Welcome to March.
Are you ready? Ready for tournament time?
The coaches are. Some of the coaches don’t usually care about the Big Ten Tournament – particularly Tom Izzo. The tournament rarely changes anything heading into the NCAA tournament, and the Regular Season Championship is considered more precious. But Tom Izzo seemingly changed his mind this season after being forced to share the regular season title with the Buckeyes and Wolverines,
We’re going to go win our championship back.
He’s ready for March. Are you?
You’d better be. This Big Ten Tournament promises to be one of the best yet. The field is deep with teams that want to win. Consider Northwestern, who has never been to the NCAA’s, and Minnesota, who would like to prove what they can do as a young team missing a key player. How about Purdue, with Robbie Hummel’s last go around. And that’s not even including Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan who would all love to be able to hold the tournament championship over their co-regular season title holders.
Just to name a few.
JoeD, WVaBuckeye, Dave, and I put our heads together and shared some of our thoughts on the Thursday matchups to get you ready for the first day of action.
Joe D: If you were to ask me two months ago if there was a chance Iowa got out of the first round, I might of made some snyde remark that even Penn State could beat this team on a neutral floor. The Hawkeyes though, beyond playing well, got the best draw they could by taking on a depleted and tuned out Illinois team. Matt Gatens and Roy Marble make this one interesting as they have been way more consistent down the stretch compared to Illinois’ Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul. All the pressure is on Iowa, but with two wins over Minnesota and solid wins over Wisconsin and Indiana in the season, I think this team has enough confidence to head into Friday play against Michigan State
WVaBuckeye: I agree that this is a game made in heaven for the Hawkeyes. They have taken advantage of poor shooting nights by Indiana and Wisconsin at home then lost the last two of three. However; Illinois appears to be done as Bruce’s post game after the loss to Wisconsin was clear. “it’s very hard, it’s difficult stretch all you can do is help your kids, your players, the staff and our families. The Illini have gone 2-11 since Paul put up the game of his life against the Buckeyes. I see Iowa moving on after the first game of the tourney which could a snoozer and will give me and my buddies time to get there Thursday.
Eric: There’s no question Iowa has to be excited about this matchup. They get an Illinois team with enough talent to be dangerous, but absolutely no motivation to pull it all together into something cohesive. The end result is a group of players that you still have to defend, but will help you out towards victory in every way you, they, or your best friend’s mother can imagine. That means that Iowa will be focused and ready for the game, but may not have to put in the same amount of effort trying to beat the Illini that they otherwise would have if they had faced Northwestern or Minnesota.
Dave: Admittedly, I haven’t watched a ton of Hawkeye basketball and I’m not at all ashamed about that. Although, somehow I’ve managed to watch more Illini basketball than I’d care to admit to and know like the rest of you, that the team is a complete and total dumpster fire. In my opinion, I think the Hawkeyes will have to find a solid answer for Meyers-Leonard and they’ll be set. Outside of that, this Illinois team is feeling sorry for themselves with a coach that’s on his way out because he seems to lack any real answers as to what’s been going on. Unless Illinois scrapes together some pride and/or defense, the Hawkeyes put them out of their misery.
Joe D:As much as I would love to see Tom Crean’s ego deflate at center court against those Pesky Nittany Lions of Penn State, I don’t think it will happen. Tim Frazier is one heck of a ballplayer, and in a tournament atmosphere anything can happen.
That being said the Hoosiers have won 7/8 including a big win against Michigan State, are starting to roll defensively, and have arguably the best back-court in the conference. This game will be fun to watch in the first half, but nearly at home — The Hoosiers will pull away in the second half and bring home a convincing win heading into Friday’s play.
WVaBuckeye: I think this is a poor match up. Penn State will not put up much of a fight against the Hoosiers who I think are in a good position to win it. They are playing in their home state, even though Purdue had a much better crowd in Indy last year, and have wins against all of the teams seeded ahead of them but the badgers. They want the opportunity to play Wisconsin a second time for the season. This game will be a snoozer web though it was close at PSU.
