There truly are no easy wins in the Big Ten.
Entering Day 1 of what is annually one of the nation's most entertaining college basketball conference championship tournaments, the Big Ten was poised to send a minimum of five teams dancing.
The propensity for the unexpected team to shock the field at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis remains strong. No. 1 Michigan ran away with the conference, but other top seeds such as Bo Ryan's No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers and Tom Izzo's No. 3 Michigan State Spartans pose a major threat.
Nobody understands the potential for an unheralded team to upset the top dogs in Indianapolis better than Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, who averaged 17.4 points per game to lead the Wolverines. He told Joe Stapleton of UMHoops.com that Michigan's high seed means little in such a competitive conference:
We’re the number one seed but I don’t think we’re the favorite to win the tournament. I don’t think anyone really thinks we’re going to win. We have a chip on our shoulder and we’re excited to prove ourselves again. It’s just another great opportunity to show how hard we worked all season and that we can possibly be the best team in the Big Ten.
With gritty contests and upsets surely in the cards, let's take a look at how things unfolded on Day 1 before taking a look at the Day 2 matchups.
Day 1 Results
No. 9 Illinois 64, No. 8 Indiana 54
As expected, the opening game of the tournament was a slugfest until the bitter end.
Indiana shot itself in the foot with 16 costly turnovers to nullify three double-digit performances in the points department, while Illinois got an epic 25-point performance out of junior guard Tracy Abrams to help keep the Hoosiers at arm's length.
Things looked lopsided at first, as Illinois took a 9-0 advantage and shot a 6-of-10 mark on three-pointers. Indiana was able to surge back, thanks to a valiant effort from Will Sheehey, who scored 11 points in the opening half, which included a 4-of-5 tally from the field overall and a perfect 3-of-3 mark from behind the arc.
As Jeremy Price of the Bloomington Herald-Times pointed out, the effort further etched Sheehey's name in the record books:
With 11 pts in the 1st half, Will Sheehey passes Victor Oladipo for No. 37 on all-time scoring list for #iubb. Now 40 back of Cody Zeller.— Jeremy Price (@JPPrice) March 13, 2014
Sheehey's outburst allowed the Hoosiers to trail by only a 30-28 margin at the half, but he cooled off in the second half and added just two more points in the final 20 minutes.
For Illinois, the strategy in the second half was simple—capitalize on Indiana's mistakes. The Hoosiers repeatedly drove into the lane and committed costly turnovers rather than taking high-quality shots after good ball movement:
And another Indiana turnover, after another drive into traffic. What's the definition of insanity again?— Josh and Mike (@bigtengeeks) March 13, 2014
The Fighting Illini were a model of consistency throughout, which could spell trouble for the rest of the field now that John Groce's team has obtained some momentum via an upset victory.
No. 5 Ohio State 63, No. 12 Purdue 61
The Ohio State Buckeyes survived a scare on Thursday with a win against the Purdue Boilermakers, but it was mostly close because they appeared to be half asleep for most of the contest.
Not to discredit Purdue, which shot better than 41 percent from the field, but the Buckeyes fell behind early 7-1 and the writing was clearly on the wall—it was going to be a long day in Indianapolis.
Rob Kunz of WBNS-10TV put it best:
The lead changed hands 15 times, but the Buckeyes eventually held on to win in the closing seconds, although that too did not come easy:
Ohio State, led by LaQuinton Ross and his 19 points and 15 rebounds, hit on a 12-3 run in the second half and never looked back in the closing minutes. Star guard Aaron Craft poured in 16 points and added five assists.
The Buckeyes are now an impressive 12-1 in their last 13 conference tournament tilts, but shooting 35.9 percent is a recipe for disaster against better teams. Thad Matta and his team have a few questions in serious need of answers before their game against No. 4 Nebraska on Friday.
No. 7 Minnesota 63, No. 10 Penn State 56
The Minnesota Golden Gophers kept their shaky NCAA tournament hopes alive on Thursday with a win over Penn State, but like the games before it, nothing came easy.
Penn State saw two players score in double figures and also dominated on the boards, winning the battle on the glass by a 41-33 margin.
But it was Minnesota that took advantage where it mattered most as the team shot 43.8 percent from the field and notched a stellar 7-of-17 mark from behind the arc. Austin Hollins carried the Golden Gophers on his back with 18 points in a very meaningful game for him with the team:
With tonight's game, senior guard Austin Hollins of @GopherBBall sets the new record for career appearances in Maroon & Gold at 135.— Big Ten Men's Hoops (@B1GMBBall) March 13, 2014
That said, it was Andre Hollins who put the Nittany Lions away with 15 seconds remaining:
Minnesota is still alive, albeit barely. the Golden Gophers advance to take on rival Wisconsin on Friday in a matchup that has the team's NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance.
No. 11 Northwestern 67, No. 6 Iowa 62
The Iowa Hawkeyes entered Thursday’s game against Northwestern safely in the field for the NCAA tournament, but they were desperately in need of a win as the postseason heats up.
Iowa lost five of its last six regular-season games after being a mainstay in the Top 25 for most of the year. It picked up right where it left off against the underdog Wildcats though, falling 67-62.
The superstars came to play in the matchup, as Roy Devyn Marble finished with 25 points, four assists and two steals for the Hawkeyes and Drew Crawford tallied 15 points, six assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block for the Wildcats. In fact, they exchanged three-pointers in the final seconds of the first half, as Brent Yarina of the Big Ten Network shared:
This halftime buzzer-beater was something pretty. WATCH - http://t.co/2hRMbJY8fO— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) March 14, 2014
The game was tied at 31 at intermission, but Northwestern jumped out to a seven-point lead early in the second half behind hot three-point shooting. Big Ten Men’s Hoops pointed out that the Wildcats’ shooting was something of an anomaly:
The Hawkeyes gradually climbed back and tied the game with just more than eight minutes remaining. This being the Big Ten, they had to do so by fighting through physical play (via Yarina):
Quick, everyone put a hand on Adam Woodbury's face! pic.twitter.com/PjTFsnt75R— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) March 14, 2014
Northwestern responded by establishing a 60-53 lead with just more than two minutes remaining and appeared set to advance to the quarterfinals against Michigan State.
Iowa made a late charge and climbed to within two after back-to-back three-point plays, but the Wildcats eventually prevailed behind timely free-throw shooting.
Day 2 Schedule
|Time (ET)||Matchup||TV||Live Stream|
|Noon||No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 9 Illinois||ESPN/ESPN2||ESPN3|
|2:30 p.m.||No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Ohio State||ESPN/ESPN2||ESPN3|
|6:30 p.m.||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Minnesota||BTN||ESPN3|
|9 p.m.||No. 3 Michigan State vs. Northwestern||BTN||ESPN3|
Big Ten Network
View the updated bracket on BTN.com.
The top four seeds await the winners from Day 1, and there is even more on the line on Day 2 outside of the obvious conference tournament win.
For example, the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers have a chance to cement their first tournament bid since 1998 if they can pick up a few wins, starting in the quarterfinals against of Ohio State.
The aforementioned Fighting Illini will prove to pose a serious threat to the Wolverines, especially if Abrams can stay hot. That said, the two sides met near the end of the regular season, and Michigan won in a rout, 84-53.
No. 6 Iowa is an extremely dangerous team with everything to lose, as it is on the outside looking in at its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. Had the Hawkeyes advanced, Michigan State would have been facing a tough quarterfinal bout.
Alas, it will be Northwestern who will face off with the Spartans on Friday.