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Big Ten Tournament First Round Preview

On Thursday, the Big Ten Tournament will open in Indianapolis, Indiana. Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all have first round byes and will not play until Friday. The bottom eight teams in the Big Ten will meet on Thursday, starting at 11:30 AM EST. While most of the Big Ten teams know where they will be headed after Sunday, a few are looking to still make their case for post-season play.

To see the Big Ten bracket, or other conference brackets, click here.

I’ll break down each game of the Big Ten Tournament, leaving Michigan’s games to the experts. Today, I’ll cover the opening round games.

#8 Iowa (16-15) (8-10) vs. #9 Illinois (17-14) (6-12)

Game Time: 11:30 AM EST.

TV: Big Ten Network and ESPN3.

Season Series: Illinois won (February 26th – 65-54 in Champaign-Urbana).

Last Ten Meetings: 9-1 Illinois.

Winner Plays: Michigan State (12:00 PM EST on Friday).

Notes: Illinois began a swoon on January 19th, losing at Penn State. Including the Penn State game, the Illini went 2-11 down the stretch. 4-star guards Brandon Paul (15.0 PPG and 34.2 Three Point Shooting Percentage) and D.J. Richardson (11.6 PPG and 34.9 Three Point Shooting Percentage) lead the Illini, as well as 4-star center Meyers Leonard (13.4 PPG and 8.3 RPG). Iowa has been impressive as of late, winning five of their last nine, with wins over Indiana and Wisconsin during that stretch. The Hawkeyes have also defeated Wisconsin and Michigan earlier in the season. 3-star guards Roy Marble Jr. (11.1 PPG and 3.6 APG) and Matt Gatens (15.7 PPG and 42.9 Three Point Shooting Percentage) have led Iowa, as well as 3-star forward Aaron White (10.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG).

My Take: These teams are trending in opposite directions. Iowa is in the top half in recruiting for their 2012 class, while Illinois is easily in the bottom third. The uncertainty as to Bruce Weber’s future makes things tough for Illinois. Illinois has more talent than the Hawkeyes, but Iowa is playing better as a team.

The Pick: Iowa +2.5.

#5 Indiana (24-7) (11-7) vs. #12 Penn State (12-19) (4-14)

Game Time: 2:30 PM EST (approx).

TV: Big Ten Network and ESPN3.

Season Series: Indiana won (January 8th – 88-82 in State College and January 22nd – 73-54 in Bloomington).

Last Ten Meetings: 6-4 Penn State.

Winner Plays: Wisconsin (2:30 PM EST [approx] on Friday).

Notes: Indiana has been the hottest team in the Big Ten, winning 9 of their 12 games since their January 22nd win over the Nittany Lions. Indiana has great wins over Kentucky, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue (twice), Northwestern, and Michigan State, but they do have questionable losses to Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa. 5-star forward Cody Zeller (15.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 63.5 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) and 4-star forward Christian Watford (11.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 42.3 Three Point Shooting Percentage) led the Hoosiers this season. As good as Indiana has been, Penn State has been equally as bad. The Nittany Lions have lost 9 of their last 11, finishing tied with Nebraska for 11th. Penn State’s lone bright spots have been 3-star guard Tim Frazier (18.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 42.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) and 2-star guard Jermaine Marshall (10.9 PPG and 4.1 RPG). This Penn State team barely resembles last year’s team, which made the Big Ten Championship and the NCAA Tournament before falling to 7-seed Temple on opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

My Take: Penn State’s program is rebuilding, under Coach Patrick Chambers. Coach Chambers led the Boston University Terriers to the NCAA Tournament last season, taking over as head coach in Happy Valley in late spring. Indiana is firing on all cylinders right now, but there are concerns about Indiana’s away from home (6-6 away from home, average margin of victory of 2; 18-1 at home, average margin of victory of 19). Still, only 50 miles separate Bloomington and Indianapolis. Maybe playing away from home will be an issue in the quarterfinals, but not in this one.

The Pick: Indiana -11.5.

#7 Northwestern (18-12) (8-10) vs. #10 Minnesota (18-13) (6-12)

Game Time: 5:30 PM EST.

