Big Ten Tournament Preview

It is that time of year again. E-mails are being passed around offices about NCAA Tournament pools quicker than the I Love You virus can knock down the national ATM systems. Workers are trying to lay the groundwork about illnesses a week in advance. Trips to Vegas are being readied. Conference tournaments have started, and March Madness has officially set in, and terms like "bracketology", "RPI", "pods", and "protected seeds" are being used in daily conversation between sports fans.

It is with a severe case of March Madness that I start with this breakdown of the Big Ten Tournament, and offer my predictions game-by-game. So, without any further platitudes, let's break down the action that will be seen on the United Center court Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon.

Game 1 - Thursday 11:00 AM ESPN
(8) Northwestern vs. (9) Michigan
I have dubbed this game the "Winner Gets to Get Beat Down by Illinois on Friday Morning Invitational". Michigan comes into the Big Ten Tournament reeling as they have lost 12 of their last 13, and their only victory in that span was a win over Penn State in Ann Arbor. To say that Michigan has been a major disappointment this season would be an understatement. Tommy Amaker's squad was picked by some as the sleeper in the Big Ten Championship race, but the only race they were in was with Purdue for the nine seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

Northwestern fell off a little bit from last year in a season where expectations were much higher thanks to the arrival of Duke transfer Michael Thompson. Northwestern is still lead by Third Team All Big Ten forward Vedran Vukusic. The Wildcats will need at least two wins to be eligible for the NIT this season, so they along with Michigan will be watching post season basketball from their homes.

Who wins this game? I don't care, but the easy prediction is Northwestern considering Michigan's only win since January 19 came against the Los Angeles Clippers of the Big Ten, Penn State. Northwestern gets the honor of getting their butt whipped by Illinois for the third time this season on Friday morning.

Game 2 - Thursday 1:30 PM ESPN
(7) Iowa vs. (10) Purdue
Gene Keady is in his final year as the Head Coach of Purdue, and Steve Alford should be in his final year as Head Coach of Iowa. It would be fitting for Alford to lose his final game as Iowa head coach in the Big Ten Tournament, a.k.a the Steve Alford Invitational. Some pundits still claim Iowa is on the NCAA bubble, and others claim those pundits have not quit smoking marijuana. Either way, Iowa thinks they have something to play for other than pride. Luckily for Iowa, Purdue is just bad, and without Chris Landry they are nearing the level of Penn State bad.

Iowa's only chance to make the NCAA Tournament will be to get to the Big Ten Tournament finals. By doing this, Iowa will have "proven" that it can win big games without Pierre Pierce by defeating what will most likely be Michigan State and Wisconsin en route to the final game that means nothing in the seeding process.

Iowa advances, and Gene Keady's career at Purdue ends on a very sour note.

Game 3 - Thursday 4:05 PM espn2
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Penn State
After giving the Fighting Illini their first loss of the season, the Buckeyes drew the best possible first round match up in the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State. In a game that is basically a bye for the Buckeyes they get to practice against new bodies before taking on Wisconsin in the second round.

Ohio State advances, and Ed DeCellis wonders why he left Eastern Tennessee State where at least his team had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.


DAY TWO
Day two of the Big Ten Tournament is when the games really begin. The top five seeds of the tournament are playing games, and the field is being whittled down to actual good basketball.

Game 4 - Friday 11:00 AM ESPN
(1) Illinois vs. (8) Northwestern
So what happens after a Fighting Illini loss in 2005? No one knows, but I assume a pissed off Illinois team will be taking the floor looking to take it to their opponent. Unfortunately for Northwestern they are that opponent. The beat down will commence on the Wildcats before their students can even hurl clever insults towards the Fighting Illini basketball managers, and the Illini will still be the only team in the history of the Big Ten Tournament to play in the semi-finals every season.

As if I am not going to pick Illinois.

