B1G picks: Predicting every game of the 2023 Big Ten Tournament
Mentally, I’m prepared for the NCAA Tournament to be another letdown for Big Ten teams. So that’s part of the reason I’m choosing to embrace this week’s Big Ten Tournament as the fun before the sadness.
But this Big Ten Tourney doesn’t need such qualifications to be enjoyable. It’s as fresh as the Big Ten Tournament has felt since the inaugural edition in 1998.
For perhaps the first time ever, there isn’t a single team I’d be surprised to see cutting down the nets at United Center on Sunday.
Except Minnesota. Sorry, Gophers.
But even 13th-seeded Ohio State has far more talent than its record indicates. And the gap from seeds 2-10 is so narrow that Northwestern would have been the No. 9 seed had it lost its season finale at Rutgers. By winning, the Wildcats are instead the No. 2 seed for the first time in program history.
Any attempt to predict what will happen this week is just about guaranteed to be feeble. So why not get crazy with it?
And this is a heavy dosage of crazy — my game-by-game predictions for the 2023 Big Ten Tournament.
No. 13 Ohio State over No. 12 Wisconsin
Late wins over Illinois and Maryland show us that the Buckeyes haven’t packed it in. And Ohio State has the talent to beat any team in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin can’t afford a loss here, but some things are more important than need. Like talent. Ohio State has more of it.
No. 11 Nebraska over No. 14 Minnesota
Nebraska is the most fun team to watch in this tournament. The Cornhuskers obviously don’t win ’em all, but they’re all entertaining. And I cannot in good conscience predict that kind of team to be 1-and-done.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 9 Rutgers
This comes with a caveat: Rutgers is the last team I’d ever want to see for an 11 a.m. tip. Steve Pikiell’s team will be coming in fresh from its traditional breakfast of nails and rotting milk.
But this is March, and Michigan has been the Big Ten standard bearer with 5 straight Sweet 16 appearances. The Wolverines aren’t getting into the NCAA Tournament without a win here, and likely another to follow.
I trust Juwan Howard and Hunter Dickinson to lead the way in a close one. In fact, I’m willing to guarantee overtime — both because Michigan has played in 3 straight overtime games, and because this is the first of 4 games on Thursday’s schedule. Session-opening overtime always gums up the works.
No. 13 Ohio State over No. 5 Iowa
There was a 15-game span this season where Ohio State’s only win was a 93-77 blowout of the Hawkeyes. (Including a 17-point loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, to be fair.)
Inspired by their opening round win, the Bucks will take the rubber game of this year’s series.
No. 10 Penn State over No. 7 Illinois
The Nittany Lions have beaten the Fighting Illini twice this season, by margins of 15 and 12. Micah Shrewsberry is Brad Underwood’s kryptonite — possibly because he realizes a shaved head is a better look than whatever Brad has going on.
No. 11 Nebraska over No. 6 Maryland
The Terps have won 2 true road games this season — at Louisville and at Minnesota. Those are 2 of the worst power conference teams in the country. Actually, drop the qualifier. They’re just 2 of the worst teams in the country.
This isn’t a true road game. But it definitely isn’t the Xfinity Center, either. The red-hot Huskers will continue their run.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 1 Purdue
As previously stated, Michigan needs a win here to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth. Purdue, on the other hand, does not figure to be so inspired.
“I’m not really worried about the Big Ten Tournament,” Matt Painter said recently. “You don’t get judged on that one.”
I’ll take the Wolverines.
No. 13 Ohio State over No. 4 Michigan State
When teams play twice in the same week, I lean toward the opposite outcome. In this case, it means the Buckeyes will spring another upset, avenging their 84-78 loss at Michigan State in the season finale.
No. 10 Penn State over No. 2 Northwestern
For the second straight day, Shrewsberry’s squad will disappoint an arena packed with fans supporting the local team. Penn State beat the Wildcats in Evanston on March 1, and will do the same in Chicago.
With a win here, Penn State will likely be deep enough into the NCAA field to avoid the First Four.
No. 3 Indiana over No. 11 Nebraska
The Hoosiers will restore order after a Friday of chaos at United Center. The first 30 minutes will be close — the Huskers may even build a bit of a lead — but Indiana will benefit from the double-bye down the stretch against an up-tempo team that will finally tire.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 13 Ohio State
After downing Purdue, the Wolverines know they’ll be meeting their old rivals in the semifinals. They’ll just be surprised to find it turns out to be the rivals in red rather than the rivals in green.
The absence of Zed Key plus tired legs will finally hit Ohio State here. In a tournament that won’t produce many blowouts, this will be an exception.
No. 3 Indiana over No. 10 Penn State
The last time these teams met, it was rock-bottom for Indiana’s season. The sleepy and uninspired Hoosiers dropped to 1-4 in the Big Ten with an 85-66 loss in Happy Valley. It was a 5-alarm fire in Bloomington.
But rather than allow that loss to define the season, Mike Woodson used it as a rallying point. Indiana hasn’t been the same team since. And that will be on display in the semifinals.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 3 Indiana
Little did CBS know it would be airing a rematch of last Sunday’s season finale in Bloomington. But since that overtime classic was worthy of a second helping, why not run it back?
The Big Ten championship game is foreign territory for Indiana, which hasn’t made it this far in the Big Ten Tourney since 2001. Michigan, on the other hand, made the last 3 finals prior to the 2020 tournament cancellation. That includes 2017, when the Wolverines became the only 8-seed to ever win the Big Ten Tournament.
In another tight-knit game, Michigan will repeat that feat and erase any doubt about its NCAA Tournament resume.