The Big Ten demonstrated why it is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best, during its tournament’s first day of action Thursday in Indianapolis.
An easy postseason game is a concept that simply does not exist in the Big Ten, as the No. 6 seed Iowa Hawkeyes found out the hard way against No. 11 Northwestern. The Wildcats, behind uncharacteristically hot three-point shooting and timely defensive stops, sprung the 67-62 upset on an Iowa team that is plummeting toward the NCAA tournament with six losses in the last seven games.
Elsewhere, the No. 5 seed Ohio State Buckeyes escaped an upset at the hands of No. 12 seed Purdue by the skin of their teeth 63-61. The Big Ten Network gave fans a glimpse at the exciting finish:
No. 9 seed Illinois beat No. 8 seed Indiana 64-54 and No. 7 seed Minnesota knocked off No. 10 seed Penn State 63-56 in the other two games.
It all set up an intriguing slate of action for Day 2. Here is the schedule, with broadcast and live stream information:
|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. No. 11 Northwestern||BTN||ESPN3|
Big Ten Network
An updated bracket can be found at BTN.com.
Now that we know what the schedule looks like, let’s dig into a couple of Friday predictions.
Ohio State Ends the Cinderella Story
Technically, Nebraska is the No. 4 seed and Ohio State is the No. 5 seed, but we are talking about the Cinderella story of the entire conference season with the Cornhuskers.
They were picked to finish last in the league before the season started by the media but have surprised with a fourth-place finish and wins over Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State.
However, the Buckeyes seem to have found the formula for success in Indianapolis. Thad Matta’s team is the defending champion and has won three of the past four Big Ten tournaments.
It’s never pretty when this year’s Ohio State team plays, but the No. 2-ranked defense in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings finds a way to get it done. Aaron Craft said as much after Thursday’s win over Purdue according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
It's finding a way. It doesn't matter how ugly a game is at this point, it's about trying to find a way to keep playing and luckily we were able to do that again.
Even though every fan outside of the Buckeye supporters will be pulling for Nebraska in Indianapolis, Ohio State’s suffocating defense will prevail. For as great as the Cornhuskers’ season was, they were only 3-6 away from home in Big Ten play.
Friday’s game will not be in the comforts of Lincoln.
Minnesota Shocks Wisconsin
Sometimes conference tournament games are decided by which team is playing with more desperation.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are the Big Ten’s only real bubble team (if we are working under the assumption that Nebraska is a lock) and will play as if their backs are against the wall against rival Wisconsin Friday.
Minnesota already beat the Badgers once this season, as the home team prevailed in each of the two respective head-to-head showdowns. Andre and Austin Hollins, who combined for 27 points against Penn State on Thursday, will provide the timely baskets that the Golden Gophers need down the stretch against Wisconsin.
Looking forward, a marquee victory over the Badgers would almost certainly make a lasting impact on the selection committee.
It would also set up a nothing-to-lose semifinals matchup with Michigan State (assuming the Spartans beat Northwestern), giving Minnesota a chance to all but lock up its status as a tournament team.
March is defined by clutch performances. Look for the Golden Gophers to turn one in on Friday.
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