By Paul M. Banks
When the 12th Annual Big Ten Men’s basketball tournament tips off Thursday morning it will feature one of the deepest fields in recent years. If a couple of the bubble teams make a strong showing at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, as many as nine teams could have a case to be in the big dance occurring the following week. One thing I can’t figure out though is why Chicago, the city where the league is headquartered, and home to the conference’s largest media market and alumni population by miles, doesn’t host it every single year? I guess the “city” of Indianapolis ought to have something going for it.
Michigan State (25-5, 15-3) claimed the No. 1 seed after capturing the Big Ten title for the fifth time under Tom Izzo. Illinois (23-8, 11-7) earned the No. 2 seed, while Purdue (22-9, 11-7) clinched the No. 3 spot. Wisconsin (19-11, 10-8) claimed the No. 4 seed and Ohio State (20-9, 10-8) earned the No. 5 seed. Each of the top five teams receives a first-round bye and will start tournament play on Friday the 13th. Feel the chills!
Thursday #8 Minnesota (21-9, 9-9) takes on #9 Northwestern (17-12, 8-10) at 11AM. Look for our hometown Wildcats to tie the school record for single season wins at the expense of “Tubby Time.”
The tournament’s second game at 1:30 features #7 Michigan (19-12, 9-9) against #10 Iowa (15-16, 5-13). I’m calling another mild upset here as Iowa’s Jake Kelly, a Carmel, IN native with two Big Ten Player of the Week awards this past month, will come to play in front of the hometown fans.
#6 Penn State (21-10, 10-8) and #11 Indiana (6-24, 1-17) square off at 4. Watch the Penn State fans act Bush League again and storm the court to celebrate winning another game they were supposed to win.
Remember, brackets never appear in nature composed of 11 teams, so the irregular format unfortunately needs explanation every year. For your convenience, I linked the bracket for you to look at here.
Day two begins at 11AM with top-seeded Michigan State facing the game one winner. The Spartans are the No. 1 seed for the third time in tournament history (’98, ’99) and seek to become the first squad in Big Ten Tournament history to win three tourney crowns.
Izzo is too good a coach to be caught off guard by the Princeton Offense of Northwestern again. Sparty won’t get back-doored like they did in East Lansing this past January. State advances while NU goes on to host and win an NIT game next week therefore breaking the school record for victories in a season!
However, nothing is guaranteed in this tourney as the No. 1 seed has won the tournament only four times (Wisconsin last year, Ohio State 2007, Illinois 2005 and Michigan State 1999).
The day’s second game at 1:30 is between the last two tournament champions: Wisconsin and Ohio State. I’m predicting Chicago St. Joseph product Evan Turner, arguably the conference’s best player, leads his Bucks forward.
Nobody has a better record in this tournament than Illinois (21-9), the #2 seed, who will likely end Iowa’s season slowly and painfully in yet another low-scoring game. This contest will tip off at 5:30. The Illini will remain one of just four schools (Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State are the others) to have advanced to at least the quarterfinals in every year of the event. Another thing the orange and blue have going for them, which is nice, is this fact: the #2 seed remains the event’s leader in championships. No. 2 seeds are 15-5 and have won four titles, been to the finals five times and in the semifinals on six occasions.
And by the time all the heavy drinking has started Friday night, #3 Purdue faces the winner of Penn State-Indiana. Since Purdue is 0-4 in Indy for some reason -so much for homecourt advantage- look for Penn State to upset the Boilers.
The Big Ten Tournament semifinals and championship takes place during the weekend when most of you will be busy getting sloshed at St. Patty’s Day parades. On Saturday at 12:40 p.m. MSU will begin their conquest of OSU. This contest features two of the league’s best players (and sophomores, so get use to these guys) in the Buckeyes’ Turner and Sparty’s Kalin Lucas. When it’s over, State will declare “THIS…IS…SPARTA!”
They say it’s difficult to beat a team three times in one year, and Penn State will learn that the hard way when Bruce Weber and the Illini finally figure out a way to beat the pesky Lions in the late afternoon game. Star sophomore guard with a porn star name Talor Battle can rest easy though, as Penn State has already punched their ticket to the big dance.
And after all the upsets I’ve picked, I still find myself with a #1 vs. #2 final game. Which is usually what happens in March Madness anyway- all the upsets occur in the first couple rounds, and it’s almost always high seeds within the final stages of your brackets. This is the final game airing before the Selection Show, and really won’t end up meaning much because 1.) Both these teams are already in 2.) Seeding and placement has mostly been determined by the time the clock turns to zero. It is hard to defeat a team three times in one season, but Michigan State gets it done beating the Illini, who will finish second for the fifth time in tourney history.Follow paulmbanks