It is Big Ten Tourney time, with the conference looking at up to six teams advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin are safe locks and will be looking to secure their seedings for the NCAA’s Michigan and Illinois should be in, however, both would like to win that first round matchup to feel completely safe going into Selection Sunday.
Then there's Michigan State, a team that's glad to see the field expanding to 68 teams this year since some of their numbers suggest that they are in, but others do not. They are a bubble team who is more than likely in but really needs at least one win to help their cause.
Short of making an improbably run and winning the tournament, the rest of the teams are either hoping for NIT invites or working towards next year.
The great thing about any tournament is the unpredictability of the games. Matchups, momentum and pressure all feed into each of these games and upsets can and will occur.
The first game tips off at 2:30pm on Thursday. Here is a ranking of the first game for each team and where the upsets may be.
This one ranks low on the upset meter as either team winning will not be a surprise or upset. The importance of this game comes down to NCAA tournament placement.
The more upsetting part of this game will be the worry on Selection Sunday for the team that loses. While both teams seem to be safely inside the bubble as of now, they would rest much easier getting one more win under their belt.
It appears that Illinois could withstand a loss more than Michigan, but a loss then has them keeping an eye on other conference tournaments and hoping there are no other upsets. They would also be more concerned with how other teams on the bubble play in their final games.
Although its not really a first game upset, both of these teams could be eyeing a major upset in a possible second round matchup with Ohio State. As seen later in the list, the distractions surrounding the Buckeyes athletic program as well as possibly looking ahead to the NCAA tournament could have them ripe for an upset. Both of these teams are fully capable of pulling off that upset.
When the eight and nine seeds play, it is not generally a considered a big upset if one team beats the other.
The most upsetting thing about this game is how far Minnesota has fallen. Earlier this season, they were ranked as high as 14th in the AP poll. Once Al Nolen went down with a foot injury the team has dropped, going 1-9 over their last ten games.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is looking to make a third straight trip to the NIT, which would be a postseason record for the team. Despite playing in the Big Ten, their strength over schedule is in the mid 60’s with an RPI in the 90’s, so despite a 17-12 record, the Wildcats would need to win out to make the NCAA’s.
The two teams split the season series and both games were without Nolen. While he has started to work out, reports are that he hasn’t been cleared to run yet. Unless the Gophers are being ultra secretive or some miraculous healing occurs, don’t look for Nolen to play in this game.
Despite the solid play of Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers look lost and late game collapses have become the norm for them. Northwestern has played well over their last ten games. They lost by one to Ohio State, beat then 24th ranked Illinois and have beaten the two Big Ten doormats, Iowa and Indiana. They also had a come from behind win against Minnesota last week. They should be able to win again, but either way, it will not be much of an upset, regardless of who wins.
This second round matchup, regardless if it is Penn State or Indiana has blowout written all over it….or does it?
While on paper Wisconsin is better than both of these teams, they do already have a loss to Penn State earlier this year. Regardless of which team makes it to this second round game, they will be big underdogs. The plus side of that is that there is little pressure on them and that ideally allows them to play a looser game.
Indiana could be an interesting team. They are extremely young as they have only one senior on the team. Several sophomores and freshman see plenty of minutes for the squad. If they do beat Penn State, then that may give this young team the confidence they need to going into this game. There is nothing more dangerous in a tournament format than a young team with nothing to prove and that does not realize that they shouldn’t be in a game when they play against a team with all the pressure.
With Penn State, their fate will ride with senior leader Talor Battle. He should become the all-time point scorer in school history during this tournament. The Nittany Lions have already beaten Wisconsin once, but it’s doubtful they pull off that feat again.
What it really comes down to in this game is Wisconsin and how they respond to the beating that Ohio State put on them in their last game. The Buckeyes beat them 93-65 over the weekend, which will go down as one of the worst losses in school history. Prior to that game, they were pretty assured of a No.2 seed and were hoping that things would fall right for them to get a No.1 seed. Now, they sit in a group of teams fighting for to get a No. 3 seed.
If they are able to bounce back and play as they are capable of, then this game has no chance at an upset. However, if there is any lingering hangover or if doubts and question start creeping into their heads, then maybe Indiana or Penn State could sneak by them. The longer either of those teams can keep this a close game, the tighter the Badgers will play.
