B1G picks: Predicting the Big Ten Tournament semifinals
CHICAGO — There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns. Your gut. Your intuition. However you want to describe it.
They called me a madman when I picked Ohio State and Penn State to reach the Big Ten Tournament semifinals in my original tournament predictions. (Editor’s note: Nobody actually called him this.)
Despite significantly missing on Michigan as another semifinalist, I have stuck to my original formula in my daily predictions. Because if there’s a lesson to be learned from Coca-Cola, it’s “stick to the original formula.” The 20th Century formula, anyhow. But I digress.
Ironically, the only semifinal miss in my original picks was the team most likely to be here — Purdue.
But the top-seeded Boilermakers didn’t back down against a hard-nosed Rutgers team in the quarterfinals, and it’s pretty clear they are playing for keeps. And the ultimate prize could be ahead of them.
A Big Ten championship game against Indiana.
The Boilermakers and Hoosiers haven’t played each other in the Big Ten Tournament since 1998 — the inaugural year. Purdue would look to avenge its previous 2 losses to IU. The Hoosiers would look for the first 3-game sweep in the history of the series.
Without question, it makes for the most memorable matchup in Big Ten championship game history.
If we get there. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions might have something to say about the matter.
Predicting Saturday’s games
No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 13 Ohio State
The Buckeyes have already made history as the lowest seed to advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. Of course, that type of history wasn’t even possible prior to the 2015 tournament when Rutgers and Maryland were added to the ledger.
Ohio State gave Purdue a run for its money when the teams met in Columbus on Jan. 2, losing when Fletcher Loyer drained a late 3.
The shot from Fletcher Loyer that lifted No. 1 @BoilerBall over No. 24 Ohio State 🔥
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) January 6, 2023
The Buckeyes had unraveled by the rematch, which the Boilermakers won going away — an 82-55 mugging.
But that blowout seemed to wake the Buckeyes from their funk. They’re 5-2 ever since. Can they make it 6-2 and keep the magic going?
Prediction: Purdue by 7.
A 4th game in 4 days is going to catch up hard for the Bucks, regardless of whether or not Brice Sensabaugh is available. As the first matchup showed, not having Zed Key around to defend Zach Edey creates a massive mismatch. I’m probably being generous by thinking Ohio State can keep this close, but there’s something to be said for how this team is playing.
No. 3 Indiana vs. No. 10 Penn State
There is a similarity to Indiana and Ohio State, though on a much different scale.
The Buckeyes have turned things around since being blown out by Purdue on Feb. 19. For the Hoosiers, the turnaround began after getting blown out at Penn State on Jan. 11.
Since that 85-66 loss, Indiana has gone 13-4. It was the clear catalyst for a team that was not bringing its A-game defensively, getting exposed for 18 3-pointers by the Nittany Lions.
At that point in the season, the Hoosiers were 1-4 in the Big Ten with 1 of the league’s leakiest defenses. As it prepares to face Penn State again, Indiana’s defense ranks 2nd in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage.
Prediction: Indiana by 2.
This is the first time these teams have met since that blowout, so it’ll fascinating to see what adjustments Mike Woodson has in store. Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry certainly knows they’re coming, so his counterattack will also be an intriguing bit of coaching.
The good news for Penn State — unlike Ohio State, it doesn’t have to win out to reach the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions have already gotten the job done. With neither team in a pressure cooker, this should just be an enjoyable basketball game to behold.
But fate cannot be stopped. The tea leaves have been pointing to an Indiana-Purdue final for much of the season.
We can no longer ignore them.