A few quick notes about the Big Ten tournament before it begins:
- Ohio State has won three of the past four tournaments, with Aaron Craft winning tourney MVP honors last year. More on him later.
- Since its inception in 1998, a team seeded third or less has only won three times: Michigan in 1998, Iowa in 2001, and Purdue in 2009. This bodes well for Michigan and Wisconsin.
- Indiana has never won the tournament, and the closest they came was their runner-up performance in 2001, during the first Mike Davis season. Historically, this puts us on par with how Penn State has fared in the tourney. Not a great track record.
- After the United Center in Chicago hosted last year, the tournament returns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indy this year.
Let's look into my crystal ball and predict game-by-game what will happen these next four days in Indianapolis.
(8) Indiana vs. (9) Illinois - Thursday, noon
The Hoosiers kick off the Big Ten tournament against the Fighting Illini on Thursday at noon. These two teams split the season series, with Illinois winning at fake Assembly Hall in overtime on New Years' Eve, while the Hoosiers won a low-scoring contest in real Assembly Hall back in January. The Illini come in relatively hot as winners of four of their last five; however, the one loss to Michigan was the worst ever loss on their home court. On the other hand, the Hoosiers limp into the conference tournament having lost their last two. Despite this, I think the promise shown by Troy Williams and Devin Davis in recent games finally manifests itself into a victory. Both these teams have promising young players, and despite a setback this season I like what John Groce has done in Urbana-Champaign, so I could see this becoming a top B1G rivalry in the very near future. Prediction: Indiana by 7
(5) Ohio State vs. (12) Purdue - Thursday afternoon, 25 minutes after IU-Illinois
I hate that we lost to the Big Ten's worst team by 18 points this year. And I hate that we didn't even get a chance for revenge in our house. But instead of talking about a school that doesn't exist, I wanted to say a few words about Aaron Craft. We get it, media. Craft is a great guy, both off and on the court. He does well in school. He can solve a Rubik's Cube in under a minute. He volunteers in his community and church. He sure doesn't get pulled over for a DUI two days before playing his team's biggest rival. And most importantly, he plays basketball "the right way." (Quick aside: Is there really a "right way" to play basketball? Let me know when you have compiled a list of what constitutes the "right way" of playing and we will go from there. Arthur Chu supposedly doesn't play Jeopardy the "right way" and he seems to be doing okay for himself.) But not since Greg Paulus (who happens to be an OSU assistant) has there been a college basketball player who's been as adored by media members and hated by opposing team's fans. I know they're playing the Boilers, but if you're at the tourney, make sure you let Craft hear it one last time. You'll miss having him to kick around. Prediction: Ohio State by 12
(7) Minnesota vs. (10) Penn State - Thursday, 6:30pm
On Sunday, Penn State traveled to the Barn and lost to Minnesota by 18. This tournament game may be at a neutral site, but is there something the Nittany Lions have figured out in the past 4 days that would make the result any different? Minnesota is squarely on the bubble now, and one of the first four teams out according to Joe Lunardi. Richard Pitino knows that his team needs to make an impression on the selection committee in Indianapolis as well, so I say the Golden Gophers get the victory. Prediction: Minnesota by 9
(6) Iowa vs. (11) Northwestern - Thursday evening, 25 minutes after Minnesota-PSU
Both these teams had promising starts to B1G play but sputtered big time down the stretch. Northwestern rebounded to win in Mackey Arena on Sunday after losing seven straight, but Iowa lost on Senior Night after Illinois drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer. In fact, the only team that either of these teams has beaten recently happens to be the School Up NorthTM. Though Penn State held Northwestern to only 32 points last week, Iowa's defense has been relatively suspect, and I think the Hawkeyes may be ripe for an upset here in the nightcap, even though they seem to be a relative NCAA tourney lock. Chris Collins caps off a decent first year as Wildcats coach with a B1G tourney win. Prediction: Northwestern by 3.
