B1G picks: Predicting the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals
CHICAGO — Most of the fans and media were long departed from the United Center by the time Maryland made history in the 2023 Big Ten Tournament.
Well, kind of.
The 6th-seeded Terrapins became the first favorite to actually win a game in this year’s Big Ten Tourney after the underdogs started 5-0. Maryland got a bit of an early challenge from No. 14 seed Minnesota, but ultimately the Golden Gophers were just too undermanned to keep that going after halftime.
Now comes the next challenge for the Terps — beating a Big Ten team not named Minnesota outside the state of Maryland. The Terrapins are 2-0 against Minnesota away from home and 0-9 against everybody else.
If that changes on Friday night, Maryland will certainly have to earn it.
A strong Indiana contingent figures to be on hand at United Center when the Terps face the 3rd-seeded Hoosiers. But at least the Terrapins have their sea legs underneath them.
“Playing the first game, that’s why you see so many upsets – you have teams that aren’t making the (NCAA) Tournament, teams that are making the Tournament, you have different levels of pressure,” said Maryland coach Kevin Willard. “Just getting back on a neutral court was nice. We’ve played well neutral. After 2 tough (back-to-back) road losses, it was good to kind of get a different feel.”
Predicting Friday’s games
No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 9 Rutgers
Rutgers won’t lack for confidence in this Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matchup. The Scarlet Knights are the rare team to walk out of Mackey Arena with a win over the Boilermakers. Facing them in Chicago should be no sweat in comparison.
Of course, that was way back on Jan. 2, which feels like a lifetime ago at this point of the season. But Rutgers joins Indiana in having a chance to sweep Purdue this season.
Prediction: Purdue by 9.
Why? Matt Painter recently admitted Purdue is more focused on the NCAA Tournament than the Big Ten Tournament. But perhaps we shouldn’t interpret that as an indication that the Boilermakers are going to nap their way into next week.
Purdue probably needs to win this tournament to earn a No. 1 seed, and that’s something to strive for. Also, the Boilers are just good.
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Ohio State
The scouting report should be pretty easy for the Spartans, who closed out the regular season with a win over the Buckeyes on Sunday.
Ohio State, on the other hand, has played twice since then. The Buckeyes knocked off Minnesota in the opening round before continuing their run by upsetting 5th-seeded Iowa on Thursday.
Prediction: Ohio State by 2.
Why? Michigan State should obviously be refreshed. But the Buckeyes, who need to win the whole thing to steal an NCAA bid, are playing with house money. And provided that only 1 favorite has won a game so far, I’m leaning toward house money.
No. 2 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Penn State
This is the magic moment for the Wildcats to finally live up to the billing as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.”
Northwestern has only made it as far as the Big Ten Tournament semifinal once before. That was also the only time Northwestern ended up reaching the NCAA Tournament — 2017. With a win in front of a friendly crowd, the Cats will finally repeat that feat.
Penn State hasn’t often been in this position, either.
The Nittany Lions are looking to advance to the Big Ten semis for the 4th time. Penn State also reached that round in 2000, 2001 and 2018.
Neither team has ever reached the Big Ten championship game.
Prediction: Penn State by 4.
Why? The Nittany Lions are the hottest team left in the field at this point. They won at Northwestern in overtime on March 1, and will be able to repeat the feat just a few miles down the highway in Chicago.
No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 6 Maryland
Willard, formerly of the Big East, concluded his Thursday night press conference by admitting he missed playing a conference tournament in New York City.
If there is 1 way to guarantee getting the cold shoulder in the City of Big Shoulders, heaping praise on New York City is it. An already pro-Indiana crowd will be joined by local neutrals more than happy to send Willard back to the East Coast until next week.
Prediction: Maryland by 3.
Why? Chicago’s hatred will only make Willard stronger.
Historically speaking, the odds favor Maryland. The No. 6 seed actually has the 3rd-best all-time winning percentage in the Big Ten Tournament (.600 as of Thursday’s win), while the No. 3 seed is 4th with a .543 winning percentage.
The fact the Terps dominated the Hoosiers by 11 in College Park also factors into the science of this prediction.