CHICAGO — If Wednesday’s preliminary round was any indicator, the 2023 Big Ten Tournament is going to be every bit as bananas as initially predicted.

Both higher seeds escaped the opening round to keep their seasons alive.

In the case of No. 13 Ohio State beating No. 12 Wisconsin, the outcome wasn’t very surprising. The Buckeyes were actually slight 1.5-point favorites when the game tipped. But the way Ohio State won was certainly not what anyone could have drawn up.

Wisconsin, the team that still had a shot at an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, came out flatter than the topography of Central Illinois. Ohio State led 36-18 at halftime and expanded that lead up to 27 points early in the second half.

And yet if games were 41 minutes rather than 40, you get the sense Wisconsin would have won. The Badgers cut the lead all the way down to 4 with 52 seconds left, but couldn’t finish the rally as the Buckeyes actually made their free throws.

No. 14 Minnesota’s 78-75 win over No. 11 Nebraska, on the other hand, came from well off the radar.

The Huskers were actually 1 of the hottest teams entering the event, coming in with 6 wins in 8 games since inserting guard Keisei Tominaga in the starting lineup. A win would have all but guaranteed Nebraska an NIT berth.

The 16-16 Cornhuskers will likely still play in that tournament, but they’re out of the Big Ten Tournament after their disappointing 78-75 loss to the Golden Gophers.

Minnesota must beat Maryland on Thursday to reach the very modest benchmark of double-digit wins this season.

Predicting Thursday’s games

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Rutgers

We picked the Wolverines to storm to the Big Ten Tournament title in our pre-tournament predictions, and this is no time to back away from boldness.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

This, however, will likely prove to be Michigan’s toughest test in attaining that goal. The first win is often the hardest.

The Scarlet Knights’ gritty style is conducive to success in breakfast basketball. This will be a rock fight.

But Michigan unequivocally must win this game to have a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. And that sense of desperation is a good match against Rutgers’ relentless effort.

Prediction: Michigan in overtime.

That may sound weirdly specific, but it just continues a trend. Michigan’s final 3 regular-season games all went to overtime.

No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 13 Ohio State

Again, no time to back down here. We picked the Buckeyes beating the Hawkeyes to continue their run. And while Wednesday night’s finish doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, the way Ohio State started against Wisconsin certainly does.

The dynamic here of a team that knows it is playing its final game if it loses against a team that has no additional motivation beyond trying to defend last year’s title will probably make the difference.

Regardless of who wins, this feels likely to be the highest-scoring game of the Big Ten Tournament.

Prediction: Ohio State by 3 — and both teams to break 80.

No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 7 Illinois

This matchup wasn’t even close in the regular season — twice.

Penn State went to Champaign and shocked the Illini with a thorough 74-59 win on Dec. 10. The Nittany Lions showed that was no fluke in a very different-styled game in Happy Valley. The teams played at an NBA pace on Valentine’s Day, with Penn State again opening a big first-half lead and coasting to a 93-81 win.

But wouldn’t you know it — Illinois comes into this game as a 2.5-point favorite.

Prediction: Penn State by 6.

If this game wasn’t in Chicago, there would be no reason to favor Illinois. This is a bad matchup for Brad Underwood’s team. Neither loss even gave an indicator that the Illini have something they can exploit against the Nittany Lions. This game should be closer than the previous editions, but expect the final outcome to be the same.

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 14 Minnesota

Nebraska would have made for a fascinating style matchup with Maryland. Minnesota does not. The Gophers are among the nation’s most dismal offensive teams.

Maryland has only won 4 games away from home this season, which in theory makes this interesting. The Terps have neutral-court wins over Saint Louis and Miami, as well as road wins at Louisville and… Minnesota.

The final score of that road win at Minnesota — the lone Big Ten road win for Maryland — was 81-46.

Woof. This will be closer, but by how much?

Prediction: Maryland by 16.

You won’t have to worry about keeping the kids up past bedtime to watch this thriller. You’ll probably be able to use it to induce bedtime, actually.