The Big Ten Conference tournament bracket has been released, via the official website, and the excitement surrounding the event has fans trying to find the dark-horse teams that will shine throughout the games.
With the Indiana Hoosiers ranked No. 8 overall and squaring off against No. 9 Illinois in the first round, as well as the No. 12 Purdue Boilermakers taking on No. 5 Ohio State, the likelihood of an upset continues to climb as nerves become a factor.
Here are the teams no one is talking about that could make the biggest splash in the tournament this season.
Indiana Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11 Big Ten)
The Indiana Hoosiers won 10 of their first 13 games to start the season, but they managed to lose 11 of their last 18 matchups.
The second-half slide started with an 83-80 overtime loss to Illinois Dec. 31, and the team will have a chance to build momentum toward a possible NCAA tournament berth by avenging the heartbreaking loss.
Not only does the program have a new mindset moving forward, but the team also has special edition uniforms for the tourney. Head coach Tom Crean released a statement, via InsidetheHall.com:
Our players are excited to have something that will be unique to their time at Indiana. Great traditions like the candy stripe pants, the script Indiana, and the names not being on the back of their jerseys, are timeless and we are proud to uphold those every day.
Indiana beat Illinois decisively Jan. 26, 56-46, but the chance for personal redemption (while still adding to the campaign for the Hoosiers to make the field of 64) ensures that this team will play hard and stay disciplined Thursday in the opening round.
If Indiana gets off to a fast start and controls the pace of the game, the confidence gained on the big stage of a conference tournament would be contagious.
Once the Hoosiers are past the Fighting Illini, it would be on to No. 1 seed Michigan. Crean won’t look ahead, though, according to Rod Beard of The Detroit News:
As well as the Wolverines have played this season, Indiana beat them in the first matchup of the season Feb. 2, 63-52, and almost beat them in the final game of the regular season, falling just short at 84-80.
The Hoosiers aren’t afraid of Illinois or Michigan.
Add in the home-court advantage that playing in front of a Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd in Indianapolis will provide, and the Hoosiers have a chance to make a real impact on this conference tournament.
Purdue Boilermakers (15-16, 5-13 Big Ten)
There is no chance that the Purdue Boilermakers make the NCAA tournament if the team doesn’t win the conference bracket, and the odds of Purdue winning it all after going 5-13 in the Big 10 this season are very small as well.
With that said, Purdue has one of the best traveling fanbases in the conference, and the games will be held just one hour away from the school's campus. This tournament will be a series of glorified home games for the Boilermakers.
Head coach Matt Painter spoke to GoldandBlack.com about the first-round matchup:
Just like Indiana, Purdue started the season playing well, winning 10 of the first 13 games, but it faltered in the second half of the season. The Boilermakers dropped 13 of their last 18 games to end the season, including 11 of their last 13.
Purdue takes on No. 5 Ohio State to open the first round, and most experts are predicting that the Buckeyes will walk away with this matchup. The Boilermakers played Ohio State tough in the first matchup of the season, though, losing 78-69.
Using that game as the basis of the game plan for Purdue, the program must get back to basics and defend. By disrupting the Buckeyes' rhythm offensively, the team will create turnovers and could build off the electricity of crowd.
If the Boilermakers were somehow able to sneak past Ohio State, the next test would be against the lowest seed in the second round, Nebraska. After beating the Cornhuskers Jan. 12, Purdue has the chance to make a deep run.
In March, anything can happen.
*Stats via ESPN.com.
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