Big Ten Tourney Preview...
I am one of the fans out there who enjoys these conference tournaments, but would rather see everyone in the league play a full round robin. Yeah, easy for me to say, the State grad that I am, because the Spartans missed playing Minnesota and Northwestern on the road and never got Penn State or Purdue at home. Folks, I am willing to be the Spartans would have been 12-8 in a full round robin and a shot at those four teams.
But I digress. What we have is a tourney that has been entertaining in most years. Remember when 11-seed Illinois made it through three games and played No. 1 Michigan State for one of those Cinderella Story type moments? Iowa has won the thing as a 6-seed. There will be more fireworks this year. Be sure to get your picks in via the comments board as they count in the Get Gamm standings.
Game 1: Minnesota (9) vs. Michigan (8). This is not a gimme for the maize and blue. Minnesota gave the Wolverines fits in both meetings late in the season and Michigan is right where they were last year. Coming off what might be a crushing defeat in terms of NCAA hopes. Amaker and Co. need at least two wins in Chicago to get on the bubble and receive some strong consideration from the folks in Indy. Can they handle the pressure? For this one they can. Michigan 72 – Minnesota 65.
Game 2: Northwestern (10) vs. Michigan State (7). Last year was MSU’s first time playing on day one. The Spartans made the semis and were a few better breaks from getting to Sunday. I sense a similar scenario for State this year. Carmody’s teams are tough to prepare for, but give me a choice of any coach in America to do so in a relatively short time frame and I pick Izzo every time. NU will keep it close, but State gets a rematch with the Badgers. Michigan State 63 – Northwestern 53.
Game 3: Penn State (11) vs. Illinois (6). As a Spartan, I am so glad not to play Penn State in this thing. I’ve said it all year, I can’t quite grasp why the Nits have struggled so much with the talent they have. Illinois is playing close to home but has been undermanned all season long. The Illini are probably in the Dance at this point, but what happens if they lose? Penn State throws caution to the wind, but comes up just short. Illinois 73 – Penn State 72 in overtime.
Game 4: Michigan (8) vs. Ohio State (1). Michigan needs this one to get a sniff at an invitation to the big show. Ohio State wants to avoid an early loss because they have their sites set on the number one overall seed. OSU appeared to be on cruise control last Saturday, yet stayed calm, cool and collected and got the “W.” No cruise control this week. OSU 74 – Michigan 65.
Game 5: Purdue (5) vs. Iowa (4). The winner of this game is going to give Ohio State a true run for its money. Steve Alford is a pro at getting his team to buy into the meaning of this tournament. He needs to because after all, his team’s usually need to win it all to go dancing. Purdue is my sleeper pick to run through this thing and win it all. It’ll be a classic, but Purdue gets a NCAA Tournament bid sealing victory. Purdue 67 – Iowa 64.
Game 6: Michigan State (7) vs. Wisconsin (2). I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I don’t think any other team in the Big Ten matches up with Wisconsin as well as Michigan State. To add to the intrigue, the Spartans were a tough shot away from winning at Wisconsin last weekend and the Badgers are still without Brian Butch. Look for State to pack the paint again and take their chances with the three ball. Kammron Taylor is the key. Did that money shot snap him out of his slump? First surprise of the tourney, the Spartans get the rubber match. Michigan State 58 – Wisconsin 55.
Game 7: Illinois (6) vs. Indiana (3). This could bud into quite the semi-non traditional rivalry in the Big Ten. Sure you had the days of Bobby against Lou the do and there is no secret about how Coach Knight felt about Henson. But this one might be more personal. Indiana got a key recruit who had previously committed to Weber and the Illini. The teams had two brutal battles already and this one will be no different. Illinois has a chip on its shoulder and has a home court type edge. Upset number two. Illinois 64 – Indiana 61.
Game 8: Purdue (5) vs. Ohio State (1). I’m feeling rather John Kerry on this one, i.e. flipping and flopping back and forth. On one hand, Purdue has a ton to play for as it may indeed need this win to feel 100-percent secure about an NCAA bid. On the other hand, Ohio State wants to go into the Big Dance on its current roll and nab the number one overall seed. Carl Landry and David Teague offer a nice counter-punch to Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. Have to go to the coin toss on this one. Heads it’s OSU, tails it’s Purdue… Heads. Ohio State 73 - Purdue 72.
