2011 Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview and Picks

By Mike Ivcic

Favorite:
1. Ohio State (16-2)
Combine two stud freshman with three tremendous senior leaders, including one who hits shots from the tenth row of seats, and you have the number one team in the nation. They won’t win the NCAA tournament because it’s easier to find truTV than it is to find someone on their bench who can score, but they proved Sunday they are the class of the conference.

Challengers:
2. Purdue (14-4)
3. Wisconsin (13-5)
These are really the only two teams here that have a shot to beat the Buckeyes. Both have done it once, and both at home, but both also got waxed in Columbus. This semifinal matchup will be a good one if it happens (and it should, unless Tom Izzo has something left in his bag of tricks) but it could also leave the winner too drained to knock off OSU in the finals. And since the tournament final is late on Sunday, usually the winner doesn’t get much of a bump in seeding, so expect Purdue as a 2 and Wisconsin as a 4, especially if the Boilermakers beat the Badgers on Saturday.

Dark Horses:
4. Michigan (9-9)
5. Illinois (9-9)
6. Michigan State (9-9)
Welcome to the middle of the Big Ten, where everyone is, quite literally, average. Michigan gets the tiebreaker thanks to their second win over the Spartans, but did lose to Illinois in Champaign during the regular season. The Wolverines are really the only viable at-large candidate beyond the top three, so a quarterfinal loss to the Illini could make the Big Ten a three-bid league. A win and Michigan is likely dancing. Illinois will need to upset the Buckeyes, too, in order to get back into the discussion. As for Michigan State, their tailspin from #2 in the nation to .500 in conference is a bit stunning, but they were ranked that high at one point because the talent is there. Pull it together for one weekend, beat Indiana, Wisconsin, and Purdue, and maybe – just maybe – Izzo will avoid having to play in the NIT, because two out of those three probably won’t get it done.

Longshots:
7. Penn State (9-9)
8. Northwestern (7-11)
9. Minnesota (6-12)
10. Iowa (4-14)
11. Indiana (3-15)
It’s a legitimate debate as to whether the Spartans or Golden Gophers had the most disappointing February, but for Tubby Smith’s crew, the mission is a bit more simplistic – win four straight, starting Thursday with Northwestern. Even a win over Ohio State won’t be enough to recover from a .333 mark in conference play. Meanwhile Penn State misses the Dark Horse category because of a tougher-than-you’d-think first round meeting with Iowa, and then a good-luck-and-Godspeed quarterfinal draw with Purdue. The Nittany Lions will likely join a slew of Big Ten teams in the NIT, a step in the right direction for the traditionally basketball-challenged school.

Pick: Ohio State

NCAA Teams: 4 (Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan)

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