Upset chances: Not likely, but don’t be surprised if there is one.
On paper, Indiana has little chance in this game. They have only won three Big Ten games, yet those wins came against, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois. There is something about this very young team that really has nothing to play for but has been improving and gaining experience as the season has progressed.
As with any young team, they have been inconsistent which makes it very difficult to predict which version of the team will show up. Their main ally in this game is the pressure on Penn State.
Penn State starts four seniors and they desperately want to reach post season play. Without an amazing Big Ten run, they will not be in the NCAA tournament, but they have a chance to get an invite to the NIT. The longer the game stays close, the more pressure will be on the Penn State seniors to not allow this to be their last game.
Talor Battle is Penn State’s senior leader and likely will lead this team to victory, but if he is off, then the rest of the Nittany Lions better show up or the young Hoosiers may take them down.
Purdue was looking at possible No. 1 seed and, much like Wisconsin, blew it in their last regular season game. The difference is that unlike Wisconsin, the Boilermakers lost to a team far below them. The two point loss to the lowly 11-19 Iowa Hawkeyes ended Purdue’s outside chance at that top seed and now, they are in a battle to grab a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
If Iowa makes it to this game, then the chances of an upset are nil. After the win over the weekend, there is no way that Purdue allows anything close to that happening again.
Where the upset could occur is if Michigan State makes it to this game. The only consistent part of the Spartans game this year has been their inconsistency. The bright side for the Spartans is that Tom Izzo still coaches this team. Izzo is a master of the tournaments and while the NCAA is usually where he shines, would it really surprise anyone if he was able to get his team on a roll before the Big Dance?
If Iowa isn’t in this game, Purdue may not have that look of revenge and with the Spartans fighting for a postseason birth, this one could have upset written all over it.
How could Ohio State possibly fall to either of these teams? They beat Minnesota by only three points in their first of two meetings this year, then held off the Nittany Lions for a one point win back in January. Both of these teams believe that they can hang with the Buckeyes.
Really, the upset potential of this game comes from the scandal surrounding Jim Tressel and the Ohio State athletic program. Of course the issues are with the football program, but with that much media all in one location the questions, right or wrong, will start being asked of the basketball team. Did they know? Have they ever done anything similar? What do they think of the punishments?
While there may be nothing in this team’s background that warrants any of the concern, the questions will still get asked.
When you get that many reporters in one location, all looking for a new angle, all needing to produce something, then someone will start asking questions. Once they do, the questions will become an avalanche. The fact that this is a day-two game means that everyone will be in town an additional day and something will need to be talked about.
The constant questions may wear on the team and distract them from their game. The have a No. 1 seed wrapped up already and while they are looking to gain the top overall seed as well, is that enough to keep them focused amid the barrage of questions they will receive.
Minnesota also holds hope that for every game they win, they are one step closer to getting Al Nolen back. Imagine if he were able to suit up for this game. Suddenly, it is no longer the free-falling Gophers, but the team that was once ranked 14th this year.
How can Michigan State be listed as a possibly upsetting Purdue, then also be ranked as the most likely to be upset? Welcome to the Spartans 2010-2011 season.
This is a team that has played the tenth toughest schedule in the country this season and while that is impressive, it doesn’t mean much when you go 3-9 in those games and two of those three wins come against teams that are no longer ranked.
The Spartans entered the season ranked second, but now are among the last couple of teams fighting for an NCAA invite. While it is difficult to think that a loss would knock them completely out, their hopes would then rely on the outcome of other games. A win relieves any doubt that the team will be dancing.
These teams have played twice this year, each with wildly differing outcomes. The Hawkeyes beat the Spartans by 20 points, then the Spartans returned the favor winning by 19.
The Spartans will rely on Kalin Lucas to lead the team as he has all season. Draymond Green has been slowed by illness and a bum ankle over the last two weeks, but they will need him to play strong in order to secure the win.
Tom Izzo is a magician when it comes to the NCAA tournament as he has taken a few surprise teams all the way to the Final Four however in order to turn this team around he will need to perform his best trick yet. He could start by pulling Durrell Summers' game out of his hat.