Game 9: Michigan State (7) vs. Illinois (6). Two day one squads trying to fight fatigue to battle Ohio State for the Big Ten Tournament title. Illinois has less depth than the Spartans and that will be a big factor in this game. The two played a couple of tough-as-nails battles and split during the regular season. There is a rivalry here but not a bitter rivalry. It’s not really like any around college basketball – where there is a lot more mutual love and respect to go with heated competition than bitter bickering and blood sport. The two are not Big Ten tournament strangers either, which makes this a good one to tune in to. Michigan State 56 – Illinois 52.
Game 10: Michigan State (7) vs. Ohio State (1). This is where the Spartans run out of gas. But don’t expect them to roll over and play dead. MSU played OSU very tough in two games in the regular season and will want to get the win it came close to getting back on January 27 in Columbus. The trouble is, four games in four days for a team that plays its top two guards 38-plus minutes a game is going to be the killer. The Spartans keep it close early, but wane with fatigue late. Ohio State 65 – Michigan State 56.
March Madness – where they’re going and why: I think the Big Ten has four current locks and four teams vying for two more spots. The Big Ten Tourney is all about jockeying for seeds for the four locks and securing a berth for the four “bubble” teams.
My locks? Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State.
Ohio State can play into the number one overall seed in the tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament and only falls off the number one line with a horrid one and done showing in Chicago AND a Wisconsin run to the title.
Wisconsin can still play itself to a number one seed, but the injury to Brian Butch will weigh heavily on the minds of the selection committee. Win the tourney and get a one. Otherwise a two-seed is 90-percent guaranteed. The 10-percent part is if they lose (as I predict) in the quarterfinals and other teams on their level rise up in their postseason tournaments.
Indiana is a lock playing for seeding. Right now, lose in the quarters and the Hoosiers are an 8 or 9. Win one game and they move up to a 7. Win two or more and a 6 is on the horizon.
Michigan State is predicted by many to fall in the 8-10 range. Based on SOS and RPI I think they have a chance to move up a bit. Go one and done, and State may slide to an 11. Win one and they stay in the 8-10 range. Get that second win over Wisconsin and then one or two more and a 6, even a 5 are in range.
That leaves us with four fighting for two. Illinois and Purdue are the hands on favorites to get the last two spots. But, if Michigan gets hot or Iowa spoils the party – as they are often apt to do – it could get hairy. A one and done by Illinois would be more damaging than a Purdue loss in the quarters and trust me, Penn State won’t be a picnic. But I do expect Illinois to get a couple of “Ws” and land in the 7-10 range. I also expect Purdue to get a win and get an 8-10 seed. Iowa needs to win the whole thing to get in. Michigan needs to win at least two. Hey, college basketball needs NIT teams too…
Gamm’s All Big Ten: Tough to argue with the All Big Ten team that the Coaches and Media selected on Tuesday. For my money, the five best players and thus my All Big Ten team is as follows:
Drew Neitzel – Michigan State
Mike Conley – Ohio State
Adam Haluska - Iowa
Alando Tucker – Wisconsin
Carl Landry – Purdue
I get the hype about Oden, but then again, I don’t get it. Take him off that team and OSU still wins the Big Ten title. Take Conley away and they are a contender but not the champ.
Gamm’s Big Ten Awards:
Most Valuable Player – Drew Neitzel – Michigan State. In my mind, the best player in the conference is the one who makes his team go. Take that player away and the team is completely different. Tucker is great. Oden is good. Conley is great. But no one mattered more to his team than Drew Neitzel.
Freshman of the Year – Mike Conley Jr. – Ohio State. All the focus was on Oden but his teammate for years - Conley - was the best youngster in the Big Ten – hands down.
Defensive Player of the Year – Travis Walton – Michigan State & Greg Oden – Ohio State. Walton guarded guards and forwards with equal success all season. He was the catalyst of the best Spartan defense in 50 years. Oden simply changed the game in the paint. The fear of him swatting shots changed many a team’s game plans this season.
Coach of the Year – Matt Painter – Purdue. Matta did what most expected him to. How many (aside from me) thought Purdue would be an NCAA worthy team? Enough said.
Coming later this week, a look back at my preseason previews and how they compared with reality…