The regular season is finally over, and the fun can officially begin. March college basketball is perhaps the most entertaining basketball in the world, and we are right in the middle of it. The Big Ten tourney kicks off on Thursday in Indianapolis, Ind. so here is a prediction of every game in the first round.
Game 1 – No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Illinois (Thursday, 12:00 p.m.)
The Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11) split the season series with the Fighting Illini (18-13, 7-11). Illinois took the first matchup in Champaign, Ill. 83-80 in overtime on New Year’s Eve, and then Indiana won the next game by 10 in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana is 2-3 in its last five games, with wins over Iowa and Ohio State. Illinois is 4-1 in their last five with a huge road win at Michigan State.
These two teams are having disappointing seasons, but Indiana is playing better basketball right now despite their recent record. They took Michigan to the wire in Ann Arbor, and their young talent is playing extremely well. The Hoosiers will win 64-59. The winner plays No. 1 Michigan on Friday at noon.
Game 2 – No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Purdue (Thursday, 2:25 p.m.)
Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) finished the season on a high note, squeaking a win out against MSU on Sunday. Although they can be offensively challenged at times, their defense will make up for any scoring shortcomings. OSU leads the B1G in scoring defense, while Purdue is dead last. Everyone’s favorite Buckeye Aaron Craft can shut down anyone he is matched up with and can facilitate the offense without needing to score.
Purdue (15-16, 5-13) struggled mightily at times this season and lost their last six games to finish the year. Their defense is porous, and they rank No. 131 in the nation in scoring. OSU wins this one 74-60. The winner plays No. 4 Nebraska on Friday at 2:25 pm.
Game 3 – No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State (Thursday, 6:30 p.m.)
These two teams met for the final regular season game of the year on Sunday, with the Golden Gophers (19-12, 8-10) coming out victorious 81-63 in Minnesota. They also won the first meeting in Happy Valley by three points in early January. Minnesota recently beat Iowa by six at home, but have not won back-to-back games since the beginning of January.
Penn State (15-16, 6-12) has had consistency issues as well, sweeping the season series with Ohio State and beating Nebraska in January, but falling to Illinois twice and opening the B1G season with a six-game losing streak. Minnesota is in Joe Lunardi’s last four out in his latest Bracketology, so they need this game more than anyone in the conference.
The Gophers will win for a third time against the Nittany Lions 75-59. The winner will face No. 2 Wisconsin on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Game 4 – No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern (Thursday, 8:55 p.m.)
This is the game to watch for MSU fans. The winner goes on to face MSU on Friday at 8:55 p.m.
Iowa (20-11, 9-9) has stumbled to the finish line, losing five of their last six games including a disappointing three-point loss at home to Illinois. The Hawkeyes climbed as high as No. 10 in the AP poll earlier this season, but their final defeat knocked them out of the rankings. Roy Devyn Marble has been the star of the team, leading them in scoring with 17 points per game.
The Spartans played Iowa twice this year, earning a hard-fought overtime win with the help of “The Legend” Russell Byrd at Iowa in the first game, and winning more convincingly on senior night last Thursday. Marble is averaging 22.5 points in the two contests against MSU this year. Aaron White is another leader on the Hawkeyes squad, averaging 13.3 points per night to go along with nearly seven rebounds. If Iowa wants to go far in the tournament, it will be on Marble’s back.
Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) fulfilled their usual role of cellar dwellers this season, finishing second to last in the conference. They endured two lengthy losing streaks of four and seven games and they score at an abysmal rate. Their only marquee win was at Wisconsin near the end of January, but other than that there has not been much for Wildcat fans to cheer about.
MSU faced off against the Wildcats twice, winning both games by 14 and 15 points, respectively. Northwestern had a tough time handling Adreian Payne down low in the second game, allowing him to score 20 points to compliment 14 rebounds.
Iowa will win this game 65-62 and move on to face the Spartans for a third time this season, where they will lose for the third time this season.
The full tournament bracket can be seen here.
Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports