The bracket for the 2011 Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis is set, and play will begin on Thursday when Northwestern and Minnesota square off at Conseco Fieldhouse for the right to take on top seed Ohio State. How do we at SB Nation Pittsburgh see things shaking out? Read on.
No. 9 Minnesota vs. No. 8 Northwestern-The Golden Gophers won the first matchup of these two teams 81-70 back on Jan. 26, but the Wildcats' 68-57 victory on March 2 is probably a more accurate barometer of what we can expect in the tournament's opening game. Minnesota has been listless in losing nine of its last 10, and without guards Devoe Joseph, who is transferring to Oregon, and Al Nolen, who is out with an injury, it's hard to see the Gophers making much of a charge. If Northwestern comes to play, it should move on to face Ohio State.
No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 7 Michigan State-The Spartans and Hawkeyes traded blowout this season with Iowa winning 72-52 at Carver-Hawkeye back on Feb. 2 and Michigan State dominating the March 2 bout 85-66. Obviously, that makes it a little harder to grasp just who will have the advantage on a neutral court, but given Sparty's superior record and the fact that Tom Izzo's squad absolutely must have this game to stay alive for the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State is probably the safe pick here.
No. 11 Indiana vs. No. 6 Penn State-The Nittany Lions took the only matchup of the season between these two teams 69-60 on Dec. 27 in Bloomington. Like Michigan State, Penn State is playing for its NCAA Tournament life in this game and had a much better conference season than the cellar dwelling Hoosiers. With all that's riding on the game, it's hard to pick against Talor Battle and Co.
No. 8 Northwestern vs. No. 1 Ohio State-The top-seeded Buckeyes escaped Evanston with a 58-57 win in the only installment of this matchup so far in 2011. The Wildcats led late, but Ohio State did just enough to keep its then-perfect record intact. Northwestern is very much on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament at-large pool, but a win over the Buckeyes on a neutral floor might put Bill Carmody's squad back in the discussion. Ohio State is still playing for a No. 1 seed, though, and let's face it, is a much more talented team. Look for the Buckeyes to head to the semifinals.
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Purdue-This is quite a matchup for the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, but thanks to the Spartans' mediocre conference season, it's the one we're going to get. Purdue swept the season series, winning 86-76 in West Lafayette on Jan. 22 and 67-47 in East Lansing on Feb. 27. Depending upon how things shake out nationally, Michigan State may need this game to remain on the bubble, but given the Boilermakers' dominance in the regular season, it's hard to see that matter. We're going with Purdue in this one.
No. 5 Illinois vs. No. 4 Michigan-With Purdue's loss at Iowa on Saturday, Michigan might be the hottest team in the conference entering the tournament, though the Wolverines still likely need this team to assure their safety in the field of 68. Illinois won the only matchup of the teams 54-52 on Feb. 16 behind 18 points from Demetri McCamey and 12 from Mike Tisdale. Look for the Fighting Illini's veteran leadership to take charge again and push Illinois through to the semis.
No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 3 Wisconsin-Wisconsin dominated Penn State in a 76-66 home win on Feb. 20 but the Lions foiled the Badgers 56-52 in the first game in University Park on Jan. 29. Penn State will likely come out desperate in this game as it might well be the one that determines its post-season fate, and having cleared the mental hurdle that has been Wisconsin's dominance in recent years, it's hard to see Wisconsin being able to match the intensity of the Lions. The Badgers are the better team, but Penn State should be the more hungry one. Expect Penn State to get the win it needs here in an upset.
No. 5 Illinois vs. no. 1 Ohio State-The Buckeyes swept the Illini this season, and with relative ease. In the two games, Ohio State's star freshman Jared Sullinger racked up 39 points and 27 rebounds. Unless Bruce Weber suddenly found a secret weapon for guarding Thad Matta's man-child, then the Buckeyes will probably roll again and earn a berth in the title bout.
No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 2 Purdue-The Boilermakers swept the Lions this season, but the latter of the two wins wasn't easy. It took a late JaJuan Johnson jumper to push Purdue past Penn State in West Lafayette on Jan. 19, so clearly, this won't be a complete mismatch. The Lions will be playing their third game in three days, however, and expecting them to have the gas to matchup with studs like Johnson and E'Twaun Moore might be too much. Expect Purdue to advance.
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 1 Ohio State-The Buckeyes have been nearly unstoppable this season. The one vulnerability they've shown has been getting road wins against the conference's elite teams, and never was that more exposed than Mackey Arena on Feb. 20 when the Boilermakers squashed Ohio State 76-63. E'Twaun Moore had a classic performance for the Boilers that day, tallying 38 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing five assists. With what should be a very partisan Indianapolis crowd behind them and with a No. 1 seed possibly on the line, Purdue should realize its full potential in this game and take home the tournament crown.