Can the Big Ten Tournament duplicate the league’s most exciting regular season in decades? That’s up for debate. But the plots this year are full of storylines and all are rich.
Will fifth-seeded Michigan seek redemption after an excruciating one-point home loss to Indiana on Saturday, costing the Wolverines a share of the regular-season title? After fading the last week of the season, will the real Minnesota (9) or Illinois (8) show up for their tournament-opening game? Can lower seeds Nebraska (10), Northwestern (11) or Penn State (12) pull an upset?
Here are a few other questions entering the tournament, which returns to Chicago for the first time in five years, as well as tournament predictions.
TEAM WITH MOST TO GAIN
Iowa. The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes need at least two wins and possibly three to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. Iowa’s first-round game against Northwestern means little to the selection committee. But a quarterfinal win against Michigan State could mean everything to the Hawkeyes’ NCAA chances.
TEAM WITH MOST TO LOSE
Indiana. I think the regular-season champion Hoosiers are a No. 1 seed regardless of how the tournament comes out. But if Indiana lumbers through its quarterfinal match-up against the Illinois-Minnesota winner and loses decisively, the Hoosiers could get re-evaluated for the Central Region top spot. Hoosierland will be in an uproar if Indiana is sent packing to L.A. instead of Indy for the Sweet Sixteen.
COACH WITH MOST TO GAIN
Northwestern’s Bill Carmody. Despite 13 mostly successful seasons with the Wildcats, Carmody’s seat is blazing hot after a 13-18 record and an eight-game losing streak this year. That’s despite losing his best player (Drew Crawford) to injury, their next-best player to suspension (JerShon Cobb) and their star transfer (Jared Swopshire) to injury. Unless Carmody can engineer an upset or two or three, it’s likely he won’t return for year 14. So winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.
COACH WITH MOST TO LOSE
Minnesota’s Tubby Smith. Few programs had the ups and downs of Minnesota this year. At one point, the Gophers were rated in the top 10. Minnesota beat the top-ranked team. But the Gophers also have lost 10 of their last 15 games and Minnesota fans are getting restless with Smith. In Smith’s six years, the Gophers never were seeded higher than sixth in the Big Ten Tournament. This year they had their best collection of players, yet found new and creative ways to absorb disasters. A first-round flame-out by Minnesota, coupled with a weak NCAA performance could get Smith sent packing.
8. Illinois 76, 9. Minnesota 73
5. Michigan 77, 12. Penn State 58
10. Nebraska 61, 7. Purdue 57
6. Iowa 66, 10. Northwestern 64
1. Indiana 71, 8. Illinois 64
5. Michigan 64, 4. Wisconsin 54
2. Ohio State 69, 10. Nebraska 53
6. Iowa 69, 3. Michigan State 68
5. Michigan 70, 1. Indiana 64
2. Ohio State 67, 6. Iowa 59
2. Ohio State 61, 5. Michigan 58
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