March Madness looms...
Finally, the best sports time of year is upon us. No more beating the heck out of teams that know each other better than they know themselves (I truly believe that is what stands in MSU's way each year - the understanding of tendencies). No more playing in or playing out, well, except for the rare case of a huge run by an unexpected team in the Big Ten Tournament. And just a few more days of listening to the know-nothing media regaling us with how bad the Big Ten is. Note, that's the same horrible, awful, atrocious, vomit-inducing "bad" Big Ten that has sent nine teams to the Final Four over the past ten seasons.
First thing's first, however. Big Ten Tournament time. Time to predict what'll happen and what it will mean come Selection Sunday:
(9) Michigan vs. (8) Iowa: Truly a toss up. Michigan had been playing better of late until Purdue finished strong in the finale. Iowa plays smothering defense but can go scoreless for long periods of time. Winner gets Wisconsin. Todd Lickliter comes home and Iowa has familiar Big Ten Tourney result. Iowa 63 - Michigan 60
(10) Illinois vs. (7) Penn State: Penn State took out Illinois twice this year and is riding high after the upset win over Indiana. The Nittany Lions can ensure at least a .500 season with a win and keep NIT hopes alive. Illinois has been an 11 that's made it to the finale before, might they do that as a 10 this year? Not likely, but the Illini play great defense and PSU is without its top two players. Illinois 58 - Penn State 55.
(11) Northwestern vs. (6) Minnesota: Northwestern is truly better than their 1-17 record indicates. Minnesota overachieved this year and still has a very, very long shot to make the Dance. The Gophers get a win and set up a battle with the Hoosiers. Minnesota 68 - Northwestern 57.
8/9 Winner vs. (1) Wisconsin: Iowa has a history in this tournament but now the Badgers are playing for the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Wisconsin 64 - Iowa 52.
(5) Ohio State vs. (4) Michigan State: The Spartans more or less dominated the Buckeyes for 30 minutes on Sunday but in the end fell victim to a nemesis that had seemed to be put to death - unforced and untimely turnovers that lead to opponent baskets. The Spartans are likely locked into a 5 or 6 but if they win this thing, might sneak as high as a 3 and get assigned to the Midwest. That and the opportunity for the Drew's to get some sort of Big Ten title drive the team to a win. Michigan State 64 - Ohio State 58.
7/10 Winner vs. (2) Purdue: Illinois and Purdue renew an underrated rivalry. The Illini need to win this thing to make any postseason tournament. Purdue is playing for seeding... with a two still not impossible if a long shot. Purdue edges Illinois to live until Saturday. Purdue 67 - Illinois 63.
6/11 Winner vs. (3) Indiana: Minnesota gave the Hoosiers fits at The Barn and played them semi-tough on the road. Beating teams three times is tough, but a win here sets up a great rematch with the Boilermakers. IU makes it the first time all four top seeds make the semis. Indiana 74 - Minnesota 58.
(4) Michigan State vs. (1) Wisconsin: I so want to pick my Alma mater in this one. The Badgers have so often stood in the Spartans' way in this tournament over the past few years. On one hand, I think this is a chance for revenge and for State to serve notice that this is its time of year. On the other, Wisconsin is hot for a number one seed. I'll go with my head and not my heart... Wisconsin 59 - Michigan State 57.
(3) Indiana vs. (2) Purdue: Speaking of revenge... Purdue is seeking some. IU is the only team the Boilers did not beat this season and last week's loss at OSU cost the old gold and black a share of the league crown. They want one more shot. Purdue 68 - Indiana 65.
(2) Purdue vs. (1) Wisconsin: The tables are turned with this one. The only team to hand UW a loss in conference play? Purdue - twice. The crowd will be with the home state Boilermakers but Wisconsin is on a mission. No. 1 seed, here they come... Wisconsin 65 - Purdue 60.
OSU will stay on the bubble with a quarterfinal loss but sneak in and be a tough 11 seed.
Michigan State can move a lot with a tournament title but won't lose much ground with their resume if an early exit rears its ugly head. Give 'em a 5, the same position from which they went to their last Final Four....
Indiana is the enigma. Talented enough to go deep, mental enough to go one and done. I think the Hoosiers can swing as high as a 3 and as low as a 6. Give them a 5.
Purdue is pretty well locked in at this point. Win the thing and a 2 is not out of the question. Lose early and maybe they fall to a 6. I'll say with the finals loss I've predicted that they get a 4.
Wisconsin has a lot to gain. Win the postseason title with the regular season solo championship and say hello to a No. 1 in the Midwest.