Favorites Reign Supreme At Big Ten Tourney

Using this weekend’s Big Ten men’s basketball tournament as warm-up to next weekend’s NCAA tournament is a bit like using a listen to Bruce Willis’s The Return of Bruno CD as a warm-up before heading out to a Bruce Springsteen concert. There’s simply no comparison between the warm-up and the main event.

The bad news is that upsets in the Big Ten tournament are rarer than funny episodes of According to Jim: In the ten years that the Big Ten has held its tournament, only twice has a team seeded lower than second won: Michigan won the first tournament in 1998 as a four seed, and in 2001 Iowa won as a sixth seed.

The good news of course is this lack of surprise is good for Wisconsin, which enters the tournament as the undisputed number one seed. Unless you consider that the last time the Badgers entered the Big Ten tournament as a number one seed (in 2003), they lost in the quarterfinals to eighth-seeded Ohio State. But I don’t see that happening this year.

The most interesting storyline going in to Thursday’s first-round games is the fate of last year’s Big Ten champ Ohio State. While the Buckeyes likely played their way into the field of 64 thanks to last week’s wins over Purdue and Michigan State, another victory certainly wouldn’t hurt the tournament resume of a team that a week ago was squarely on the bubble. Unfortunately for Ohio State, they have to play Michigan State on Friday, and I don’t see Tom Izzo’s team losing two games within the same week to the Buckeyes.

For the four Big Ten teams who are unquestionably in the NCAA tournament: Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, and Michigan State, I don’t see too much that would drastically alter their tournament seedings. Wisconsin shouldn’t drop to lower than a three seed even if they lose on Friday, and can’t climb higher than a second seed even if they win the Big Ten tournament. Likewise, I see Purdue as a 4-5 seed and Indiana and Michigan State as a 5-6 seed regardless what happens this weekend.

If I had to pick a dark horse (a team outside of the top five), I’d have to go with sixth-seeded Minnesota, which should win easy on Thursday over Northwestern and then would get Indiana, which has slowed its pace a bit following the resignation of Kelvin Sampson. Then they would need some sort of Twin Cities miracle to get any further. But in a sports market that has had little going for it lately (Tavaris Jackson stays while Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and Kevin Garnett leave), maybe they’re due for a break. But I doubt it.

So, here’s the game-by-game breakdown:

Thursday:
(8) Iowa beats (9) Michigan. The Wolverines have the worst defense in the conference.
(10) Illinois beats (7) Penn State. Bruce Weber will have his guys ready for at least one game.
(6) Minnesota beats (11) Northwestern. I think even the Milwaukee Bucks could beat Northwestern.

Friday:
(1) Wisconsin beats (8) Iowa. No quarterfinal loss this year for the class of the conference.
(4) Michigan State beats (5) Ohio State. Leave work early for this one (1:30 PM), which could be the best game of the tournament.
(2) Purdue beats (10) Illinois. Matt Painter and Robbie Hummel take the fight out of the Illini.
(3) Indiana beats (6) Minnesota. Could go the other way. But I doubt it.

Saturday:
(1) Wisconsin beats (4) Michigan State. Badgers held Michigan State to 42 points late last month. Was Dick Bennett giving Tom Izzo pointers on running an offense?
(2) Purdue beats (3) Indiana. E’Twaun Moore and Chris Kramer are pretty good too.

Sunday:
(1) Wisconsin beats (2) Purdue. Badgers aren’t going down for a third time this year against the Boilermakers. If they do, then Matt Painter REALLY deserved that Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

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