really bad in those losses, too. Ohio State has to be firmly on the Bubble and needs this game to feel safe. The same is true for Indiana, who dodged a bullet last night when Wofford got an autobid. It is absolutely absurd that a 17-15 Indiana could get in when they lost 12 of 13 at one point, but they actually found an offense in the last two games. Sweeping Michigan State is impressive and wins over Wisconsin, Louisville, and Marquette are really good. Truthfully, neither of these teams are great, but the winner probably gets into the tournament while a far more deserving team in Belmont gets left at home, which is sad. Ohio State won the regular season match 55-52, but Indiana has actually looked competent in the last two weeks. Ohio State has not. Pick: Indiana
#5 Maryland (22-9, 13-7) vs. #12 Rutgers (15-16, 7-13) 2pm, BTN
I still don’t know what to make of the Terrapins. When they are good, they can beat anyone. Bruno Fernando is a matchup nightmare for most teams and Anthony Cowan is one of the top 15 players in the league. When they are bad they can lose at Penn State by 17 like they did a few weeks ago. The Terps beat Rutgers in their only meeting and swept Nebraska, so I like them to win regardless of who they play. Pick: Maryland
#7 Minnesota (19-12, 9-11) vs. #10 Penn State (14-17, 7-13) 6pm, BTN
Here is the game we need to pay attention to as Purdue plays the winner. Obviously there is some concern with playing Minnesota as they harassed Carsen Edwards into an awful game and beat us by 4 a week ago. Penn State took us to overtime in State College, but we won. We beat both in Mackey. This should be a good game too, as Minnesota beat Penn State by 1 in the only meeting. The Nittany Lions enter having won 5 of 6. They are so close to a much better year too, as they have 8 losses by 4 points or less or in overtime. They actually have a higher NET ranking than Minnesota, Indiana, and Ohio State thanks to an absurd 15 Quad 1 games. Pick: Penn State
#6 Iowa (21-10, 10-10) vs. #11 Illinois (12-20, 7-13) 8:30pm, BTN
Iowa was doing great until losing 5 of their last 6, beating only Indiana in overtime in Iowa City. That included a 14-point loss at home to Rutgers. The thing is, we can’t have any sadness on Friday of the Big Ten Tournament. The league has already seen enough of Illinois and Northwestern this year. Don’t let them infect Friday. Pick: Iowa
#1 Michigan State (25-6, 16-4) vs. Indiana (18-14, 8-12) 11:30am, BTN
Congratulations, Michigan State. Your reward for getting the No. 1 seed is the team that bizarrely owned you in a dead arena before lunch. It would be just like Indiana to suck for six straight weeks only to finally realize they should be a good team and make a huge run. A third win over Michigan State would almost certainly vault them into the field. While the first two were a huge boost to Purdue (as we don’t win the Big Ten without them), a third just seems like too much. Pick: Michigan State
#4 Wisconsin (22-9, 14-6) vs. #5 Maryland (23-9, 13-7) 2pm, BTN
This could be a really good game. The teams each won on their home floor against each other and the Fernando vs. Ethan Happ matchup looks like fun. Wisconsin nearly had an epic collapse at Ohio State on Sunday, but they have been playing well. I think these teams are almost dead even, so I would not be surprised if there was an overtime or two. Pick: Maryland
#2 Purdue (23-8, 16-4) vs. #10 Penn State (15-17, 7-13) 6pm, BTN
It is always tough to beat a team three times in one season, but we did do it last year to Rutgers. Of course, that is Rutgers. Penn State gave us fits in State College when we forgot to play defense. The game in Mackey was much better as we pulled away in the second half. The nice thing is that Penn State is at 49 in the NET ratings and a win over Minnesota probably moves them up slightly, so a quarterfinal win would be an 8th Quad 1 victory and would probably secure a 3 seed. It would also tie Grady Eifert and Ryan Cline for the most wins in school history with 107. Pick: Purdue
#3 Michigan (26-5, 15-5) vs. #6 Iowa (22-10, 10-10) 8:30pm, BTN
Michigan pulled a 2018 Purdue in rushing out to a great start only to falter late and it cost them a Big Ten championship. Iowa beat them by 15 in Iowa City in the only matchup, but the Hawkeyes have not looked good of late. Michigan is probably playing to keep a 2 seed and with a loss here I can see them slipping to the three line. Their offense has not been as efficient of late, but they remain a very strong defensive team. Pick: Michigan
#1 Michigan State (26-6, 16-4) vs. #5 Maryland (24-9, 13-7) Noon, CBS
When the Spartans are on I think they are pretty far and away the nest team in the conference. Nick Ward is expected to be back and that would give them a big boost. Michigan State won the only regular season game between these two by 14 in East Lansing. I think they take this one, too. Pick: Michigan State
#2 Purdue (24-8, 16-4) vs. #3 Michigan (27-5, 15-5) 2:30pm, CBS
The only team Purdue did not beat at least once in conference play was Michigan, as the Wolverines won by 21 in Ann Arbor back in December. We beat 10 of the other 12 at home and won at Wisconsin and Northwestern as single plays. We’re a much different team now, but I still think Michigan is a very bad matchup for the Boilers. John Beilein seems to have our number and the last two years have not been kind to us against the Wolverines in this tournament. Pick: Michigan
#1 Michigan State (27-6, 16-4) vs. #3 Michigan (28-5, 15-5) 2:30pm
It would be the third time these teams have met in the last few weeks and Michigan State has clearly had Michigan’s number. Even without Ward they won by 7 in Ann Arbor and 12 in East Lansing. As long as they are not playing Indiana the Spartans have looked really good for months. They are rounding into form at the right time.