Big Ten Tournament predictions

The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament begins in less than 15 hours.  This has been a very unpredictable season, but that’s what makes predicting the tournament so much fun.  Here are my predictions, with less commentary than is necessary.  I’ve tried to be neutral, and I’m probably completely wrong.  But if I’m right, I could win $250 from the local newspaper!

First round

Minnesota vs Northwestern — The last time these two teams faced off, Northwestern got spanked.  So despite the fact that the Wildcats won the first meeting, they’ll be angry when they face the Gophers.  Not to mention the fact that Northwestern has a chance to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  Winner: Northwestern

Michigan vs Iowa — Despite a surprise defeat of Penn State last weekend, Iowa is still legitimately the 10th best team in the conference.  Michigan has beaten #2 and #3, and they’re in a much happier place.  Winner: Michigan

Penn State vs Indiana — Indiana has shown considerable improvement and I thought they’d win their first round game.  Then the brackets came out.  If Indiana wins, I’ll post a picture of myself wearing an IU sweatshirt.  Right side out, even.  Winner: Penn State

Quarterfinals

Michigan State vs Northwestern — Of all the lower seeds, Northwestern has the best chance of making a deep run.  Wins at Michigan State and at Purdue should give the Spartans a cause for concern too.  But can they handle playing two days in a row?  Michigan State will be rested, and one would expect ready to play. Hopefully a quarterfinal appearance will be enough to get Northwestern into the NCAA tourney.  Winner: Michigan State

Wisconsin vs Ohio State — It took a little while, but Wisconsin finally figured out what winning is.  The only time these teams met, it was a 5-point victory for the Badgers in Madison.  tOSU travels well, so Indianapolis may be like a home game for them.  This will be a close call, but I think Wisconsin will have a slight edge.  Winner: Wisconsin

Illinois vs Michigan — Illinois and Michigan split the series, each team winning at home.  Michigan may have beaten Duke and Purdue, but they’ll not be able to get a second win over Illinois this year.  Winner: Illinois

Purdue vs Penn State — Purdue has been very erratic this year, even with a healthy Robbie Hummel.  They’ll either win the tournament or lose their first game.  Penn State has been hot lately, but Indiana will wear them down more than they expect.  If the Boilers can shut down Taylor Battle again, it will be a relatively easy win.  Winner: Purdue

Semifinals

Michigan State vs Wisconsin — This is where Michigan State gets cocky.  Wisconsin will be tired, but determined.  It’s no fun to have the #1 seed win out, anyway. Winner: Wisconsin

Illinois vs Purdue — It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year.  The way Purdue sees it, they owe Illinois a drubbing.  On a home-ish court, and with all players healthy, the Boilermakers will get their revenge.  Winner: Purdue

Finals

Wisconsin vs Purdue — Remember what I said about it being hard to beat a team three times in a year?  That’s not always true.  This will be Wisconsin’s fourth game in as many days, and they’re simply not as good as Purdue.  If Purdue makes it this far (and that’s a big “if”), they’ll be able to put this one away by halftime.  Winner: Purdue

My own Big Ten basketball awards

Now that the regular season has drawn to a close, it is time to recognize those who have made the season special.  My awards are voted on by me, the blogger, and carry no cash award or amazing prizes.  Maybe if I’m really lucky, I’ll get a mention by Pat Forde in a few years.

Big Ten All-Goon Squad

  • Devan Dumes – Indiana: I get it.  There has probably never been a more frustrating year to wear the striped pants.  Indiana has been flat awful through much of the season, and being down by 27 with 2:11 left to play doesn’t make it any easier.  That doesn’t make this elbow — or any of the several before it — justified.  Coach Crean was wise to suspend Dumes, and the lesson seems to have been learned.
  • Joe Krabbengoon – Wisconsin: Krabbengoon isn’t out to knock people over whenever he can, yet he’s still such a goon that I can not bring myself to refer to him by his legal name.  Poor little Lewis Jackson never expected to get bowled over by a cheap screen in the backcourt.  Jackson ended up with a concussion that kept him out of the next game.  Krabbengoon?  Not whistled at all.  I’m biased, but that was a horrible no-call.
  • Matt Gatens – Iowa: Much like Dumes, Gatens plays on a frustratingly bad team.  The freshman could end up being one of the star players in the conference, but only if he can avoid giving forearms to people like Marcus Landry.
  • Manny Harris – Michigan: Nobody is saying that Manny Harris broke Chris Kramer’s nose on purpose.  Still, a hit that hard is excessive and I think it was appropriate to eject him.  If nothing else, the referees probably used it as a way to make up for the no-call when Robbie Hummel got tackled at mid-court and the subsequent technical on Matt Painter when he complained.
  • Zack Novak – Michigan: In the game before Harris got ejected, Novack got himself tossed for an elbow to tOSU’s P.J. Hill.  Coach John Beilein suspended Novak for a game, but after two consecutive games with an ejection, maybe Beilein should have suspended himself.