Game 5 - Friday 1:30 PM ESPN
(4) Indiana vs. (5) Minnesota
This is a game that matches up two bubble teams that desperately need wins. This is the first exciting game of the Big Ten Tournament as well. Minnesota's status as being off the bubble is probably more secure than Indiana's, but both teams know that a win here would do wonders with their chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament. There is nothing better than watching two teams battle it out for their post-season life, and that is what basketball fans will have on Friday afternoon. First Team All Big Ten forward (as voted by the coaches) Vincent Grier will be taking on Big Ten Freshman of the Year DJ White in the post while Bracey Wright (Media First Team All Big Ten) will man the perimeter for the Hoosiers in what should be a battle.

The Hoosiers and the Gophers split both of their meetings this season as both held serve on their home courts. The neutral venue of the United Center will be where the rubber match is decided, and since the Hoosiers believe they have more to play for, look for Indiana to squeak out a close game.

Game 6 - Friday 5:40 PM ESPN+
(2) Michigan State vs. (7) Iowa
Steve Alford's run at his own invitational will end at the hands of Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, and the Hawkeyes bubble will have burst. The question that remains is whether or not this will be the last game coached at Freaking Iowa by Steve Alford. My gut says that Alford will be back at Iowa for one more year to make the buy out more reasonable, but with him and his lovely wife already chastising the fans for not supporting his extremely likeable team he knows his time in Iowa City is quickly coming to an end.

I guess it is just too bad that Courtney Scott will see the NCAA Tournament before Steve Alford thanks to Oakland's run through the Mid Con Conference Tournament.

Game 7 - Friday 8:10 PM ESPN+
(3) Wisconsin vs. (6) Ohio State
The Big Ten Tournament is the Super Bowl for the Buckeyes, or was their game against Illinois last Sunday their Super Bowl? That decision is what Thad Matta's group will have to make before taking on Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. Will Matta be counting his new paper, or will he be getting his Buckeyes ready to win the Big Ten Tournament?

On Friday afternoon Bo Ryan will be looking up at the rafters wondering where Devin Harris is as Thad Matta's Ohio State Buckeyes upset the Badgers, and try to ensure the Big Ten will not have an automatic entry into the Field of 64.


DAY THREE
Game 8 - Saturday 12:40 PM CBS
(1) Illinois vs. (4) Indiana
Mike Davis will get his wish, his team will get to try to upset the Illini using the model that he saw from Ohio State the previous Sunday afternoon. It will be too bad for him that he is facing a newly focused Fighting Illini, and a team that will be playing to win, and not playing "not to lose". Davis' Hoosiers are just a year away from being a force in the Big Ten, while the Illini are a force in the nation. DJ White should give Illinois' Roger Powell, Jr. fits and get him in foul trouble quicker than he can write a new Bible verse on his shoes, but that will not be enough for the Hoosiers. Illinois has too much at the three guard positions, and they win the game.

Game 9 - Saturday 3:05 PM CBS
(2) Michigan State vs. (6) Ohio State
The Senior Class at Michigan State has not won a Championship of any sort in their four years in East Lansing, and that has been a point of contention for the media surrounding the program. The Big Ten Tournament will be their last chance (outside of the NCAA Tournament) to leave a trophy in East Lansing with their names on it. Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert were both highly touted recruits who have been labeled "pillow soft" so they will be out for blood for a change. Michigan State sneaks past the Buckeyes and gives CBS the match up they wanted for the Big Ten Tournament Championship game, Illinois versus Michigan State.


DAY FOUR
Game 10 - 2:30 PM CBS
(1) Illinois vs. (2) Michigan State
In a game that does not matter, despite what Bob Bowlsby will tell you, Illinois and Michigan State will battle once again for the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Illini and the Spartans seem to like meeting up in the Tournament Championship games as they have done it twice in the past, both leading to Michigan State wins (in 1999 and 2000).

No team wants to head into the NCAA Tournament with a loss, but one of these teams will do it. Neither team is playing for a seed, and neither team will move up or down the S-Curve because the brackets will have already been finalized. This game is all about pride for both teams. The Illini are the better team, but Michigan State is by no means a bad team either. In a close, and high paced game the Illini will get past the Spartans and start their trek to St. Louis leaving the Michigan State senior class Big Ten Championship-less of any variety.


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