Buckeyes Look Toward Indiana, Big Ten Tourney

Ohio State's shot at redemption has come down to this weekend and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. But the assignment could not be much more difficult. The ninth-seeded Buckeyes open tournament play against eighth-seeded Indiana, which will be a big crowd favorite in Conseco Fieldhouse. Click this free link for a complete look at the seventh annual Big Ten tournament.

For the seventh consecutive year, the Big Ten men's basketball teams will put an exclamation point on the regular season with a postseason tournament.

This year's event, set for Thursday through Sunday, will be staged in Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse. This marks the second time Conseco has hosted the event. Ohio State won the 2002 tournament staged there. The other five previous tournaments were all hosted at Chicago's United Center.

After losing to Big Ten champion Illinois 64-63 Sunday, Ohio State (14-15, 6-10) will enter the tournament as the ninth seed. The Buckeyes will face eighth-seeded Indiana (13-14, 7-9) in the tournament opener at noon Thursday (ESPN).

The winner will have a chance to prolong its season and, perhaps, qualify for at least the NIT if it can defeat Illinois (22-5, 13-3) in a quarterfinal match-up at noon on Friday (ESPN).

The loss to Illinois, ranked 18th nationally, was a tough pill to swallow after OSU rallied from down 17 in the second to half to get within one on Tony Stockman's three-point goal with 6.2 seconds left. It also denied OSU a chance at a slightly more palatable seventh-place Big Ten finish and an opening round game against 10th-seeded Minnesota.

But OSU's Terence Dials, who had a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds against the Illini, believes the Buckeyes can carry some momentum with them into Indianapolis.

"This makes us feel a lot better," he said."The guys didn't quit. We came back and made it a good game. Hopefully, this will give us a little bit of momentum. We will have to play with the best at the Big Ten. Now we know we can play with them."

The Big Ten tournament has been kind to OSU the last two seasons. After winning it two years ago, OSU, as the eighth seed, stormed through Iowa, regular season champion Wisconsin and fifth-seeded Michigan State to reach the finals. But No. 2 seed Illinois prevailed 72-59.

OSU coach Jim O'Brien summed up his team's objectives for this event.

"We will be playing for the opportunity to continue our season," he said. "We will have to win two games to do that. Indiana is probably in the same boat as us.

"(Playing Indiana) will be a hard game for us. It will be us inside against them outside, as it has been the last couple of years when we've played them."

Ohio State and Indiana split their two meetings during the regular season. Indiana won 69-61 in Columbus on Jan. 20, but OSU returned the favor with a 59-56 victory Feb. 21 at Bloomington.

Bracey Wright had 28 points and Marshall Strickland tallied 19 as the Hoosiers won in Columbus. But OSU's Dials had 19 points and Velimir Radinovic added 16 in that defeat.

Then, in Bloomington, Radinovic had a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds and Dials added 16 points and 10 boards in OSU's win. J.J. Sullinger hit a short jumper from the baseline with 17 seconds left to help pull out the win.

Although OSU had success against Illinois by going "small" with freshman Ivan Harris at power forward, associate head coach Rick Boyages predicted that the Buckeyes will stick with the inside tandem of Radinovic and Dials.

"Clearly, playing against Indiana, for us, playing big is the way to go," he said. "We feel we should have won the game at home, but we didn't make shots. Terence and Velimir were somewhat dominant in the game at Bloomington. They had two great games against Indiana. We will probably stick to that."

Teams that play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament (seeds 6-11) have a little reason for optimism. In the six years of the tournament, nine of the 24 teams that advanced to the semifinals came from the opening round on Thursday. Four of the 12 teams that have reached the finals were also first-day teams, including sixth-seeded Iowa which won the 2001 tournament title.

"If we're fortunate to get by Indiana, then we would get a crack at Illinois," Boyages said. "What do we have to lose? I think sometimes the teams that play the first day and win can come back the second day and be so loose and carefree. You just roll the dice and let it all hang out. There is not a lot of heat on you."