All-Awful Refree Team

This team is not just a hypothetical.  The unholy trinity of “Technical Ted” Valentine, Ed Hightower, and Jim Burr officiated Indiana at Purdue, where they had surprisingly little effect on the game.  It’s not that these guys have it out for “my team,” they’re just awful all around.  Hightower and Valentine especially seem to look for ways to get the camera on them.  In fairness though, watching yesterday’s Purdue at Michigan State game, I was finally able to see Jim Burr make a good call.  There is hope.

Player of the Year

This is a tough category to pick from.  The pre-season pick, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, would likely be the leading contender had it not been for a back injury that plagued him most of the season.  So that leaves the field open for:

  • Taylor Battle – Penn State: Taylor Battle has lead Penn State into a four-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.  With a season that includes a win at conference champion Michigan State, and a sweep of second-place Illinois, Penn State looks ready to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, and possibly into the second round of the NCAA tourney.  None of this would be possible without Battles 37 minutes per game, in which he scores a conference-high 17.3 points.
  • Evan Turner – Ohio State: Turner’s 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game have helped the Buckeyes become the fourth-highest scoring team in the conference.  Throw in 78% free throw shooting and 3.82 assists per game and you’ve got a player that can really make things happen.  1.71 steals per game is just icing on the cake.
  • Kalin Lucas – Michigan State: Kalin Lucas is 6th in the conference in points per game, at 14.6, but the stats don’t necessarily tell the tale.  At 2.44, his assist-to-turnover ratio is second only to teammate Travis Walton.  With Lucas, it isn’t so much about the points he scores, but the way his team plays when he’s on the court.  Michigan State is a different team in those eight minutes a game when Kalin Lucas is on the bench.
  • Chester Frazier – Illinois: The lone senior on my list, Frazier has been absolutely crucial to the success of the Illini this year.  With a conference-leading 5.29 assists per game, it’s no wonder he only averages 4.3 field goal attempts.  His senior leadership shows, though, for an average of 33 minutes.

Some have suggested that a fourth sophomore, Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, should be on the list as well.  I disagree.  The 6’10” Johnson is being outrebounded by his chronically-crippled teammate Robbie Hummel.    The only statistical category in which Johnson really shines is blocks, where he leads with 2.2.  He’s a good player, but he’s not ready for PoY honors yet.  My pick?  Taylor Battle.

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Chris Kramer – Purdue: Kramer was named DPoY last year, after racking up 2.3 steals per game.  This year, he’s down to a mere 2.11, to lead the conference by .07.  In addition to his 62 steals, he also has 70 defensive rebounds.  This is also the second consecutive season where he’s had more personal fouls than steals, a sign of agressive plays.  With the facemask he had to wear after Manny Harris broke his nose, Kramer has become the most intimidating defender in the conference, perhaps in the country.  Really, there’s no other choice.

Coach of the Year

  • Tom Crean – Indiana: It might be a little hard to accept that a coach with a 1-17 record (6-24) overall could even be considered for Coach of the Year, but I think it makes sense in this case.  A year after the misdeeds of Kelvin Sampson left the Hoosiers with 1.8 total ppg returning, Crean has done more with the little talent available than anyone could have expected.  Indiana can claim several moral victories and could win their first game in the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Ed DeChellis – Penn State: A year ago, Penn State was the laughingstock of the conference.  This year, they’re ready to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament, and for the first time in his career, Ed DeChellis is in the upper half of the conference standings.  The team has gotten so good that the sheets used to hide parts of the area have been removed for some games.  The Lions might only get 8200 people in the seats, but it’s a step in the right direction.

My pick?  Ed DeChellis.

That’s all the awards I have to hand out right now.  Later this week, I’ll give a rundown of the Big Ten Tournament and offer my predictions for each game.