Sweep away the confetti off Mackey Arena, place the trophy in the case, place the order for rings, and turn the calendar (although it technically already is March). This is the time in the season when the real teams start to push themselves forward and separate themselves heading into conference tourneys in preparation for March Madness. Let’s take a look at the first games for the lower half of the B1G Tourney that will be played up in Chicago this season.
Wednesday, March 8th | Game 2: #14 Minnesota vs. #11 Nebraska
You really hate to say any game is a gimme in a conference tourney at the end of the season but with how Nebraska has finished the season and the way Minnesota just looked flat out terrible almost all season, you’d have to think Nebraska likely wins this first round matchup on Wednesday. Nebraska finished the season 6-2 over their last 8 games to nearly pull even in the B1G and had it not been for a stretch of 2-7 in the middle portion of the season, Nebraska could be a bubble team right now looking to get 2 wins to secure their NCAA hopes. On the other side of this matchup is Minnesota who, despite some rather eye popping transfers with players like Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia, just haven’t been able to put together anything remotely close to a good season. Ranking 222nd in Kenpom (which is actually lower than Georgetown and Florida State this season), Minnesota could be considered the worst major division 1 basketball team this season. Nebraska will move on to face Maryland in the late game on Thursday night.
Thursday, March 9th | Game 6: #10 Penn State vs. #7 Illinois
Penn State enters the B1G Tourney likely needing at least one win to secure themselves a bid into the NCAA Tourney and they get another chance to grab a victory over the Illini. They have already beaten the Illini twice this season and I think this is a case of a bad matchup for Illinois. Jalen Pickett has shown he is an absolute problem to defend for the entire year as he is likely to be a First Team All Conference selection and could be considered as an All American candidate averaging 18 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Penn State can shoot absolutely lights out at times against teams that just don’t defend the arc very well and well, that defines Illinois pretty well.
Illinois, on paper, looks like they should be an absolute monster of a team to try and matchup against. Really good length on the perimeter at all positions but the injury to point guard Jayden Epps and the inability to trust other young guards puts them in a bad positions from a ball handling standpoint. That was apparent at times in Illinois’ final regular season game against Purdue in the first half but the showed why they can be dangerous when they erased a 24 point second half deficit to tie the game. Terrance Shannon and Matt Mayer form a really great duo but the streaky Illini just can’t seem to always get out of their own way. They aren’t a bad defensive team but they often shoot themselves out of games because they shoot the 2nd most threes in the conference but their percentage is dead last at just 29.1% on the season.
Overall, I think this is just a bad matchups for the Illini and I I like the Fighting Shrewsberries in this one to sweep the season series 3-0.
Penn State: 75