It’s hard to believe that such a competitive season has culminated to this. One tournament, the week before the big dance. For the first time in it’s history, the B1G Tourney has sold out before play even starts. We have seen some great opening round games the last few years, that have set up teams to a championship game run. Today, we don’t expect much different. We have a slate full of competitive games with huge implications on the line. Here is a look at today’s opening round games with a short preview of what to expect on the hardwood in Chicago in the opening round.
#8 Illinois vs. #9 Minnesota
This will be a hard game to figure out; both teams come in with similar records and both play schizophrenic (due respect to those diagnosed) basketball. Illinois comes into this game losers of 3 of their last 4 games. Further, they have failed to cover the spread in their last five games, meaning they won by fewer than expected and lost by more than expected. Not exactly the performance of a team peaking for post-season. These teams split the season series, so this game is the tie breaker with the opportunity to play #1 seed Indiana in next round.
Illinois is led in the backcourt by Brandon Paul (G, 6’4”, 15.7 ppg, 2.8 apg) and in the frontcourt by Nnanna Egwu (F/C, 6’11”, 6.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg). Minnesota is led in the backcourt by Andre Hollins (G, 6’1”, , 3.5 apg) and in the frontcourt by Trevor Mbakwe (F, 6’8”, 10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Both teams shoot about the same, but Minnesota is a far superior rebounding team (Off Reb % of 44.3), although they are far more prone to turn the ball over (21% of possessions). Best bet for a good game is for Paul to light it up from long range paint while Mbakwe has his way in the paint. Minnesota is favored by 2, sounds about right.
Tip-off is at 12 Noon EST on BTN.
#5 Michigan vs. #12 Penn State
This game is intriguing to me, on paper there shouldn’t be too much to this game. Those who speculate on this sort of activity, favor the Wolverines by 14.5 point to emerge the winner. PSU enters this game somewhat on a tear, relatively speaking, winning 2 of their last 4 games, actually playing some very competitive games during the previous month. One of those wins was at home against Michigan. Who’da thunk it?
Michigan is led in the backcourt by Trey Burke (G, 6’0”, 19.2 ppg, 6.8 apg) and in the frontcourt by Jordan Morgan (F, 6’8”, 5.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Although Morgan’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, his experience and on-court awareness are the glue that holds together whatever defense they play. Meanwhile, Penn State is led in the backcourt by AJ Newbill (G, 6’4”, 16.1 ppg, 4.9 apg) and in the frontcourt by Sasa Borovjnak (F, 6’9″, 7.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Penn State has a chance to win this game if Pat Chambers gets them to play focused, high energy ball for 40 minutes. And if PSU can slow the game down to a Wisconsin-like pace. I think that the Wolverines come out ready to play to atone for the previous loss to PSU and the oh-so-close loss to Indiana.
Tip-off is at 2:30 PM (approx) on BTN.
#7 Purdue vs. #10 Nebraska
The winner of this game gets to play Ohio State, so that’s no bargain. I see this as a match-up with one team being experienced, but not overly talented with a 1st year coach and not much to play for (Nebraska). On the other side is a young team, with an established coach with a possibility of postseason play (Purdue).
Purdue is led in the backcourt by Terone Johnson (G, 6’2”, 13.4 ppg, 2.8 apg) and in the frontcourt by AJ Hammons (C, 7’0”, 10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Senior DJ Byrd (G/F, 6’5″, 10.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is the wild card. If he shoots well, he’s another outside threat that opens up interior for Hammons. If not, he’s a liability. Nebraska is led in the backcourt by Dylan Talley (G, 6’5”, 14.2 ppg, 2.5 apg) and in the frontcourt by Brandon Ubel (F, 6’10”, 11.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Huskers’ wild card is Ray Gallegos (G, 6’2″, 12.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg). His profile is similar to DJ Byrd’s; if he’s hitting 3′s, he can win the game, if not, it’s a lot of empty possessions. Purdue is favored by 5.5 points, but I think Purdue wins by more.
Tip-off is at 6:30 PM EST on ESPN2
#6 Iowa vs. #11 Northwestern
Iowa enters this game playing some pretty good ball; 6-2 in last month of play. They are sitting at 20 wins and .500 in conference play. The more wins they can get in the BTT, the better their chances for snagging an at-large for the NCAA’s. In contrast, during the same period, Northwestern is o-fer (0-8 if you’re counting). Clearly, two teams heading in opposite directions. I’ll spare you the detail, but frankly, there isn’t much of anything that Northwestern does remotely well, except run a back-cut offense.
Iowa is led in the backcourt by Roy Devyn Marble (G/F, 6’6”, 14.1 ppg, 2.8 apg) and in the frontcourt by Aaron White (F, 6’8”, 13.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Freshman Matt Gesell (G, 6’1″, 8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) is the wild card. If he returns from injury, he’s the trigger man, which frees up RDM to move to shooting guard. Northwestern is led in the backcourt by Dave Sobolewski (G, 6’1”, 9.9 ppg, 3.9 apg) and in the frontcourt by Alex Olah (C, 7’0”, 5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg). Iowa is favored by 9.5 points, but I think Iowa covers, and then some.
Tip-off is at 9:00 PM EST (approx) on ESPN2