Eric: Penn State has been playing pretty good basketball late in the year, a testament to Coach Pat Chamber’s efforts. However, the last thing the Nittany Lions wanted was to have to play Indiana in Indianapolis – functionally a home game for the Hoosiers. Penn State will make some plays, and show off the pieces that are there. Unfortunately, this Indiana team led by Cody Zeller will be too much for them down low. Expect Indiana to attack the paint and take advantage of the superior size and talent of their bigs.
Joe D:As much as I love watching John Shurna’s ugly jump shot and Bill Carmody run the triangle offense, I feel a bit shaky about the Northwestern Wildcats making a run in the Big Ten Tournament. Part of it has to do with the team they are facing in the first round. No, Minnesota doesn’t flash anything special, but they do rebound well as a team, and caught the Wildcats sleeping in their first match-up. Anytime you can keep Shurna to a quiet 21, including 11 in the fourth when the game is already decided, you’ve done something right. Rodney Williams will not only be key defensively, but he will need an excellent offensive performance to get the Gophers to Friday. At the end of the day, the combination of Drew Crawford, John Shurna and Drew Sobolewski should be too much on both sides of the floor. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Minnesota got the win on Thursday.
WVaBuckeye: This is the most intriguing match up on the first day of the tourney. Neither of their regular season match ups were close. Minnesota won at home january 22nd 75-52 and Northwestern won at home on February 18 64-53. The Rodney Williams and John Shurna battle will be one to definitely keep your eyes on. Williams pretty much shut Shurna down in the first game holding him to 11 points until the game was in the bag. In their second match up Williams was nowhere to be found as Shurna set the new career scoring mark for Northwestern. Minnesota had been suffering through a six game losing streak to finish the season before beating Nebraska in their last regular season game. Northwestern was fighting to finish on a high note and gave the buckeyes a scare an lost on a final seconds shot. Either team can give TTUN a game in the quarter finals in Indy.
Eric: The Golden Gophers have, for the second season in a row, lost a key element of their team to injury. With the loss of Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota’s season deteriorated rapidly to the point where they couldn’t keep themselves in the upper half of the conference. It’s too bad for coach Tubby Smith, who otherwise has all the pieces to a great team. With both the Gophers and Northwestern sitting at 18 wins each, there’s a powerful motivation to win considering each is likely sitting on the NCAA bubble. Admittedly, though, Northwestern is in the best shape to take advantage of it. Considering the ‘Cats have never gone dancing, and Shurna is in his final go-around, they will be playing a tough brand of basketball in the hopes of guaranteeing a spot in the field this year.
Joe D:As much as I hate to admit it, Robbie Hummell is so fun to watch, he can make a game against huskerball appealing. If anything, to get a good look at our next opponent. The thing that’s scary is players like lewis jackson haven’t even played to their full potential Purdue is my darkhorse to win the tourney, simply because they play like a tourney team all year. Round 1 should be a good gut check and stepping stone to a good tourney run.
WVaBuckeye: Where to start with the final game of day one? How about the winner gets Ohio State and the loser gets a ticket back to Nebraska? Seriously, Nebraska is a died in the wool football school. Sorry for the rhyme but they will never be a basketball school let alone compete in the B1G. Purdont shouldn’t have any trouble advancing to the second round and playing in the final game of day 2. This will be more of a warm up to get ready for the Buckeyes. It should be interesting to note that of all the games me and @3ebgary enjoyed in Indy last year this was not one of them. The Boilerdrinkers have one of the most obnoxious fan bases in the B1G and we had to sit beside several of them.
Eric: Coming into this season, I didn’t expect much from Nebraska. In fact, I expected that they would end up at #11 in conference ahead of only Penn State. Surprise Surprise. That said, the Cornhuskers showed a lot more this season (as did Penn State) than I ever expected them to be able to do. That says a lot about what Head Coach Doc Sadler is doing for Big Red. Unfortunately, I think they get one of the toughest first day matchups against Purdue. Not only is Purdue showing some better basketball at the end of the season, they’re also playing in Indianapolis – which, as many visitors to the Big Ten Tournament will tell you, is functionally a home game for the Boilers. Nebraska will have to play top notch basketball in order to get a shot at the Buckeyes in the second round, and I simply don’t see it in them this season.