Big Ten Ballin’: Significance of the Big Ten Tournament

WNUR’s Greg Mroz (@wizard_of_mroz) explains what’s on the line for every team in the conference during this week’s tournament.

The bracket for the 2014 Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis is set. All 12 teams vying to become the 2014 Big Ten champion and clinch their automatic berth to the big dance. Some might think that the conference already has a set number of teams and that the tournament itself really doesn’t matter. Well, hate to break it to you, but it matters in more ways than you know. This year’s Big Ten Tournament has significant meanings for most teams, and despite what you might think, the outcomes all have some sort of significance for now and the future

Let’s start with the last place Purdue Boilermakers. This was a program that prior to last season was a perennial Big Ten power. Now, they are one of the worst teams in the conference, and despite what some might think, this tournament might make or break Matt Painter’s job. Players have left the program in bunches over the past few years, and none of the big stars that Painter has recruited have worked out (Case in point AJ Hammons). I’m not saying Purdue has to beat Ohio State on Thursday, but if they get blown out, there may be an opening for a new head man in West Lafayette.

For Northwestern and Penn State, this tournament is just about playing for pride and finishing on a high note. Neither team is going to be able to play in a postseason tournament, but for Chris Collins and Patrick Chambers this tournament serves as an opportunity to try new things and play aggressive. What do they have to lose?

Now let’s shift to the top before we get to the bubble. Michigan is the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament, but they are currently a three seed according to Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. This Big Ten tournament is to get them a higher seed. If they can get to the finals and even win it, I see them getting a number two seed, but if they somehow lose to Indiana or Illinois (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) they could fall to a four seed.

Wisconsin is sitting pretty, but they have the opportunity if they win the tournament to get to a number one seed. But mainly, this is to maintain their projected number two seed. Their first round opponent will be either Minnesota or Penn State, which are both teams they have had victories over this season. They did lose once to Minnesota, but another loss to the Golden Gophers may have the selection committee think twice about whether or not Wisconsin deserves a top 2 seed.

Michigan State doesn’t really have that much to play for. They will be a four or a five seed regardless of what happens. Tom Izzo’s squad has underachieved this season during conference play, and while they are most likely the most talented team in the conference top to bottom, their goal in the Big Ten tournament is to prove that they are the best in the conference. I will never second-guess a Tom Izzo coached team during an NCAA tournament. Get the Spartans to a three seed by winning the conference tournament, oh boy watch out.

Ohio State is not a bubble team, they have had their up and downs, but their goal in the tournament is to prove that some of their bad loses were flukes.

Ohio State's Aaron Craft and  Northwestern's Nikola Cerina reach for a rebound. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and Northwestern’s Nikola Cerina reach for a rebound. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Yesterday’s win over Michigan State was a statement victory for a Buckeye team that had a down year relative to its recent past. All of OSU’s losses came in conference play, but its hard to look past losing to Penn State twice in the same season. Aaron Craft needs to light a fire under his squad and revive the team that went 13-0 in non conference play. Beating Purdue is the start, but then they have an intriguing matchup with their next opponent.

That opponent would be the surprise of the year in the Big Ten, Nebraska. Somehow, some way, the Cornhuskers won 11 conference games, beating the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana (twice) and yesterday Wisconsin. Last week people were calling them a bubble team. Yes, they struggled at the beginning of conference play, but with the amount of quality wins that they’ve had, how do you not put them in the field? That’s why the Huskers need to win at least one game in the tournament, and that will guarantee them a spot in the big dance. Wouldn’t Tim Miles love to tweet about that!

Illinois is playing at this point to improve their standing in the NIT. They played great in non conference, then wet the bed for most of conference play, and have since come on strong beating the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa. John Groce has an offensively inept bunch, and to win at least one more game, which comes against an up and down Indiana team, would surely help their NIT seeding. The Illini, barring some sort of run to the finals of the Big Ten tournament, will for sure be in the NIT. It just depends where.

Indiana lies in the same boat as Illinois. They finished conference play at 7-11 and 17-14 overall. A far cry from last year’s conference championship season that saw the Hoosiers garner a number one overall seed, eventually falling to Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Indiana can beat anybody (Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa) but they can also lose to anybody (Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue by 18). I would say that a deep run in the tourney is possible, because if they can beat Illinois, they would then face Michigan, a team they beat once and played down to the wire the other time. But more likely, this is to improve NIT seeding. Also a side note, some rumblings from Indiana alumni show that the fan base feels a bit slighted by Tom Crean. He may be in hot water if he can’t bring this team back to where they were last year at some point in the next few years.

Then that leaves the two most bubbly of the bubble teams, Minnesota and Iowa. Now you might be wondering why I put Iowa as a bubble team and Nebraska as pretty much in. Plain and simple, Iowa is not the same team they were earlier in the year. They lost five of their last six going into the tournament, and their defense has been nothing short of atrocious, giving up more than 80 points in three of those six games. The Hawkeyes, in order to silence any doubt, need to beat Northwestern. Fran McCaffery’s group needs to get it back in gear. Roy Devyn Marble can’t do it all.

Minnesota is very much on the bubble, but at 8-10 in conference and 19-12 overall, they need at least two more wins, and those would have to come against Penn State and Wisconsin, both teams that they have beaten already. More than likely they will get the Penn State win, but the Wisconsin win may be a tougher feat. The Golden Gopher’s had a horrendously easy non conference schedule, with their only ranked opponent being #8 Syracuse, a game that they lost. I am putting the cap of Big Ten teams that gets in at six. If Nebraska gets one more win, they will be in, and the same goes for Iowa. If both of those two teams gets in, Minnesota won’t.

But hey, that’s why they play the games, folks!

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