With Tournament week already underway, one tournament that really sticks out to me is Big Ten Conference play. The Big Ten is perhaps one of the only conferences this weekend that could be up for grabs.
Sure, Sparty is the consensus favorite, but it is going to take a lot of consistency to make a three-day run to become champion. Do they have it in them?
Here is a game-by-game look at who I think will represent the Big Ten come next Sunday.
Thursday, Mar. 12
Minnesota (8) vs. Northwestern (9)
In an intriguing matchup of the 8-9s on Thursday, there isn't too much chatter of a tournament implication game. While some believe Minnesota needs to get two wins here, it is highly unlikely that they will do so with a matchup against No. 1 seeded MSU on Friday.
Minnesota's weak track record on the road this year shows me that they cannot get it done, even if it is a neutral setting on Thursday. With a loss at Columbus on Sunday, it looks like The Purple Cats are dead at sea, but I honestly like Northwestern, led by junior forward Kevin Coble, here to grind this one out and advance to Friday.
Michigan (7) vs. Iowa (10)
This middleweight bout could win or lose a shot at the tournament for the boys from Ann Arbor. While experts like Joe Lunardi are confident that the blue and maize will be dancing, it is truly possible that a victory from the Hawkeyes Thursday would cost the Wolverines a shot at the tournament.
With a high RPI and a 9-8 record in conference play, I really like Michigan's chances, if the selection show was tonight, but if Iowa can overcome the adversity and beat Michigan twice in two weeks, then kiss it goodbye, Michigan. I see Michigan stepping up to the challenge and handling Iowa with the three-ball throughout the game and securing their spot in the tournament.
Penn State (6) vs. Indiana (11)
As a Central Michigan student, I really feel for alumnus Tom Crean and the Hoosiers of Bloomington. In a near worst case scenario, Crean can only look for the future with his squad taking the court Thursday.
If the Hoosiers could pull off a near miracle, then Penn State will be NIT bound. Unfortunately, Jose Canseco has a better shot of winning a Pulitzer Prize than the Hoosiers do escaping the fieldhouse with a W. Penn State wins in a landside and heads to the tournament.
Michigan State (1) vs. Northwestern (9)
If this game actually does happen, consider it over. Northwestern, who likes to grind out their victories, will have a long shot chance of beating Sparty twice in the same season.
With each team exchanging wins on the road, State should be able to rest their starters come the second half and prepare for Saturday's contest. If NW can get another W, then they will have two more games standing between them and the tournament. MSU wins big on Friday.
Wisconsin (4) vs. Ohio State (5)
This personally will be one of my key games to watch on Friday. Why, you ask? Both teams are trying to make a run into the late weekend to improve their seedings come Sunday.
With such a tremendous success in past Big Ten tourneys, Wisconsin is deemed the favorite, but not so fast my friend. If OSU can spread the floor and shoot the long ball, then I like OSU in a nail biter.
But hey, as Bon Jovi said, I am living on a prayer. I'll take experience over rhythm any day of the week, give me Bo Ryan's Badgers to advance.
Illinois (2) vs. Michigan (7)
Both teams dominated the home court advantage, when these two met in conference play. Michigan, led by Zach Novak's 20 plus, gave U of M a win in early January, while Illinois zone dominated Michigan's offensive rhythm in Champagne.
I think if Michigan can play with Illinois' bigs, then the Wolverines should prevail and head on to Saturday's semi-final.
Purdue (3) vs. Penn State (6)
This game will feature Penn State's terrific guard Talor Battle against Purdue's forward star Robbie Hummel. Whoever can get an offensive push early should come out with a win.
Personally, I can't see Penn State slowing down Purdue's offensive balance, and I really find Purdue deadly come March. Purdue wins and heads on to meet Michigan Saturday.
Saturday's Final Four
Michigan (7) vs. Purdue (3)
In a rematch of last week's game from Ann Arbor, Purdue can already taste Wolverine blood in a rubber match. If this fantasy matchup does take place, Purdue wins because of the lack of size Michigan possesses. Boiler on up to the championship.
MSU (1) vs. Wisconsin (4)
The Spartans haven't looked this strong since the '99 championship team and will look for almost a sure W on Saturday. Sure, I may be wrong on several picks, but the one team that I feel like will be there on Sunday is MSU. Forget last year's loss to Wisconsin, Lucas and Co. expose Wisconsin's lack of veterans.
State (1) vs. Purdue (3)
I think State has a great shot of winning this thing, but with them already riding the regular season high, Purdue catches Sparty off balance and surprises the country with a W, ending State's shot at a No. 1 seed.
Of course, this is just a what if scenario. I don't expect half of these picks to stand pat, but these are the games that I would enjoy watching. Good luck to all schools and good luck come tourney time!