By: Emil Lippe
Last year, the nation saw Frank the Tank and his Wisconsin Badgers run away with the Big Ten Championship after a dramatic 80-69 win over the Michigan State Spartans in overtime. The Badgers went on to make it to the national championship by the way, falling just short to the Duke Blue Devils.
This season there is a different force in the Big Ten, the Indiana Hoosiers, who will hold the No. 1 spot in the tournament. The Hoosiers finished their season strong, going 25-6 overall and 15-3 in conference play.
Coming in at the No. 2 spot will be the Michigan State Spartans, followed by the Maryland Terrapins at the No. 3 spot, and the Purdue Boilermakers round out at No. 4. All teams clinched quarterfinal bids in the Big Ten Tournament due to their top four finishes.
The first round of the tournament will take place on Wednesday and begin with two games, the first between the No. 12 Illinois and No. 13 Minnesota, and the second between No. 11 Nebraska and No. 14 Rutgers.
In their regular season matchups, the Illini took care of business against the Gophers and the same is probably going to happen to tip off the tournament. The defining factor between these two teams really comes down to the ability to score, something that the Illini have done very well against the Gophers throughout the season. In both games, the Illini scored 76 points and 84 points, high numbers that even surpass their seasonal average of 72.3 points per game that far surpass Minnesota’s 68.6 points per game. Kendrick Nunn, who scored 25 points in the Illini’s last win against Minnesota will lead the charge against the Gophers along with Malcolm Hill who scored 28 and 22 points against the Gophers, respectively.
As for Rutgers taking Nebraska, the Cornhuskers might have an easy matchup that will send them to the next round. In both games during the regular season, the Huskers dismantled the Scarlet Knights by scores of 90-56 and 87-63. Rutgers is second worst in the Big Ten when it comes to scoring, barely reaching 67.5 points per game. Their junior guard, Andrew White, who has been averaging 16.5 PPG, on the other hand, leads the Huskers. Corey Sanders, the freshman guard for the Scarlet Knights who averages 16.2 PPG might be the only chance for Rutgers to keep this one close.
In Round 2 of the Big Ten tournament there will be some very intriguing matchups. The first on the list is No. 9 Northwestern taking on the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan won the only regular season matchup between the two by a final of 72-63. The main difference in this game could come down the three point shooting. Both teams don’t have a lot of trouble scoring the ball, but Michigan comes in as the third best three point shooting team in the Big Ten, at 39% shooting from beyond the arc compared to the Wildcats 35.6% shooting ability from three. Michigan only attempted 15 three pointers in their last matchup against the Wildcats, making only four of them. If Northwestern can pick up their efficiency from beyond the arc and limit Michigan’s chances from long range, they can very well upset the Wolverines.
The second game will be the Illini taking on the Iowa Hawkeyes, in which I expect Iowa to dominate the Illini. While they only had one regular season matchup, the Hawkeyes handled the Illini 77-65 and shot 40 percent from three-point land. The only difference in this second round game is the Hawkeyes dominating. They rank third in the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding, as well as fourth in three point shooting. The Hawkeyes are going to shoot their way past the Illini to get the quarterfinals to face off against Purdue.
The next matchup between No. 10 Penn State and No. 7 Ohio State is one of the less intriguing games of the second round slate. The Buckeyes throttled the Nittany Lions by a final of 66-46. Neither team scores a lot of points but this matchup will be defined by how much Keita Bates-Diop can take advantage of the Nittany Lion defense. He scored 22 points in their first matchup and can definitely put on a similar performance in the tournament. Ohio State will dominate.
Finally rounding out the second round is the matchup between the defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers going up against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Badgers have no reason not to defend their title again in the tournament and the Cornhuskers are not going to get in their way. It will be a close game for the most part but the Badgers will pull away to face off against the Terrapins.
Moving onto the quarterfinals, things get interesting but will pan out in favor of the higher seeded teams. To start things off, the Maryland Terrapins are going to knock off the defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers. Yes, the Badgers will put up a fight, but the Terps are too talented with Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone. Terps move onto the semis.
Michigan State will face off against Ohio State in a classic Big Ten rivalry game in the quarterfinals. The Spartans will win this game. Tom Izzo knows how to win these kinds of games late in the season going into the tournament. The Spartans rank second in scoring and first in three-point field goal percentage at 43.9%, rebounds at 42.1 rebounds per game, and assists at 21 assists per game. The Spartans will roll on to the semis.
Purdue will face off against Iowa in the quarterfinals and the Boilermakers very well might make it past the Hawkeyes. The Boilermakers have the ability to make it past the Hawkeyes with the help of A.J. Hammons and Vince Edwards.
Then there’s the beating that the Northwestern Wildcats are going to take from the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers have been incredible in almost every category and threw down the hammer on the Wildcats earlier this season by a final of 89-57. Indiana will move on to face
Purdue in the semis.
Purdue will take another loss to the Hoosiers in the semis. Indiana simply has too much firepower from beyond the arc from Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. will carry the Hoosiers to the finals.
In the epic showdown between the Maryland Terrapins and the Michigan State Spartans, the Terrapins will come out on top with an upset. There has to be one major upset that goes down this season and this may well be it. Melo Trimble and his squad will face off against the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament championship.
In the final however, the Hoosiers will take the conference crown and march into the NCAA tournament as champions and oust the Terrapins. The Hoosiers won in their regular season matchup and this game might go the same way if the Hoosiers shoot 51 percent from the field as they did in their 80-62 win over Maryland.