This afternoon, the 2010 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament tips off in Indianapolis. This marks the beginning of the best five weekends of the year.
Game 1 Michigan vs Iowa – Without a doubt, Michigan has been the biggest disappointment in the conference this year. The Wolverines beat top-seeded Ohio State at the beginning of January, and swept 6th-seeded Minnesota. Their other four conference wins came against the bottom three teams in the conference. Iowa, meanwhile, has exceeded expectations by winning four conference games. Iowa has been playing hard, but they’ve got no answer for Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Michigan by 11.
Game 2 Northwestern vs Indiana – After starting the season 10-2, it looked like Northwestern might make the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, but without Kevin Coble it has been a tough season for the Wildcats. They closed the regular season with an overtime loss to an underwhelming Indiana squad. The Hoosiers have played most of the season without their best player as well, which has contributed to their 4-14 season. They’ve had trouble against Northwestern, but Indianapolis is practically a home game, and I think they’re ready to pull off an upset. Indiana by 4.
Game 3 Minnesota vs Penn State – Penn State is a better team than their record suggests. The Nittany Lions closed the season by nearly upsetting Michigan State and Purdue. Talor Battle receiving help from his teammates has been the difference in the late part of the season. In fact, Penn State looked better against Purdue when Battle was on the bench being treated for leg cramps. On the other end, Tubby Smith plays Minnesota deeper than any other team in the Big Ten, with every player on the roster getting at least 2 minutes per game, and no one in the thirties. That kind of depth, along with the multiple threats that the Gophers pose, will spell the end of the season for the defending NIT champs. Minnesota by 7.
Game 4 Ohio State vs Game 1 (Michigan) – Thad Matta’s strategy is the exact opposite of Tubby Smith, keeping the starters in for most of the game. The key to OSU having a successful tournament run will be the ability to keep that level of effort going. And, of course, Evan Turner, who was out with a back injury when Michigan defeated the Buckeyes in January. Ohio State is the hottest team in the conference right now, and with the best player in the country healthy, Michigan will miss the tournament again. Ohio State by 10.
Game 5 Wisconsin vs Illinois – These two teams faced off on Sunday to close the season, with Wisconsin blowing out the Illini in Champaign. The Illini have been two different teams this season, but the bad team lately, having closed the season 1-5. In large part, the fortunes of Illinois follow the performance of Demitri McCamey. Illinois is playing for a tournament appearance, and a win here would help reserve them a space. However, the Badgers have been playing very well of late, excepting a loss to Minnesota. Wisconsin by 8.
Game 6 Purdue vs Game 2 (Indiana) – The conventional wisdom is that it is very difficult to beat a team three times in one year, but most Purdue fans are looking forward to a potential re-rematch against an in-state rival that has looked really bad lately. Without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers need to re-prove themselves and a convincing win on Friday would do just that. The Hoosiers ended the season by snapping their second 10-game losing streak of the year. People in Bloomington would love to see Tom Crean’s team win this game, but they’re at least another year out from that. Purdue by 6.
Game 7 Michigan State vs Game 3 (Minnesota) – If the Gophers want to make it into the NCAA tournament, they need to win this game. With wins against Wisconsin and Illinois in February, and a pair of close games against Michigan State, that doesn’t seem out of reach. Michigan State has looked vulnerable in losses to Purdue and Ohio State and a near-loss to Penn State and will note the absence of Chris Allen. If the Minnesota guards can contain Kalin Lucas, they’ll move on to the semifinals. Minnesota by 2.
Game 8 Game 4 (Ohio State) vs Game 5 (Wisconsin) – Both teams ended the season by dismantling Illinois and they’ve yet to face each other healthy. Wisconsin defeated a Turner-less OSU in Madison and then fell in Columbus when Jon Leuer had a broken wrist. This is definitely the sexiest matchup of the tournament, and will be a good chance for Evan Turner or the Badgers to impress people. Despite what the Big Ten media might think, Bo Ryan is the better coach and I think he’ll have his hot team a little hotter. Wisconsin by 4.
Game 9 Game 6 (Purdue) vs Game 7 (Minnesota) – Losing Robbie Hummel in the first half of the game in Minneapolis nearly derailed Purdue, it was all the Boilers could do to stay in the game and manage a very close win. Minnesota still hopes to be invited to the big dance, and defeating two of the Big Ten co-champions on consecutive days would give their resume a nice boost. By spreading the minutes around, Tubby Smith should ensure that his team is relatively well-rested, and the Gophers have a range of weapons. However, Purdue can shut down any weapon that you can bring. If E’Twaun Moore has come out of his recent slump, the Boilers will have a chance to defend their tournament title. Purdue by 6.
Game 10 Game 8 (Wisconsin) vs Game 9 (Purdue) – Purdue has had Wisconsin’s number in recent years, going 5-1 against them in regular season play the past three years. If Purdue can manage to win the tournament, they can ensure they remain a high seed in the NCAA tournament and certain sportscasters will be told where to go. Wisconsin won the first matchup this season even after losing Jon Leuer mid-game and nearly got the upset in West Lafayette on the back of Keaton Nankivil’s 25 points. This may be the lowest-scoring game of the tournament, but Purdue will have a hard time containing the Badgers without the help of Robbie Hummel. Wisconsin by 7.