The Big Ten Tournament starts this week and it promises to be an exciting tournament with four teams ranked among the top 20 teams in the country and several bubble teams seeking to get an upset victory to propel them into the NCAA Tournament field.
The three teams needing some help to get to the NCAA Tournament are Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Will the bubble burst for the Fighting Illini, Wildcats, and Gophers, or will one of them put it together to go dancing in March?
The last No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is also up for grabs. Each of the ranked teams in the conference has a legitimate argument to make for the No. 1 seed if they win this year's Big Ten Tournament.
Could Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue, or Ohio State be shipped out to the West Regional as the No. 1 seed to seek fame and glory on the road to the Final Four?
A look at each of the first round games as well as projected matchups in the subsequent rounds of the tournament.
Jan. 30 - Michigan beat Iowa at 60-46 in Ann Arbor
Feb. 16 – In overtime, Michigan beat Iowa 80-78 in Iowa City
Michigan (14-16, 7-11)
Michigan has two great players in senior guard Manny Harris and senior forward DeShawn Sims. Harris is too quick for Iowa’s backcourt to contain. However, the problem for the Wolverines all season has been their shot selection.
Michigan has the lowest three point shooting percentage in the Big Ten yet has attempted more shots than any other Big Ten team with the exception of Northwestern.
Iowa Hawkeyes (10-21, 4-14)
Iowa is a young, undersized team that attempts to overcome its shortcomings with hustle and hard work.
The Hawkeyes, however, appear to have run out of gas. In Iowa’s last two games, Wisconsin beat them by 27 and then they were blown out by Minnesota by 35.
Iowa has only two players over 6’8" on its roster, Andrew Brommer and Brennan Cougill. Brommer is averaging nine minutes and two points and Cougill is averaging 16 minutes and four points. The scorekeeper for the game has already put 6’8", 235 pound Sims (pictured above) down for 20 points and 10 rebounds now against the undersized Hawkeyes.
The only question is will the Wolverines keep Iowa in the game with poor shot selection. Michigan should win by 15 points as Iowa has mentally stopped playing this year.
Feb. 7 – Northwestern beat Indiana 78-61 in Evanston
Mar. 6 – Indiana beat Northwestern in overtime 88-80 in Bloomington
Northwestern – (19-12, 7-11)
How close, yet so far away is Northwestern’s first NCAA tournament bid. If the Wildcats had finished off the Hoosiers in the last game of the regular season, Northwestern may have been able to punch their ticket to the tournament with a win in this game.
Now, Northwestern needs to win at least two games and most likely needs to win three to make the tournament.
Indiana – (10-20, 4-14)
If freshman guard Maurice Creek can bounce back next year from his knee injury, the Hoosiers may be on the verge of turning their program around.
Sophomore guard Verdell Jones III is averaging 15 points, freshman forward Christian Watford is averaging 12 points and six rebounds, and when you add Creek to the mix you have a solid nucleus to build upon in the future.
Northwestern should get their revenge over the Hoosiers. Michael Thompson has provided solid veteran leadership at the point for Northwestern and John Shurna (pictured) has emerged this as a player to be reckoned with over the next two years in the Big Ten.
Wildcats should win by eight points.
Dec. 29 - Minnesota beat Penn State 75-70 in Minneapolis
Feb. 6 - Minnesota beat Penn State 66-64 in Happy Valley on a last second shot.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-12, 9-9)
Minnesota needs to win at least a couple of games in the Big Ten tournament to have a shot at a NCAA Bid.
The good news is that no team in the Big Ten has a deeper bench than Minnesota; the bad news is that the team has struggled with its consistency all season long. Since Jan. 2, the Gophers have not been able to win more than two games in a row.
Minnesota is averaging 5.7 blocked shots and 8.1 steals a game, leading the Big Ten in both categories.
Penn State Nittany Lions (11-19, 3-15)
Generally, when a team with a losing record loses its last two games, it is generally fair to say that they are not playing well.
However, the Nittany Lions are the proverbial exception to the rule with their 67-65 loss to the Spartans and 64-60 loss to the Boilermakers, as both games were in doubt in the final minutes.
The key for Penn State is that they have finally begun to play more as a team down the stretch instead of being content to serve as sidekicks to the Talor Battle show. Battle leads the Nittany Lions in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals.
What to expect
Another close game that should remain in doubt until the final minutes. Penn State will attempt to neutralize Minnesota’s size advantage by shooting early and often from beyond the arc. Ralph Sampson III (pictured above) will be ready to swat any shots taken in the paint.
The depth of the Minnesota’s bench should be the difference. They win by three as they see a last second shot by Battle that bounces in and out.
Feb. 27 – Michigan beat Ohio State in Columbus 66-55
Jan. 3 – Ohio State beat Michigan in Ann Arbor 73-64
Ohio State (24-7, 14-4)
The Buckeyes have won 10 out of their last 11 games and appear to be peaking at the right time. Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner (pictured) appears to be fully recovered from his back injury.
In Turner’s last two games, he had 16 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists against the Illini on March 2, and 18 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists against Michigan on Feb. 27.
On paper this appears like it could be one of the better games in the Big Ten Tournament, as Michigan has two legitimate stars in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims and beat the Buckeyes earlier in the year.
However, there are three reasons why this game will likely be a 10 point decisive victory by Ohio State.
First, Turner missed the first game between the teams with his back injury.
Second, Michigan didn’t show up against the Spartans in the last game of the season, losing by 16 points.
Finally, Ohio State is playing for a No. 1 seed.
