Tom Greene | March 10th, 2020
It’s March already… and you know what time it is! Time for Madness before the real March Madness begins. It’s the Big Ten Tournament! Let’s preview the early rounds of madness, shall we?
I like to call these games the “Crap Games” as most commonly, the teams playing in these games had a tough year and aren’t going anywhere when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. This year is different.
Minnesota needs to win the tournament to be squarely in the field of 68. Indiana needs to advance to Friday or even Saturday to be in the same fate. These games are crucial and something worth watching as we kick off the tournament in Indianapolis.
Northwestern is no slouch, neither is Nebraska. The Wildcats have had unfortunate luck with a very young squad, and the Huskers have a first-year head coach, Fred Hoiberg. And, no game is easy, even on Wednesday. Just ask Ohio State after losing to Steve Pikiell‘s Rutgers Scarlet Knights in his first year of coaching in the Big Ten.
If the Gophers want to repeat what UCONN did in the Big East in 2011, it will need a lot of help from Daniel Oturu, Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur to get past opponents such as Iowa, Wisconsin and possibly Michigan State. But, first thing’s first. The Gophers sneak past Northwestern and set up a date with Luka Garza and Iowa.
If it weren’t for the “Eager Beaver” Nate Reuvers (Yes, I made up that nickname, but it rhymes, right?) the Hoosiers would be playing on Thursday, and Archie Miller would not have had to go on this rant. But, the cure to complaints about the tournament is Winning, and the Hoosiers need to rely on Rob Phinisee, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Devonte Green to make a run. First thing’s first, however, Nebraska is not an easy out. Hoiberg’s team has had some close calls. But, the Hoosiers take care of business on Wednesday to make the committee think about them a little more over the week.
Ah yes, a rare Big Ten occurrence! A tournament in which its 8-9 game features teams that are squarely in the tournament, Michigan and Rutgers. Of course, if you thought Geo Baker‘s crew were almost a lock for March Madness at this point, you may have a chance at getting a perfect bracket at this point. Put some money on it!
Kidding aside, Baker and Rutgers have come a long way to get to this point. From the abuse of Mike Tice to the stagnation under Eddie Jordan, the Scarlet Knights needed a reboot. In four years, they got it with Steve Pikiell. Not only is this their first time opening the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, but it’s also the first time they finished with a winning record in the conference. And, they’ll have to face a team that gave them two of their nine losses in the season.
First-Year coach Juwan Howard was praised but doubted to start the season. He proved people wrong by winning the Battle4Atlantis over Gonzaga, a team that looks to be a one-seed for now. Yet again, the Wolverines struggled while Isaiah Livers was injured. But, once he returned, Michigan found its pulse. The Wolverines finished 10-10 after a roller-coaster ride of a season to be in the 8-9 game, and squarely in the field of 68.
It’s hard to beat a team three times, but Michigan can certainly do it. Jon Teske, and Zavier Simpson need to impose their senior leadership and will on this field, and a big run can be made. As for Thursday, it’ll be a tough test, but Michigan gets it done.
Losing Jordan Bohannon hurt Iowa to start the year, but Garza picked up the pace. They’ve had to rely on him and Connor McCaffrey to get to this point, but the reward for the Hawkeyes is an NCAA Tournament berth and a team that had to play Wednesday night. While the Gophers remain in the NCAA Tournament hunt despite being under-.500 on the season, that catches up to them. Garza proves too strong for Oturu and the Hawkeyes advance to Friday’s slate.
Did backing into the Bye on Wednesday as a 10-seed hurt Purdue’s chances more than the loss to Rutgers on Saturday? The world may never know, but Matt Painter‘s team certainly has its back against the wall when it comes to the field of 68. Matt Haarms has really had to adjust to being the man in the middle, without Isaac Hass. Will that be enough to slow down the Wesson Brothers and the Buckeyes?
The answer is, unfortunately, a No. Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes have had their ups and downs, just like Michigan. But, Holtmann’s team got to the 7-10 game by sweeping the Wolverines, and have a chance at a top-five seed with a tournament run. They take that chance and knock the Boilermakers out of the field of 68.
I gave a lot of credit to Rutgers before, but let’s not forget about how great of a job Patrick Chambers has done for the Penn State Nittany Lions. Two years ago, people were calling for Chambers to be fired. Last season, he pushed a player in Ann Arbor and people doubted him then. But, he lead Lamar Stevens and this team to a probable NCAA Tournament berth, and their first Big Ten Tournament game comes against a team looking for a berth themselves.
Again, when it comes to the field of 68, there’s no doubt that Indiana needs this game more than Penn State, and it could be the measuring stick when it comes to being in the field or not. Indiana will play a strong game, but Penn State will come out on all cylinders in search of a Top-Five seed. Penn State moves on to Friday.
Now, we get to the nitty-gritty in this tournament. The Eager Beaver Nate Reuvers, Brad Davidson and company make their Big Ten Tournament debut as the top seed for the first time since Greg Gard took over for Bo Ryan. Their test comes against a Michigan team that’s had no shortage of ups and downs.
The last time these teams played, Wisconsin scored… and scored, and scored. If they can repeat that performance against Teske and the Wolverines, a trip to the Semifinals is in their future. But, if Michigan can somehow match and/or pass their scoring, Michigan could make Saturday’s games themselves.
The One-seed can put pressure on any team, but Wisconsin is ready for it. They win a close game on Friday Afternoon that’ll provide much more drama than any Soap Opera would. (Who watches Soap Operas anymore? Anyone? Certainly not me.)
Another story of a long road fulfilled. First, Rutgers. Then, Penn State. Now, Illinois. Brad Underwood certainly had his challenges taking over from Stephen F. Austin. He inherited a team from John Groce that hadn’t seen tournament play under him. But, Kipper Nichols, Giorgi Bezhanishvilli and the Illini got it done and achieved a double-bye in the tournament for the first time since this format existed.
Iowa and Illinois last played one another just Sunday Night, and it was a thriller. A two-point victory on Senior Day led by Ayo Dosunmu had the Illini in high spirits and a double-bye. But, taking on the same team twice in a week is very tough, especially at the college level. We see back-to-backs in the NBA, but in college, we rarely see anything like this.
Illinois had no easy task getting here, and the growing pains may continue here. Garza and the Hawkeyes become the first team from Thursday’s slate to advance to Saturday.
Am I sure this isn’t football? The game will play like it, that’s for sure. The Spartans have had an up-and-down year, but yet again, they find themselves with a share of the Big Ten Title and a double-bye. Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Rocket Watts have led this team to this point, and I expect that and more in Indianapolis. Just like Illinois-Iowa, the same teams play one another just a few days apart. But, the Spartans have more experience in this spot than the Illini and take care of business against the Buckeyes.
Yet another football battle in the Friday Night Session. Maryland had the Big Ten Title under lock-and-key just two weeks ago, but MSU and Wisconsin had a few words to say about it. Needless to say, Anthony Cowan Jr, Jalen Smith, and Aaron Wiggins will want to put the Tournament under Lock-and-Key.
This will be a solid battle between guards that could go to the next level, but Maryland will want to take the conference that took them just a few games ago. Maryland advances to Saturday.
Wow, that’s a lot!
It was. And, for the purpose of word count, we’ll push the Semifinals and Finals to a separate article coming up. Stay tuned!
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