After what has been an unpredictable and thrilling season for the Big Ten in college basketball, the conference tournament is sure to be more of the same.
While the perceived favorites like Michigan and Wisconsin won't be taking the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis thanks to receiving first-round byes, there are still several teams fighting for their tournament lives—both Big Ten and NCAA—on the opening day.
With a potential for seven teams to make the March Madness field out of the Big Ten, multiple teams will need to prove their worth on Thursday during the 17th annual event.
Here is a look at the full schedule and information for Day 1 of the conference tournament along with predictions for the four games being played. A bracket for the tournament can be found here.
Big Ten Touranment Day 1 Information
When: March 13, beginning at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
TV: Big Ten Network, ESPN2
Live Stream: BTN.com
|1||Indiana vs. Illinois||12 p.m.||BTN|
|2||Ohio State vs. Purdue||25 mins after Game 1||BTN|
|3||Minnesota vs. Penn State||6:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|4||Iowa vs. Northwestern||25 mins after Game 3||ESPN2|
Day 1 Predictions
Indiana vs. Illinois
These teams split their regular-season matchups. Each team also finished at 7-11 in the conference with nearly identical overall records. And with both programs being historically great, it will be a game for pride between teams in the middle of the pack.
While his team didn't put the same product on the court as last year, Yogi Ferrell still excelled for the Hoosiers throughout the season. The official Twitter account for Indiana's men's basketball team provided a look at the sophomore's overall stats for the year:
In Big Ten play, Yogi Ferrell was 3rd in scoring (17.8), 7th in assists (3.8) and FT pct. (81.9), and first in 3FG made (2.8) per game.— IndianaMBB (@IndianaMBB) March 11, 2014
With the team scoring 72.8 points per game and ranking 20th in the country in rebounds with 38.9 per game, the Hoosiers offense and presence in the paint will be too much for the Fighting Illini.
After advancing, Indiana will run up against a buzzsaw in Michigan. But with the confidence from an opening-round win and a triumph over the Wolverines on Feb. 2, the Hoosiers could make a late run in the tournament as the No. 8 seed.
Prediction: Indiana 64, Illinois 61
Ohio State vs. Purdue
The No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes come into the Big Ten tournament after winning six out of their last 10 games, but two of those came against Indiana and Penn State, the No. 9 and 10 teams in the conference.
But with the likes of Aaron Craft still on the court for the Buckeyes, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, there is always hope of advancing. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta spoke about one of the best players in OSU history, per Bob Baptist of The Columbus Dispatch:
Winning this in this league is a heck of an honor, but I’ve been saying it for three years now that he is the best defender in college basketball. Maybe I need to get a billboard or something because nobody ever listens to me. But hopefully that will be an honor he gets in April.
Along with Craft, Ohio State also features great offensive players like forward LaQuinton Ross (14.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) in the paint and guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG) on the outside. That type of prolific attack to go along with a strong defense should propel the Buckeyes past Purdue and into the next round.
Prediction: Ohio State 58, Purdue 51
Minnesota vs. Penn State
This just isn't fair for Penn State. Just days after getting their doors blown out by the Golden Gophers, the Nittany Lions now have to face them in the opening round of the conference tournament.
While Penn State offers an offensive one-two punch with D.J. Newbill (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and Tim Frazier (15.5 PPG, 5.5 APG), neither were enough to compete with Minnesota's unselfish offense and stingy defense.
Meanwhile, the Gophers are hoping to crack the tournament as they currently sit promptly on the bubble heading into the conference opener. Scott Gleeson and Shelby Mast of USA Today provide their thoughts on Minnesota:
The Gophers (18-12, 7-10) will be a No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament and must win their opening-round game against Penn State and potentially a quarterfinal to secure an at-large bid. Minnesota has a strength of schedule of 5 and RPI of 51, but too many losses, including to lowly Northwestern, could be costly.
After holding the Nittany Lions to 65 points or less in both contests this season, Minnesota's magic number will be 70 points. And with great shooters like Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu on the wing, the Gophers should have no issue advancing to the next round.
As for what the future holds after the conference tournament, the Gophers could certainly use a win over No. 12 Wisconsin to solidify a spot in the NCAA field. That win would not only put them at 20 wins, but also give them another marquee win to thrust them into the Big Dance.
Prediction: Minnesota 74, Penn State 67
Iowa vs. Northwestern
It's not the biggest matchup of the day, but don't tell that to fans of either program who are ready to see their team get back on track. Thankfully, the Hawkeyes get an easy draw against a lackluster Northwestern team after stumbling to close out the Big Ten slate.
Chris Collins didn't exactly get off to the start he wanted with the Wildcats, who finished 13-18 (6-12 Big Ten) this season. The first-year coach struggled through a seven-game losing streak before finally getting his sixth conference win over Purdue, the only team behind Northwestern in the conference.
As for Iowa, the team hasn't exactly lit the world on fire as of late either. According to Iowa forward Aaron White, the team's second leading scorer and leading rebounder, the recent play on the court has taken the fun out of the game, per Luke Meredith of the Associated Press:
We've got to get back to playing hard defensively. Get back to making the game fun. We lost our swag, lost how we were playing, lost our confidence. And when you lose that, it's not as fun. We had a phenomenal practice (Monday) and really got after it.
I kind of look at this as a new season. It really doesn't matter what happened. Clean slate and start over.
Well, that new season starts over against Northwestern and could be quickly followed up by another stiff test against Michigan State. And with two losses against the No. 22 Spartans during the regular season, the Hawkeyes could prove they are back on track with at least two wins in Indianapolis.
Predicted: Iowa 82, Northwestern 68