Feb. 9 – Illinois beat Wisconsin 63-56 in Madison
Mar. 7 – Wisconsin beat Illinois 72-57 in Champaign
Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5)
The Badgers weren’t supposed to be this good this year. Fanatics of Big Ten basketball know that coach Bo Ryan hasn’t missed taking his Badgers to the NCAA tournament since coming to Madison.
Wisconsin served notice early that this may be a special season when they beat No. 5 Duke 73-69 to clinch the ACC/Big Ten challenge for the Big Ten.
Illinois (18-13, 10-8)
Early in the season, Coach Bruce Weber quipped that the issue for his team was whether they would be able to play defense on a consistent basis once the Big Ten season began.
When an opposing team attempts to run and gun with Illinois, the Fighting Illini are well prepared for battle as they have four players scoring in double figures: Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson, and Mike Davis.
In a defensive half court game, Illinois struggles.
Wisconsin’s post player Jon Leuer (pictured) missed the first game between the teams and his absence was the difference. The 6’10", 240 lb. Leuer is back and healthy; Leuer scored 20 points in the season finale against Illinois.
Wisconsin should be able to control the tempo of the game and should win by a comfortable eight to 10-point margin.
Jan. 16 – Northwestern beat Purdue 72-64 in Evanston.
Purdue (26-4, 14-4)
The Boilermakers were a serious Final Four contender with Robbie Hummel. However, now that the 6’8" Hummel is out for the season with a knee injury, it is difficult to imagine that this team advances beyond the first weekend in the NCAA tournament.
The cupboard, however, is not bare as Purdue still has three players who will likely collect Big Ten honors at the end of the year in guard E’Twaun Moore, center JaJuan Johnson, and guard Chris Kramer.
Purdue will have to figure out how to stop 6’11", 245 lb. Northwestern center Luka Mirkovic, who had his best game of the season scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
This will likely be the closest game in the Big Ten tournament as no team will likely get a lead of more than eight points during any stretch of the game. Purdue, especially Johnson, should be motivated to avenge their loss from earlier in the season.
However, Northwestern is fully capable of beating the Boilermakers and without Hummel, Purdue is vulnerable for an upset. Senior Keaton Grant (pictured) has hit a couple of big shots in Hummel's absence this season against Minnesota and Penn State.
I see Grant giving the Purdue faithful some hope for a good NCAA tournament seed with a last second shot over the Wildcats.
Jan. 13 - Michigan State beat Minnesota 60-53 in East Lansing
Jan. 23 - Michigan State beat Minnesota 65-64 in Minneapolis
Michigan State (24-7, 14-4)
Are the Spartans on the verge of unraveling or is this when Michigan State gets healthy and gets things back on track?
Starting point guard Kalin Lucas went down with an injury at the end of January and the Spartans promptly loss their first three games in February.
Since their three loss slide, Michigan State has gone 5-1 but everything doesn’t seem quite right. One win was against Purdue without Robbie Hummel, and one win was a 67-65 last second home victory over Penn State.
On the other hand, the Spartans did trash the Wolverines in their season finale 64-48.
Minnesota has been too inconsistent this season for anyone to predict them to knock off a ranked team such as Michigan State. Minnesota can beat Michigan State but the Spartans are a veteran team that will not take the Gophers for granted.
Expect Raymar Morgan (pictured above) to have a big game, as Minnesota allowed him to score 17 points the last time the teams met. This game will be a defensive slug fest but the Spartans appear to have the Gophers number and they will likely win the game by six points.
Of course, when I have picked Minnesota's opponent they have typically won this season, so don't be surprised by an upset in this game.
Dec. 31 - Wisconsin beat Ohio State 65-43 in Madison
Jan. 16 - Ohio State beat Wisconsin 60-51 in Columbus
What to Expect
This should be a great game as both teams will be at full strength for the first time that they have met this season. In December, Evan Turner missed the game for Ohio State. In January, Jon Leuer missed the game for Wisconsin.
Hopefully, fans will appreciate two of the most underrated coaches in the Big Ten, as they have their teams at full strength to strategically use their players as needed in this clash between two of the best programs in the Big Ten.
Jon Diebler (pictured) or David Lighty for Ohio State will likely be the difference in the game as the Buckeyes survive in a thriller that comes down to the last minute.
Feb. 9 - Purdue beat Michigan State 76-64 in East Lansing
Mar. 4 - Michigan State beat Purdue 53-44 in West Lafayette
What to Expect
This will be the end of the road for Purdue and questions will begin as to whether they get to the round of 16. Michigan State is too good on the defensive end to let Purdue get their offensive game in high gear without reliable deep threat Robbie Hummel.
This game will be another defensive slug fest for Michigan State, as they beat Purdue in a slow methodical half court game. Kalin Lucas (pictured above) will likely be the Spartan to come up with the key defensive stop of the game on E'Twaun Moore.
The Spartans should win by a margin of six to eight points.
2/21 - Ohio State beat Michigan State 74-67 in East Lansing
What to Expect
I expect that there will be upsets in the Big East tournament, so the idea of two number one seeds emerging from the Big East will not be a foregone conclusion when this game begins.
Michigan State is healthy and could be a very dangerous team with 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas running the show.
However, the most dangerous team in the Big Ten this season is Ohio State, led by projected 2010 Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner. Ohio State has enough size to bang with the Spartans and the combination of Turner (pictured above), David Lighty, and Jon Diebler at the big guard or small forward position creates too many matchup problems for Michigan State.
Ohio State wins a hard fought game by six points to stake their claim for the No. 1 seed in the West Regional.