Thursday morning marks the start of the 15th annual Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. The conference hopes to place seven teams in the “Big Dance” on Selection Sunday, but only one will cut down the nets in Indianapolis.
Ohio State certainly enters with the biggest chip on its shoulder. The Buckeyes are undoubtedly the most talented squad in the conference and they have the easiest road to the title game this Sunday. OSU wouldn’t even face Michigan State, Indiana or Wisconsin until the title game. That’s a friendly draw.
Sparty is the No. 1 seed in the tourney, but silly as it sounds, I like ’em more in the bigger tourney because that’s all that matters to Tom Izzo. He flourishes when given extra time to prepare for opponents and throw wrinkles into gameplans. It’s harder for his physical teams to win three games in three days. They need rest.
My darkhorse for the 2012 Big Ten Tournament calls Bloomington home: the Indiana Hoosiers. It’s hard to pinpoint a hungrier, more motivated team than the Hoosiers, who are a shoe-in for their first NCAA tourney in four years. IU head coach Tom Crean will have his guys ready to get out and run in transition, and as we’ve seen all season, the Hoosiers do very well when in a comfort zone. Reminder: Indianapolis is the host city.
Indiana will be well represented at the Fieldhouse and I really like their chances to move into the semis and give Michigan State a run for their money. Michigan would be my third choice, but it’s hard to roll with a team that shoots 25+ threes a night. Wisconsin is the only other serious contender in the bunch, but their frequent offensive droughts are a cause for concern.
According to bracket experts, Northwestern all but punches their first ticket to the NCAAs with an opening round win against Minnesota. But you’ve got another thing coming if you think they’ll make easy work of anybody. John Shurna, Drew Crawford and the Cardiac ‘Cats have played in eight games decided by four points or less. Pins and needles, anybody?
Speaking of that, Bruce Weber may be finishing the final leg of his walk of shame tour in Champaign. I’ll do my best to keep track of the number of off-balance threes missed by Brandon Paul and the times Meyers Leonard actually touches the ball in the paint. What’ll happen more? Pfft. The line is currently set at a PK ’em.
If playing at their best, Ohio State will be an extremely tough out. They could literally glide into the finals on talent alone. We’ll talk more next week about why I don’t like the Buckeyes in the Big Dance, but for now, sip the scarlet Kool-Aid in Indianapolis. I think it’s Ohio State’s tournament to lose and the only team that can beat them is Indiana because of IU’s ability to kick the game into a faster speed.
To be honest, I’ll be surprised if the Buckeyes or Hoosiers aren’t in the winner’s circle on Sunday. But my forecast has the guys in scarlet and grey colors cutting down the nets in Indy. And if I can keep foreshadowing for a second, you heard it here first, Iowa will make the leap next season a la Indiana in 2011-12.
Last Call — Parting notes and farewell to some of my favorite Big Ten seniors: Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson (PUR), Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson (WISC), Draymond Green (MSU), Matt Gatens (Iowa), Zack Novak and Stu Douglass (MICH), John Shurna (NW) and William Buford (OSU).