By Shawn Muller–
With the Big Ten regular season officially wrapped up, and the Ohio State Buckeyes looking like a legit threat to win the national championship, there is still one order of business to take care of before teams learn their post-season fate: The Big Ten Tournament.
Normally, I really don’t care too much about the conference tournaments. Unlike the smaller schools–where winning the conference tournament is basically a teams’ only shot at getting a tournament birth—the Big Ten Tournament, on the other hand, is virtually meaningless. Sure you will see an “underdog” make a valiant run…but more often than not…one of the top two or three teams winds up playing in the championship game on Sunday…and I don’t foresee a different scenario this season either. I fully expect Ohio State and Purdue to play in the championship game on Sunday.
It has also been mentioned that winning the Big Ten Tournament is almost meaningless in eyes of the selection committee because the brackets are basically set by the time the championship game ends. So why should anyone pay attention to the 2011 Big Ten Tournament? If you follow Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, or Minnesota…maybe you shouldn’t. But, if you follow Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State…there is plenty at stake this weekend in Indianapolis.
Not a whole lot needs to be said about the Buckeyes come Selection Sunday. For the Buckeyes, it is pretty simple: get to the Big Ten Championship game, and more than likely wrap up the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Get bounced early…get a number one seed anyway. Pretty solid situation to be in if you are a fan of the Buckeyes.
Purdue was looking like a strong candidate for a number 2 seed—and quite possibly a number 1 seed along with the Buckeyes—until a loss to the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Saturday afternoon to end the regular season. The loss to the Hawkeyes may have bumped the Boilers down to a number 3 seed for now, but if Purdue happens to make it to the tournament title game on Sunday (winning the title would certainly help), the Boilermakers could find themselves back in the number 2 seed discussion. Regardless of what happens though, a 3 seed is as low as the Boilers will go come Sunday. It is hard to gauge exactly where the Wisconsin Badgers will end up come Selection Sunday. This was another team—alongside Purdue—that was looking at a possible number 2 seed in the tournament, but the 28-point beat down at the hands of Ohio State yesterday may have bumped the Badgers down to a four seed. The Badgers could play their way back into the 2 seed discussion if—at that is a big if—they can make a run to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game on Sunday, but I don’t see Wisconsin getting past Purdue in the semi-finals on Saturday should both teams make it that far. A three seed is probably the best Badger faithful can hope for, however.
I know they made you sweat all season long Illinois fans, but the Fighting Illini will be dancing after all. The problem for Bruce Weber and company, however, is that a quick exit in the Big Ten Tournament could mean a dreaded eight or a nine seed. Not only would the Illini have a tough 1st round matchup, but if they would happen to win said matchup, they would be rewarded with a 2nd round contest against—for all intents and purposes—a number one seed. A win over Michigan in the quarterfinals on Wednesday could—and I mean could—bump the Illini a little higher in the minds of the selection committee on Sunday, but a loss would almost assure them either an eight or a nine.
Even if you absolutely despise the Michigan Wolverines, you have to tip your cap to the job John Belein did with his team down the stretch. After losing six straight games in January, and falling to 11-9 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten, the Wolverines won eight of their next eleven games to finish the regular season at 19-12 and 9-9 in the Big Ten. Michigan is comfortably in the tournament, but the quarterfinals matchup with Illinois on Friday, could determine who will get the higher seed for the NCAA tournament.
That leaves us with Michigan State and Penn State.
Where do I begin? Both teams tied Illinois and Michigan with identical 9-9 conference records. The Spartans are 17-13 overall. The Nittany Lions are 16-13 overall. The two teams split the head to head matchups. Penn State is 5-5 in their last ten games with wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Michigan State is 5-5 in their last ten also, with their wins coming against Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State. As it stands right now—mostly due to the ridiculously weak bubble this season—Michigan State probably gets the nod over Penn State due to the Spartans strength of schedule. If, however, Penn State can win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament, well, you almost have to give them the nod over the Spartans. This storyline should be the most intriguing of the entire weekend for the Big Ten Conference.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy what should be a fun and interesting weekend in Indianapolis. There is still a lot on the line for many teams around the conference, and the Big Ten Tournament will be the last chance to make a move before the selections are made Sunday night.
Well…at least for the seven teams mentioned above.
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.