B1G picks: Predicting Thursday's Big Ten Tournament games
INDIANAPOLIS — With all due respect to Wednesday night’s preliminary round games, Thursday is when things really get cracking at the Big Ten Tournament.
With 4 games on the slate for a potential 12-plus hours of basketball, we are into the best part of the calendar. And what’s March without attempting to predict the bracket?
Here’s how we see things breaking down in Thursday’s games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 9 Indiana
The first game of the day will likely be the best game of the day because both teams are in desperate need of a win to bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes.
Indiana needs it more than Michigan, to be certain. The Wolverines are probably just going to Dayton for the First Four with a loss here, whereas the Hoosiers are likely bound for the NIT with a defeat.
With the game in Indianapolis, the Hoosiers will have a definite homecourt advantage. But I’m not sure if even IU fans can do enough pre-gaming to make for a truly rowdy atmosphere at 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday.
If Indiana is to pull off the minor upset, Xavier Johnson will be the reason. The point guard is playing possessed basketball down the stretch, scoring 24 against Maryland, 24 against Minnesota and 18 against Purdue.
But with Juwan Howard back on the sideline following a 5-game suspension, I suspect the Wolverines will play with an emotional boost that makes the difference.
No. 5 Iowa over No. 12 Northwestern
A red-hot Nebraska team might have given the Hawkeyes a run for their money, but the Wildcats fixed that problem with a 71-69 win over the Huskers on Wednesday night.
Northwestern technically has more to play for. A win assures the Cats of being eligible for the NIT — which isn’t such a bad thing when you’re Northwestern. But that’s not going to matter due to Iowa’s edge in talent and playing style.
I expect Iowa to win big.
No. 10 Maryland over No. 7 Michigan State
The first upset of the day.
From a Michigan State perspective, I don’t like the fact these teams played to close the regular season on Sunday. Though I have no statistical analysis to prove this point, it seems damn hard to beat a team twice in 4 days. Just observe the rarity of sweeps in the NBA playoffs.
The Spartans also won at Maryland on Feb. 1, eking out a 63-61 win. So you know that one sticks in the Terrapins’ craw.
Intangibles aside, I just like Maryland’s backcourt of Fatts Russell and Eric Ayala better than Michigan State’s combo of Tyson Walker, AJ Hoggard and Max Christie. I expect their experience to be the difference.
No. 11 Penn State over No. 6 Ohio State
It feels like one of the teams from Wednesday’s preliminary round has a habit of finding its way to Friday. And if that’s going to be the case this year, the Nittany Lions are the obvious choice.
While Greg Gard was deserving of Big Ten coach of the year honors, it can be argued that no coach did more with less this season than Micah Shrewsberry. Getting this roster to 13-16 is quite a feat. Penn State may not have a ton of talent, but the Nittany Lions never stop fighting.
With EJ Liddell and Malaki Branham on the roster, the Buckeyes own a preposterous edge in the talent department. But Ohio State sputtered its way to the finish line, losing 3 of 4 games after an impressive win at Illinois.
The Buckeyes have really struggled on defense in March, and only beat Penn State by 5 at home on Jan. 16. I like the Nittany Lions to make up that gap on a neutral court against a slumping team.