Meanwhile, Indiana was looking pretty good after beating rival Purdue on Jan. 27. On that day, IU looked good to make its 20th straight NCAA appearance with records of 11-6 overall and a conference leading 5-1 in Big Ten play.

But things went horribly awry down the stretch. IU won just two of its last 10 games and fell, like a stone, to a tie for seventh in the conference. All totaled, IU lost seven home games in Assembly Hall, including a 3-5 record in Big Ten play.

"This gives us an opportunity to end our season by doing something well," said IU coach Mike Davis. "We have had so many opportunities this year that we just let slip away. Definitely, the last one we have is at the Big Ten tournament."

Davis was asked if any team doesn't have a chance to win the tournament.

"The only reason a team wouldn't have a shot is if they don't come out and play with the emotion and energy you need," he said. "I think it's wide open. Teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois have proven they deserve to be where they are. There are a couple of teams that could surprise some people.

"Michigan could do it. They are so young. I think Iowa can do it. They are a veteran team. A four or five seed could end up in the championship game. You never know. But right now, you almost have to go with Illinois. They've won so many games here at the end."

Also Notable

* Illinois is the Big Ten champion. But the winner of the tournament gets the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

* OSU's all-time record in the tournament is 7-5. Most of the wins have come in the last two years, when OSU has gone 6-1. That includes 3-0 in 2002, when second-seeded OSU rolled through Michigan, Illinois and Iowa to win the tournament crown.

Illinois has the best Big Ten tournament record at 11-5. Michigan State is next at 7-4, followed by Iowa at 8-5 and OSU. Northwestern has the worst mark at 2-6.

* Michigan State has won two Big Ten tournaments (1999 and 2000). Michigan won the inaugural tournament in 1998, although that title was vacated as part of the school's various NCAA infractions. Iowa (2001), OSU (2002) and Illinois (2003) all have one tournament title each.

* The best seed to have in the Big Ten tournament is, by far, the two seed. That seed has produced three of the six champions and a pretty 11-3 record. The top seed has produced one champion (MSU in 1999) but just a 4-5 record overall, meaning other than that tournament top seeds are 1-5.

The sixth seed hasn't been bad (10-5) with one champion (Iowa in 2001). Teams seeded fourth are 9-5 with one champion (Michigan in 1998).

The worst seed to have, by far, is the five seed. Those teams are a combined 1-6 with just Michigan State, seeded fifth last year, surviving the four-five quarterfinal game as the five seed.

* OSU has had more all-tournament picks than any other school with six. That group includes Michael Redd in 1999, Brian Brown in 2002, Brent Darby in 2002-03, Boban Savovic in 2002 and Sean Connolly in 2003.

* Conseco Fieldhouse sits on Pennsylvania Street on the east end of downtown Indianapolis. It is within walking distance of many restaurants, hotels, the Circle Centre Mall, Union Station and the RCA Dome and Indiana Convention Center.

The 18,500-seat fieldhouse was built as the new home of the NBA's Indiana Pacers in 1998. It contains 69 luxury suites and is regarded as one of the nation's finest basketball facilities.

Big Ten Tournament Schedule

At Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse

Thursday's Opening Round

Indiana (8th seed; 13-14, 7-9) vs. Ohio State (9th seed; 14-15, 6-10), noon (ESPN)

Purdue (7th seed; 17-12, 7-9) vs. Minnesota (10th seed; 11-17, 3-13), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Northwestern (6th seed; 13-14, 8-8) vs. Penn State (11th seed; 9-18, 3-13), 5 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

Friday's Quarterfinals

Illinois (1st seed; 22-5, 13-3) vs. OSU-Indiana winner, noon (ESPN)

Iowa (4th seed; 16-11, 9-7) vs. Michigan (5th seed; 17-10, 8-8), 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Wisconsin (2nd seed; 21-6, 12-4) vs. Purdue-Minnesota winner, 6:40 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

Michigan State (3rd seed; 17-10, 12-4) vs. Northwestern-Penn State winner, 9:10 p.m. (ESPN-Plus)

Saturday's Semifinals

1:40 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday's Championship Game

3:30 p.m. (CBS)

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