The 16th annual Big Ten Conference Tournament will tip off this Thursday, March 14 and the finals will be on Sunday, the 17th. All games will be held at Chicago’s United Center, which is hosting the event for the eighth time.
The #8 and #9 seeds, Minnesota and Illinois, tip off the tournament at 11:00 AM, with the winner advancing to face No. 1 seed Indiana at the same time on Friday. The Gophers and Fighting Illini split their two regular season meetings, with the visiting team winning both times. Minnesota shot a scorching 53% from the field in their 84-67 win on January 9 in Champaign, with Joe Coleman scoring a career-best 29 points. Illinois turned the tables in the rematch in Minneapolis on Feb. 10, aided by a blistering three-point barrage to edge past the Gophers, 57-53. Tyler Griffey came off the bench to pace Illinois with 16 points, while Austin Hollins (16) and Trevor Mbakwe (13) were the only Gophers in double figures. Illinois’ victory came just three days after they’d upset No. 1 Indiana at home.
Both teams are squarely on the at-large NCAA Tourney bubble, but Illinois probably needs a victory a little more urgently. For that reason, the pick here is the Illini in a nail-biter.
In Game 2, 5th-seeded Michigan takes on 12th-seed Penn State, with the winner drawing 4th-seed Wisconsin on Friday. The two teams also split regular season games, with Penn State’s upset over the Wolverines just two weeks ago one of the conference’s biggest shockers of the season. It’s “Big Boy” time now though, and Michigan has their goals set for a deep tournament run. With Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke, the Wolverines should make fast work of the Nittany Lions.
Game 3 matches up 7-seed Purdue and 10-seed Nebraska. The winner has the pleasure of facing the 2nd-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes. The Boilermakers won the only meeting between the two in mid-January, and should have little trouble this time. The Cornhuskers are not without talent however, and if their outside shooting is on the mark, could be competitive. It’s isn’t likely though.
The last game of Day One pits 6th-seeded Iowa versus 11th seed Northwestern, with the winner taking on 3rd-seeded Michigan State. The Hawkeyes swept the Wildcats in the regular season, and all indications point to a similar outcome on Thursday. The Wildcats however, still seeking that elusive first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, will be fired up and history teaches us that unless you’re the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals, it’s never easy to beat a team three times in a season. Go with the upset in this one.
Day Two tips off with a (projected) matchup between the Hoosiers and the Fighting Illini. Ever since Tyler Griffey’s last-second uncontested layup toppled Indiana in early February, Tom Crean’s squad has been itching for a chance at revenge. First-team all-conference performers Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo had sub-par games in the first meeting, and Crean will remind them of that frequently. The Illini just don’t have either the talent or depth to pull off another upset.
One of the better conference games of the season took place back in early February when Wisconsin edged Michigan in overtime, and this shapes up to be a similar contest. Bo Ryan’s (Big Ten Coach of the Year) Badgers are never a team you want to face in March, and a key could be how Trey Burke handles the Badger press. Wisconsin’s keys to victory will hinge (as always) on their ability to score, meaning they probably need a big game from Ben Brust. Look for the Wolverines to rally late and edge the Badgers.
Under Painter, the Boilermakers have always been ultra-scrappy, but scrappiness will only take you so far, and Ohio State simply has too much talent and versatility. PG Aaron Craft is the personification of “scrappy,” while Deshaun Thomas can provide a little of everything. Go with the Buckeyes in a romp.
Tom Izzo has shown time and again that he has this “March” thing down to a science, and he always has the Spartans ready during this time of the year. Michigan State has depth, experience, size and plenty of intangibles, traits which Northwestern lacks in abundance. One of these years Northwestern will punch their NCAA ticket, but not in 2012-13.
In Saturday’s semifinals, it’s shaping up to be Round 3 of Hoosiers-Wolverines and if the first two matchups were any indication, this one should be memorable. Indiana has edged out Michigan twice already, with the last one a final-second thriller. Remember what we said earlier about that “beating someone three times?” Well, it certainly is applicable here, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Wolverines exact some measure of revenge, while possibly knocking Indiana out of a No. 1 NCAA seeding.
Another two teams that split regular season games. Another two teams that really don’t like each other. Another two teams that have hopes of receiving a lofty NCAA seeding. Another two teams that are loaded with talent, experience and excellent coaching. The Ohio State-Michigan State semifinal should be a barnburner. The personnel matchups are as even as any two teams could possibly be, and this one could come down to which individual player brings his “A+” game. In a close one, Izzo’s strategical genius should push the Spartans into the finals against Michigan.
The Wolverines, no doubt, are still stinging from a 23-point shellacking in Lansing back on February 12th, and will come into this game breathing fire. Izzo and the Spartans have faced fire-breathers before and will not go down easily. One of the crucial matchups could be MSU’s freshman sensation Gary Harris and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. Also critical will be how effectively Wolverine freshman big man Mitch McGary fares against Izzo’s interior heavyweights, Payne and Nix. The pick here is Michigan, but by no more than a basket or two.
Here is the schedule for the upcoming Big 10 college basketball tournament March 14-17 (courtesy of bigten.org):
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Game 1: No. 8 vs. No. 9, 11 a.m., BTN
Game 2: No. 5 vs. No. 12, 1:30 p.m.*, BTN
Game 3: No. 7 vs. No. 10, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2
Game 4: No. 6 vs. No. 11, 8 p.m.*, ESPN2
Friday, March 15, 2013
Game 5: No. 1 vs. Game 1 Winner, 11 a.m., ESPN
Game 6: No. 4 vs. Game 2 Winner, 1:30 p.m.*, ESPN
Game 7: No. 2 vs. Game 3 Winner, 5:30 p.m., BTN
Game 8: No. 3 vs. Game 4 Winner, 8 p.m.*, BTN
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 12:40 p.m., CBS Sports
Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 3 p.m.*, CBS Sports
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Championship Game, 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports
All times CT