This could be the best Big Ten Tournament of all time. As it returns to its RIGHTFUL home, the United Center in Chicago, the league is as strong as it has ever been. So on paper it should be great. Indiana earned the season outright title for the first time since 1993 and the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.
Ohio State, Michigan State and the Badgers also earned top-four seeds to secure first-round byes, as all four teams open play Friday. The tournament features 11 games over four days, beginning with four on Thursday. Six different programs have won the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State and Ohio State have won the title three times. The Illini, Hawkeyes and Badgers have each won the championship twice, and Purdue has won the tournament once.
Chicago hosted the inaugural event in 1998. The Big Ten tournament averaged 18,882 fans per session when the event was last held at the UC in 2007. It set attendance records while in Chicago in 2001 with an average of 21,954 patrons per session. And just standing-room only tickets remain for this Big Ten Tournament.
So let’s get to my snarky preview/predictions
Opening Rounds on Thursday, March 14
Session one beginning at 11 a.m. CDT
It’s not a play-in game, but it could become a de facto of sorts, if all hell breaks loose this Championship week and we have multiple “bid stealers.” The loser will be sweating a little on Selection Sunday; the winner breathes a little easier. Illini are right now on the #10 seed line, Gophers on #11. Both limped to the finish of conference play. You can flip a coin. But since the Illini will have the quasi-home court advantage, I’ll take them in a very ugly struggle: UI 64, UM 61
This one is over already. Before it even starts. Unless Jeff Meyers feels guilt and remorse for ruining Tom Crean’s program and is too emotionally distraught to coach. PSU coach Patrick Chambers got the job because the guy before him, Ed DeChellis, left Penn State for Navy. Yes, he left PSU FOR NAVY, not vice versa. That’s what Nittany Lions basketball truly is: UM 79, PSU 61
Session two beginning at 5:30 p.m. CDT
You could call this one the “Low RPI Invitational.” Nebraska fans stormed the court after beating an unranked Gophers squad. Yes, really. That’s what Husker basketball sadly is. But the Boilers have a real baller in their freshmen class. And they can be gritty: PU 71, NU 58
The first two meetings between these teams were ridiculously lopsided in favor of Iowa. Why should this Big Ten Tournament game be any different? ‘Cats have lost 8 in a row since Jared Swopshire went down. Maybe after this game, Bill Carmody and Northwestern will be, in the words of Journey, “Separate Ways”?
Quarterfinal Rounds on Friday, March 15
Session three beginning at 11 a.m. CDT
My first upset. and it’s a #5 over a #4, really ballsy I know. But back in 2005, I saw Neil Milbert of the Chicago Tribune predict the higher seed in EVERY game of the Big Ten Tournament. Yes, that really happened.
I think Bo Ryan will get the tempo he wants and they’ll get Michigan to play their style, but it won’t be quite enough to overcome. Always pick the team with NBA ballers over the team with none: UM 54, UW 52
Session four beginning at 5:30 p.m. CDT
Now that Jared Sullinger isn’t around anymore to get EVERY call his way, I’m picking another upset here; I’m feeling it. By the way isn’t Aaron Craft one of the most annoying college basketball players of all time? Grantland seems to think so. PU 67-OSU 65
How come every Big Ten Tourney sees Michigan State playing in the night game? Is it so they can give enough time for binge-drinking to their boozehound fan base? Picking another upset as the Hawkeyes finally get a tournament resume win. But believe me it hurts picking against Tom Izzo in March. UI 72, MSU 69
Semifinal Round on Saturday, March 16
Session five beginning at 12:40 p.m. CDT
Another great game; another awkward, tense postgame handshake afterward
Sorry Iowa, the run ends here. But congrats, you’ve improved your NIT seeding.
Championship Game on Sunday, March 17 (Are you drunk yet? Erin Go Bra-less!)
Session six beginning at 2:30 p.m. CDT
And the final note will be less than memorable. A great rivalry game to be sure…but moving the tournament FROM Indianapolis yields this? I guess so because both schools from the “Crossroads of America” have played terrible in Indy during this tournament the past few years. But I think they’ll excel here for some reason. Does this game count in NCAA seeding/placement? It’s the last one in all of college basketball, so hasn’t the committee made up their minds already by then? I mean the selection show starts immediately after this ends.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of visitors. He’s an author who also contributes regularly to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker