Big Ten Tournament 2012: Previewing Thursday's Games

T.J. McaloonContributorMarch 8, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13:  Big Ten Commissioner Joe Delany presents the Big Ten Championship trophy to head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes and his players including David Lighty #23, Jon Diebler #33 and Jared Sullinger #0 after Ohio State won 71-60 against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the championship game of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Big Ten tournament tips off today in Indianapolis. Five teams have a chance to walk out on Sunday as conference champs. The highlight of today's first round will be the Indiana Hoosiers playing as the No. 5 seed against Penn State in front of their hometown fans.  

These games figure to be great today and could produce some upsets as low-seeded teams tries to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. 

 

Game 1: No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Illinois 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Herky the hawk, mascot for the Iowa Hawkeyes performs against the Michigan State Spartans during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

The first game is between teams that had long stretches during the regular season in which they played their best basketball.

Illinois won 11 of its first 12 games, and four of their first five in the Big Ten. However, after that the Fighting Illini went into the tank, losing 11 of their next 13.

One of those lone wins came against Iowa. They defeated the Hawkeyes 65-54 behind a great game from Meyers Leonard, who scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. 

Iowa had a great run in the middle of the season, winning five of six games, including two of its first three conference games. However, the Hawkeyes went on to lose five of their next six before going .500 in their last 10 games.

To beat Illinois and advance to play Michigan State on Friday, the Hawkeyes have to keep Leonard from crushing them like he did in their only meeting.

 

Game 2: No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 12 Penn State

BLOOMINGTON, IN - FEBRUARY 28:  Cody Zeller #40 of the  Indiana Hoosiers shoots the ball while defended by Derrick Nix #25 of the Michigan State Spartans during the Big Ten Conference game at Assembly hall on February 28, 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana.  (P
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Indiana comes into the tournament with a ton of momentum. They went 24-7, 11-7 in the Big Ten, while knocking off three teams that were ranked either No. 1, 2 or 3. 

The Hoosiers are led by Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cody Zeller, a forward who had 18 points in an Indiana's 73-54 win over Penn State earlier this year.

If Penn State hopes to pull off an upset today, it will have to overcome the scoring woes that have plagued this Nittany Lions team this year. They rank 292nd in the NCAA in scoring, averaging only 61.9 points per game. This has been a big reason why Penn State has dropped 12 of its last 15 conference games. 

 

Game 3: No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Minnesota

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The Minnesota Golden Gophers mascot Goldy entertains the fans during a break in the 76 Classic game between Texas A&M and Minnesota at Anaheim Convention Center on November 29, 2009 in Anaheim, California. Texas A&M defeated Mi
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

This ultimately is a play-in game for Northwestern if it wants to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance. 

The Wildcats have posted an impressive 18-12 record, 8-10 in the Big Ten. They have victories over Michigan State and Minnesota. However, recent losses to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State may keep Northwestern on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. 

If Northwestern wants to keep its tournament hopes alive, the Wildcats have to get another big game from forward John Shurna. He was a huge reason why Northwestern defeated Minnesota 64-53, scoring 18 points and leading the Wildcats with six rebounds and five assists. 

While Northwestern is on the bubble, Minnesota has a chance to play itself into the field of 68 with a win in this game. 

The Gophers are 18-13, but only a disappointing 6-12 in the Big Ten. They have two big victories in conference, being the only team to defeat Indiana on their home court 77-74 and defeating Northwestern at home 75-52. 

Minnesota has to get a big performance from its starting five, as it did in that earlier win over Northwestern. Every Gopher starter was in double figures in that game. Plus, the Golden Gophers started hot in that victory, outscoring Northwestern 41-24 in the first half. 

 

Game 4: No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Nebraska 

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - DECEMBER 10: Anthony Johnson #1, Jacob Lawson #34 and Robbie Hummel #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers celebrate with fans after the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Mackey Arena on December 10, 2011 in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Purdue, like Indiana, is playing a home game in Indianapolis. The Boilermakers come into the tournament after a disappointing loss in Bloomington to Indiana to end their season. 

However, Purdue has played some great basketball recently. Before that game, the Boilermakers had won five of their previous six games. 

One of those victories was over Nebraska in an 83-65 blowout. Purdue should be able to get another big performance tonight from Robbie Hummel, who scored 29 points in that win. 

Nebraska has not played great this year. The Cornhuskers have lost eight of their last nine games and 14 of 18 conference games. However, they did play Purdue tough in the second half of their lone meeting, only being outscored 36-35. 

Day 1 of the Big Ten tournament should see some great games. With a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen. But for these winners today, there are four excellent teams waiting in the next round.