Big Ten Tourney Preview: Will Predictability Play Out Once Again?

Jeff RobbinsContributor IMarch 10, 2010

Since I work for a company that owns several terrestrial radio stations in the state of Wisconsin, I shouldn’t be saying this, but I will.

(Hey, if Survivor ’s J.T. can risk his game by going against his alliance to vote out the conniving Cirie, I figure I can take some chances too.)

I love satellite radio.

One of the things I love about having satellite radio in my car is the receiver display that tells me the artist and song currently playing.

Not only is this useful when surfing the channels looking for tracks to fit my many moods and shades—none of which I can describe as “morning mist”—but I also simply like to know what I’m missing when my daughter has commandeered my minivan’s entertainment center with Barney and Winnie the Pooh.

(“Ooh, ‘Brick House’ is on,” I might mumble to myself. “Wish I could hear that instead of this Wiggles song about how terrific hats are.”)

But the display on my receiver is now broken, which limits the fun of satellite radio—but not to the point that I would no longer listen to it.

Similarly, the annual predictability of the men’s basketball Big Ten Tournament hasn’t detracted me from watching it.

At least not yet.

Clearly one of the main benefits of the oft-rumored Big Ten expansion would be to inject a little life into this event, a tournament that typically has as many surprises as my semi-annual trips to the dentist. (“Yeah, I know. Drink less soda. Where’s my free toothbrush? My old one has been dropped in the toilet more times than Rep. Jeff Wood’s been arrested.”)

How predictable has the Big Ten tournament been? Well, the fact that last year’s winner was No. 3 Purdue is about as close as the tourney gets to a jaw-dropping, teeth-shattering bombshell.

After all, in the 11 previous years of the tournament, the champion was the No. 1 or No. 2 seed a whopping nine times, so a No. 3 seed winning was sort of like finding out that Corey Haim will be honored with a special posthumous Oscar for his roles in such classics as License to Drive and National Lampoon’s Last Resort.

This year’s tournament looks to be even more of the same, since the Big Ten itself—with solid years from NCAA tourney locks Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin—has been as top-heavy as Mad Men ’s Christina Hendricks, with only No. 5 seed Illinois (10-8) and No. 6 Minnesota (9-9) frustratingly inconsistent in tournament play.

Northwestern, Michigan, and particularly Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana need to take a cue from Tiger Woods and that lady who falsely claimed she found a finger in her Wendy’s chili and offer detailed mea culpas to their fanbases for the seasons they’ve had.  

Only Minnesota and, more realistically, the Illini have a chance to get into the NCAA tournament based on this weekend’s play. Sure, any bad team can get in should they miraculously win the whole thing, but how Illinois fares on Friday against Wisconsin will likely determine whether they get picked on Selection Sunday or not.

The less-than-golden Gophers, on the other hand, probably need to make it to Sunday’s championship game to punch their tourney dance card.

Let’s take a closer look at the tournament’s 10 games.


Thursday, March 11

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Iowa

Although these two teams are seeded next to each other, don’t fool yourself into thinking this should be a close game. Granted, Michigan has been woefully inconsistent on the offensive end this season, but at least it has played solid defense. Iowa’s simply terrible on both ends of the court. The fact that two teams are ranked below the Hawkeyes says volumes about the inequality of the conference.


No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Indiana

On Wednesday morning, CBS Early Show anchor Harry Smith underwent a graphic, live, on-air colonoscopy. As disturbing as that was, I’d rather watch it again in slow-motion, high-definition 3-D than sit through this game.

The once-promising Wildcats have been in a tailspin since a Feb. 2 double-digit victory over Michigan, even losing to Tom Crean’s eye-gougingly awful Hoosier team last Saturday in the regular season finale. Since the tourney’s in Indianapolis, I would not be surprised to see the Hoosiers go for two in a row and pull the minor upset.


No. 6 Minnesota vs. No. 11 Penn State

If you’re looking for a Thursday game with some intrigue, this might be the one. Penn State has been playing much better as of late, winning three of its last six conference games while suffering close losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue. Nittany Lions guard Talor Battle is one of the league’s best, and forward Jeff Brooks is on the rise.

But since beating the Badgers on Feb. 18, the Gophers have been playing better too, with the exception of being bombed at Michigan on March 2. The Gophers should be able to pull this one out, but Penn State advancing would not be a shocker.


Friday, March 12

No. 1 Ohio State vs. Michigan/Iowa winner

Ohio State has made the championship game three of the tournament’s last four years. Since getting Evan Turner back from injury, the Buckeyes have gone 17-3, with one of those losses coming in non-conference play. To make matters worse for their opponents, Thad Matta’s team is playing for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.


No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Illinois

As stated above, no team in this tournament has more to play for than Illinois. Despite losing five of its last six, Illinois boasts impressive wins over Michigan State, Vanderbilt, at Clemson, and, most impressively and certainly most meaningfully for this game, at Wisconsin.

Problem is, Illinois has been lousy lately, and the Badgers, although they’ve played a soft schedule of late, have looked very strong since the return of Jon Leuer. Look for Wisconsin to not only beat Illinois for the second time in a week but also keep the Illini out of the NCAA tournament.


No. 2 Purdue vs. Northwestern/Indiana winner

Make no mistake—the Boilermakers aren’t the same team without star forward Robbie Hummel, who went down with a knee injury on Feb. 24. But even if Purdue’s starting frontcourt consisted of lousy actor Robby Benson, Hannah Montana ’s Robby Stewart (otherwise known as Billy Ray Cyrus), and Robby Krieger from The Doors, they could whip either the Wildcats or Hoosiers.


No. 3 Michigan State vs. Minnesota/Penn State winner

Although Michigan State has righted the ship since a three-game losing streak that coincided with the loss of guard Kalin Lucas, they could be ripe for an upset here, especially considering that Tom Izzo doesn’t seem to much care for the Big Ten tournament.

Three times in the last 10 years—and just last year—the Spartans were disappointments in the conference tournament, only to make the Final Four in the national tournament. Michigan State is too talented to lose to either Minnesota or Penn State, but it might be close.


Saturday, March 13

Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (projected)

What’s interesting about this potential matchup is that it should be the first time this season that both teams have faced off against each other at full strength, as Evan Turner missed their first game and Jon Leuer their second. Though this promises to be another classic Badger-Buckeye grinder, the Buckeyes at full strength are simply too talented.


Purdue vs. Michigan State (projected)

Another intriguing matchup, as a diluted Purdue team faces a perhaps disinterested Izzo squad. But here we have recent history to go by, as the Spartans beat the Hummel-less Boilermakers just two weeks ago. In that victory, the Spartans held Purdue to a season-low 44 points and 30 percent field goal percentage. Spartans win.


Sunday, March 14

Ohio State vs. Michigan State (projected)

In a predictable clash of conference titans, Ohio State, the No. 1 seed, will predictably win the game and the tournament. But that isn’t to say that Michigan State won’t outlast their conference foe in the NCAA tournament. I’ve had too many brackets destroyed by underestimating Izzo to do it again.


Enjoy the games.


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