TV: Big Ten Network and ESPN3.

Season Series: Split (January 22nd – 75-52 victory for Minnesota in Minneapolis; and February 18th – 64-53 victory for Northwestern in Evanston).

Last Ten Meetings: 5-5 split.

Winner Plays: Michigan (6:30 PM EST on Friday).

Notes: Northwestern Coach Bill Carmody has said he won’t lobby for the ‘Cats to be included in the NCAA Tournament, but after never making the Big Dance could anyone really fault him if he changes his mind? Northwestern has played well since their narrow home loss to Purdue, winning six of their last ten. Without a doubt, 3-star forward John Shurna (19.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 42.1 Three Point Shooting Percentage) and 3-star guard Drew Crawford (16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 41.9 Three Point Shooting Percentage) lead Northwestern, accounting for nearly 52% of the Wildcats’ scoring production, on average. The Gophers were seemingly in good shape for the NCAA Tournament on January 22nd – Minnesota was 15-5 and 3-4 in Big Ten. Since that time, Minnesota was 3-8. Minnesota is now looking at a bid to the NIT, absent a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota lost 4-star guard Devoe Joseph (transfer to Oregon) and 5-star forward Royce White (transfer to Iowa State) in the past two season. The Gophers have been led by 4-star forward Rodney Williams (10.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 55.6 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) and 3-star guard Julian Welch (10.2 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 43.4 Three Point Shooting Percentage) after 3-star forward Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 60.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) was injured early in the season.

My Take: Northwestern has been victimized by close games this season. The ‘Cats are 10-4 in games decided by single digits (5-0 in non-conference, but 5-4 in conference), including two point losses at Michigan, home to Ohio State, and home to Purdue, and a five point loss at Indiana. Northwestern’s reliance on the three ball should bode well for them, provided the shots can fall, as the Gophers have allowed an average of 8 threes per game, over the last five games, while making an average of 5.8 threes per game over the last five games (allowed an average of 9 threes per game in the two meetings with Northwestern; Minnesota averaged 4 threes against Northwestern this year).

The Pick: Northwestern -2.5.

#6 Purdue (20-11) (10-8) vs. #11 Nebraska (12-17) (4-14)

Game Time: 8:00 PM EST (approx).

TV: Big Ten Network and ESPN3.

Season Series: Purdue won (February 22nd – 83-65 in West Lafayette).

Last Ten Meetings: N/A.

Winner Plays: Ohio State (9:00 PM EST [approx] on Friday).

Notes: Earlier in the season, there were concerns that Purdue might miss the NCAA Tournament. For Boilermaker fans, those fears have ended with their recent play - winning five of their last seven games. Purdue has quality wins over Temple, Miami (FL), Northwestern (twice), and Michigan. 4-star forward Robbie Hummel (16.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 82.8 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), 3-star guard Lewis Jackson (10.5 PPG, 4.2 APG, 48.3 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 3-star guard Ryne Smith (9.4 RPG, 43.8 Field Goal Shooting Percentage, and 42.8 Three Point Shooting Percentage) have led Purdue offensively, this season. Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten, basketball-wise, has been one to forget. The Cornhuskers have lost nine of their last ten games, with an average margin of defeat by 13 points during that stretch. Nebraska finished tied for 11th in the Big Ten, by lost their tiebreaker with Penn State based on Indiana finishing 5th. 3-star guard Bo Spencer (transfer from LSU) (15.1 PPG, 3.3 APG, and 87.1 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) and 3-star guard Toney McCray (9.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 44.0 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) have led the ‘Huskers to date.

My Take: By Purdue’s standards, this has not been a good season. The Boilers dropped games against Xavier, Butler, and Penn State. It took until February 25th for Purdue to win a game against a top 25 opponent – the latest of any potential NCAA Tournament team from the Big Ten. Despite that, Purdue has more talent that Nebraska, and should win this one easily, provided they can control the tempo. Nebraska averages 60.9 points per game, a conference low, but has scored an average of 74 points per game over the last five games.

The Pick: Purdue -8.