With Thursday’s first round of the 2013 Big Ten tournament doing the dirty work of eliminating the dregs of the conference, Friday’s action was the first opportunity for fans in Chicago to get a look at the big guns.
Taking on an overmatched Illinois team, top-seeded Indiana did exactly what it was expected to do. The Hoosiers pulled ahead early in the first half, held strong despite a barrage of second-half points from the Illini and advanced comfortably into the semifinals.
Indiana will take on Wisconsin on Saturday following the Badgers’ thrilling victory over favored Michigan in the second quarterfinal of the day. The Badgers put the clamps on Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, forcing him to shoot 8-of-22 from the field, en route to pulling away with a massive 51-point second half.
With more top-ranked squads and bubble busters in action in Friday’s nightcap, most eyes will stay fixated on the action in Chicago. For that reason, let’s take a quick look at both matchups and make predictions for both contests.
No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
When: Friday, March 15, 6:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Big Ten Network
Expected to finish “dead last by everyone but [his] mom,” according to first-year Nebraska coach Tom Miles (per ESPN), the Cornhuskers have walked into plenty of Big Ten matchups as an underdog this season.
A scrappy, young bunch, they battled their way to a 10th place regular-season finish (5-13 record) thanks mostly to hard work on the defensive end and an exceedingly conservative offensive attack.
Never was either team trait on display more than Thursday’s opening-round game versus Purdue. The Huskers attempted just 47 field goals, down from their already paltry 52.8 per game, and clamped down on the Boilermakers’ offense.
They held Purdue's leading scorer to just nine points on 4-of-14 shooting en route to coming away with a 57-55 upset.
It’s a victory that has been categorized as a mini-leap for the Nebraska program, which is in its second season in the ultra-competitive Big Ten.
Who will win?
However, it will take a kangaroo-on-steroids-sized leap for Nebraska to make it two in a row in Chicago. Ohio State heads into Friday night with a substantial advantage at every position on the floor talent-wise and looking to make a last-ditch effort at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Led by All-Big Ten stars Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes have reeled off five straight wins, including resume-solidifying triumphs over Indiana and Michigan State. They currently boast an RPI of 14 and have won each of their last four matchups versus teams inside the Top 50.
To put it mildly, Nebraska has a little better shot than an igloo surviving in Arizona—especially if the teams’ first two matchups are any indication. Ohio State drubbed the Huskers by a combined 33 points in the first two meetings, suffocating Nebraska with the team’s trademark perimeter defense.
Anything can (and has) happen in conference tournaments, but the chasm in talent is just too great here. The Buckeyes advance by a margin wide enough for Thad Matta to rest his starters for the final five minutes.
Final Score Prediction: Ohio State 74, Nebraska 52
No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 3 Michigan State Spartans
When: Friday, March 15, 9 p.m. ET
Watch: Big Ten Network
Following a relatively easy 73-59 victory over Northwestern in the first round, Iowa is playing for its Big Dance livelihood on Friday evening.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the Hawkeyes as one of the “next four out” among at-large contenders, and that standing will not improve with anything less than a win—no matter the other results this weekend.
Why? Mainly because Fran McCaffery’s squad lacks anything resembling the coveted “signature” victory. Iowa is 0-5 against teams inside the RPI Top 25 heading into Friday night, have a non-conference schedule strength of 312 and has not beaten a team better than Minnesota all season long (in an RPI sense).
Who will win?
Lose on Friday and Hawkeyes faithful might as well book their NIT tickets now. But with Virginia, Baylor and a few other bubble suffering critical defeats, Iowa has one chance to leave a lasting impression on the selection committee.
That opportunity will come against a Michigan State squad that’s been, at best, inconsistent of late. Though the Spartans head into the Big Ten tournament with two straight victories, those triumphs come after a shocking three-game losing streak.
Star guard Keith Appling was all over the place with his shot during that streak, knocking down 5 of 23 shots in losses to Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan. And with Iowa having its three-point loss, in which Appling went 3-of-13 from the field, as a sticking point, the Hawkeyes will not be afraid of the mighty Spartans.
One problem: Michigan State (seemingly) rectified its ills in those two aforementioned wins.
Appling has knocked down better than half of his shots in both contests, Gary Harris continues to be one of the most underrated players in the nation, and Adreian Payne should be able to match up well inside.
It’s possible that Michigan State’s shooting falls back off the wagon harder than Frank Gallagher. It just isn’t the likeliest scenario—especially considering the Hawkeyes’ own shooting woes from distance.
Final Score Prediction: Michigan State 66, Iowa 58