The Big Ten tournament starts on Thursday in Indianapolis. Obviously the goal of every team is to win the entire tournament but for starters it is not a realistic goal for each team. Secondly, there are goals beyond winning this tournament that teams are always looking for.
Here is what each team is hoping to get out of this year’s tournament.
First Game: Thursday vs. Minnesota
The eighth-seeded Northwestern Wildcats will have a first-round matchup with Minnesota who they just beat last week. The Wildcats enter the contest with a 17-12 record. Despite the winning record, their only hope at the NCAA tournament is to win the Big Ten tournament. They have an RPI over 90 and their strength of schedule hovering in the 60s. They are looking to secure an NIT invite for the third straight year. One more win would make them feel more confident in getting that invite.
First Game: Thursday vs. Northwestern
The not-so-Golden Gophers just hope to stop the bleeding at this point. Minnesota was ranked as high as 14th in the AP poll this season. After an 11-1 start the team finished with only one win in their last 10 games.
Once Al Nolen went down with a broken foot the team spiraled out of control. There is some hope that he will return in time to play in this game, but at this point that may only be wishful thinking. The Gophers just need a win. At 17-13 and 6-12 in the conference they need a tremendous run in order to even get a sniff at the NCAA bubble. Their hope now is a win and an invite to the NIT and hopefully a healthy return of Nolen for those NIT games.
First Game: Thursday vs. Iowa
Who would have thought that the Spartans would be fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament? They entered the season ranked No. 2 and have steadily dropped all season. They enter the Big Ten tournament as only the seventh seed.
Their strength of schedule is an impressive ninth, with an RPI of 46. Still their 17-13 record has them currently placed on the bubble. A win against Iowa should secure their NCAA bid; a loss would have the Spartan faithful sweating out Selection Sunday. Coach Tom Izzo has gained a reputation as Mr. March for his success in the NCAA tournament; hopefully his magic starts a little early this year.
Iowa was able to blow out the Spartans in early February with a 75-52 win, but last week the Spartans were able to get revenge with an 85-66 win. This game will be decided by which Spartan team shows up to play this game.
First Game: Thursday vs. Michigan State
At 11-19 the Iowa Hawkeyes are just looking to extend their season, as whatever game they lose will be their last game. As a bonus they also have the chance to end another team’s postseason hopes if they can upset the Spartans again. They split the season series as they won the first meeting by 20 points then lost the rematch by 19. A shocking win over the weekend against then-sixth-ranked Purdue gives the Hawkeyes some confidence going into this game.
Prior to this win they were able to give Ohio State and Wisconsin scares earlier this season. With nothing to lose and the Spartans having all the pressure, the Hawkeyes may be able to pull off back-to-back upsets.
First Game: Thursday vs. Indiana
The Penn State Nittany Lions enter the tournament as the sixth seed with a 16-13 record. Without winning the Big Ten tournament the Nittany Lions will not see the NCAAs. Their best hope is for an NIT bid at this point. One bigger goal is making sure that Talor Battle scores 20 points to break the school record.
Penn State and Indiana only played once this season and that was back in December when the Nittany Lions won 69-60. Penn State has struggled with their three-point defense and will need to keep Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford in check.
First Game: Thursday vs. Penn State
Indiana has shown some flashes this year by beating Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan but still only have a 12-19 record (3-15 Big Ten). The Hoosiers are looking for tournament game experience. They have a very young team with only one senior. Several freshmen and sophomores have played big minutes this year. Playing in a tournament game with a higher level of pressure and intensity will test where they are in their development and will help them as they continue to grow next season.
First Game: Friday vs. Illinois
The Wolverines likely secured a spot in the NCAA tournament after the season-sweeping win over the Spartans on Saturday. The Wolverines have only made the tournament once in the past 13 years so it is easy to understand the fans' nervousness. One more win should help ease that worry.
The team needs a win over Illinois to prove that they can handle a big rivalry win and not have a letdown game. Unless they were to win out they are looking at a No. 10 or No. 11 seed, so any win is more for confidence and momentum rather than NCAA placement.
First Game: Friday vs. Michigan
After a strong 13-3 start, Illinois hasn’t been able to win back-to-back games since Jan. 6. They have a 19-12 record (9-9 Big Ten) and have a spot in the NCAA tournament. They are playing for seeding and consistency.
They currently could end up anywhere from a No. 8 to No. 11 seed, so they need a win to keep from falling back. A win over Michigan in their first game would give them back-to-back wins and maybe a little confidence heading into the NCAA tournament.
First Game: Friday vs. Penn State/Indiana Winner
At 23-7 Wisconsin's NCAA ticket is more than secure. The Badgers are on the edge of a No. 3 seed. While gaining that third seed is important and hopefully being able to play in a regional closer to home is also a factor, they need something more out of this tournament. They need to play with a chip on their shoulder, to put some fear into other teams.
In their last regular season game, Ohio State knocked them around, scoring a remarkable 93 points. Prior to that they had not given up more than 70 points all season. They not only need a few wins, but wins where they hold the opposition in check.
First Game: Friday vs. Michigan State/Iowa Winner
Purdue may have been caught looking ahead as the tripped and lost to the lowly Hawkeyes to end their regular season. That loss took away the hopes of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Now they are in a battle with about six other teams for a second seed. A final round appearance should gain that second seed.
First Game: Friday vs. Northwestern/Minnesota Winner
At this point the Buckeyes have pretty much locked up one of the No. 1 seeds. What they have their eyes on is the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. If they win out then they will achieve that. A loss doesn’t necessarily take that away but they then have to rely on outside help among the other conference tournaments. The biggest goal though is to come out of this week healthy. Winning a conference tournament is nice but this team wants a national championship and will need all of their players healthy to make a run at it.