March is approaching real fast and that means it’s time to turn our attention to college basketball. The first conference tournament of the season will occur in the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” as all 14 Big Ten teams will square off for the Big Ten title and an automatic-bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten Conference Tournament has given us some twists and turns in the past, most recently the surprise championship run from 8 seed Michigan last year. With only four Big Ten teams locked into the NCAA Tournament; Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Ohio State; this year’s Big Ten Tournament is all the more important for bubble teams, as well as those teams who fell dramatically short of expectations and are looking towards a late season push.
Nebraska and Penn State are two teams that are in need of some signature wins in the coming days if they want any chance of dancing in March. Both teams will have their opportunities this week and their seasons could ride on one game come Saturday night.
A couple of other teams that expected to be in much better position at this point when the season started have their final chance to make amends. Northwestern, Maryland and Indiana are ready to put their mediocre seasons behind them and make an improbable run to the NCAA Tournament (which would require a tournament win).
Lastly, a lot is at stake for the four teams who have already clinched their tournament berths. Teams with a strong conference tournament could see their NCAA Tournament seed rise by two or even three positions with a deep run. The same goes for a team that greatly underperforms as a highly projected team could see their seed fall with an early conference tournament exit.
With a lot at stake for teams up and down the Big Ten, we take a look at some of the key matchups that we could potentially see in New York:
2 Ohio State vs 7 Penn State (Quarterfinals)
The implications of this game for Penn State are pretty simple. Win, you live another day, lose, PSU packs its bags for the NIT. For Ohio State, this game is lot more interesting. In what is a simple 2 vs 7 matchup on the surface, OSU won’t be looking at it that way. Penn State handed Ohio State two of its three losses this year in the Big Ten, including a 23-point blow out in State College, and sure won’t go down without a fight in a do-or-die game like this. For Ohio State, an early Big Ten Tournament exit could see themselves fall to a 5 or 6 seed as they would miss out on the marquee wins other teams around them could pick up in their conference tournaments.
4 Nebraska vs 5 Michigan (Quarterfinal)
This could be a sneaky good game in the early days of the Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska blew out Michigan 72-52 in early January during a home game in Lincoln. However, Michigan is a much improved team since then, closing out the season with 5 straight wins over some formidable opponents. With a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, especially a spot in the semi-final, Michigan could end up with the 5 or even the 4 seed in the Big Dance that I think they deserve. Nebraska on the other hand, is surprisingly still on the bubble even with 13 Big Ten wins. A second win over Michigan should be enough to get Nebraska into the tournament and the respect they deserve.
2 Ohio State vs 3 Purdue (Semi-Final)
Oh man what would a win in this game mean for these two teams. Purdue and Ohio State find themselves somewhere between a 2 and 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The winner of this game could easily clinch themselves at the very least a 2 seed come late March. The other will have one, if not two key wins left off their resume for the committee to look at when they are seeding. A lot rides on this game not only in the Big Ten hunt, but also for these teams in their ultimate goal, a NCAA championship.
1 Michigan State vs 5 Michigan (Semi-Final)
Michigan was able to hand Michigan State one of their only two conferences losses this season, and I don’t put it past this team to do it again. The reality, this may be the toughest test for Michigan State in their quest for a Big Ten Tournament title after already winning the conference in the regular season. A win in this game would certainly help both teams in terms of resume. Michigan State would be able to overcome one of their only three losses this seasons and Michigan would get a second win over a potential 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
1 Michigan State vs 3 Purdue (Final)
The obvious prize here would be a Big Ten Championship. However, it is also very possible that the winner of this game earns themselves a 1 seed in the Big Dance. For Michigan State, it is a virtual guarantee that winning the conference tournament would earn them a 1 seed. For Purdue, if other pieces in other conferences fall right, they could just as easily find themselves a 1 seed with a couple more quality wins and a conference championship under their belt. This could be the most compelling matchup that could occur this tournament and I would expect one hell of a final if it were to come to fruition.