(1) Michigan vs. (8) Indiana - Friday, noon
I really think we have a chance to beat the Wolverines if we play them again. We beat them once, and played them close the second time. However, two things concern me about this matchup. First of all, we shot over 60 percent in our two regular-season games against the Wolverines, and our season-long struggles shooting the ball may make this tough to accomplish a second time. In addition, this team has had trouble stringing together two straight good performances all season, especially on the road, so I am wary. Prediction: Michigan by 9
(4) Nebraska vs. (5) Ohio State - Friday afternoon, 25 minutes after first game
Nebrasketball has been the surprise of the B1G all season, and I don't think their fun will stop in this game. Tim Miles and the Cornhuskers have been unafraid of any team in the B1G, notching huge victories both at home and on the road. Terran Pettaway and Walter Pitchford (the antihero to IU in our Senior Night game) are both playing at the top of their game right now, and despite OSU having a relatively good last month of the season, I like the Huskers to end the Buckeyes' chances of winning their fourth B1G tourney in five years. Prediction: Nebraska by 8
(2) Wisconsin vs. (7) Minnesota - Friday, 6:30pm
I expect an entertaining game here between two fierce upper Midwest rivals. These two schools split the season series, each victorious in their home buildings. With the exception of a loss at Nebraska, Wisconsin is hot recently. However, Minnesota limped into the postseason only winning two of their last five (both at home). I think Wisconsin's three-point prowess and improved defensive play ultimately will prove to be too much, and the Golden Gophers will have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday. Prediction: Wisconsin by 2
(3) Michigan State vs. (11) Northwestern - Friday evening, 25 minutes after first game
Sparty comes into the tourney as losers of 4 of their last 6 games. Their only wins in this time frame have been against Iowa and - you guessed it - Purdue. Nonetheless, I think Michigan State would take care of business handily against Northwestern in this last quarterfinal matchup. Prediction: Michigan State by 20
(1) Michigan vs. (4) Nebraska - Saturday, 1:40pm
The Huskers pull off a wild upset over the Wolverines to start the semifinals off. In the teams' second meeting this year (Michigan won both), Nebraska only shot 35 percent from the field and had an overall bad performance. Glenn Robinson III went off in this game as well, scoring 23. But since this game, the Huskers have only lost once, and they have been shooting better and scoring more. It's a tough call to go against Nik Stauskas this season, but I say Nebraska wins, momentarily causing Husker fans to forget about how much of a jerk Bo Pelini is. Prediction: Nebraska by 1
(2) Wisconsin vs. (3) Michigan State - Saturday, 25 minutes after first game
So Michigan State is healthy again, right? Which means they should storm through the posteseason, because that's what Tom Izzo does, right? Count me as being unsure. If Adreian Payne can have the type of repeat performance he had last time against the Badgers (9-16, 24 points), then MSU has a decent chance to win. But if Payne is limited or gets into foul trouble, and Sparty has to rely on their backcourt getting into a shooting match with the Badgers, I can't see them winning that battle. Wisconsin advances. Prediction: Wisconsin by 7
(4) Nebraska vs. (2) Wisconsin - Sunday, 3:30pm
Alas, the old "3:30pm Big Ten final that everyone hopes won't go into overtime so CBS can just reveal the brackets already" game. The Badgers put an end to Nebraska's Cinderella B1G run here, winning their third B1G tournament title and getting revenge for the loss in Lincoln last Sunday night. Ultimately, the Badgers have too many guys who can put up points that they can spread the ball around to, and Bo Ryan's team gets penciled in by many experts as a potential dark horse NCAA tourney champion (though this is quite a longshot, knowing Wisconsin's recent tourney history). Every other Big Ten fanbase cannot stand the Badgers at this point, and winning the conference tournament would further solidify this angst. Prediction: Wisconsin by 11
(Now watch as these picks go horribly wrong as Iowa beats OSU for the title)