B1G Tournament Day 4 notes: Illinois, Ohio State set for rubber match in final
Ohio State keeps finding way to win, even when it’s giving up late leads.
The No. 5-seeded Buckeyes have done so three days in a row, fending off Minnesota in its Thursday opener, then higher seeds Purdue and Michigan the last two days to advance to Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament Championship game. They’ll play No. 2 seed Illinois at 3:30 today for the title. Against Minnesota, Ohio State had a 14-point lead in the final 3 1/2 minutes. Against Indiana a day later, it held an 18-point lead at the half before needing overtime to win. And Saturday, OSU led by 13 with 4 minutes left, but needed a Michigan miss at the buzzer to complete the victory.
“I mean I wish they weren’t as close all the time,” Buckeye forward E.J. Liddell told media in a Zoom interview after Saturday’s 1-point win against top-seed Michigan. “Sometimes it gives me a heart attack, being in the game. But we don’t fold under pressure. And as we’ve been doing, the three times we’ve played so far we haven’t beat them yet. This was our first time beating them, so we just say win it. We always remember the time they beat us and they celebrate in front of our faces.”
Now, Ohio State, which had lost 4 games in a row before the start of the tournament, will have a chance to win its fourth in a row to win the title. The teams split their series this season, each winning on the opponent’s home floor.
The Fighting Illini advanced to the championship game after beating No. 7-seed Rutgers and No. 3-seed Iowa. It’ll be no one more day’s rest than Ohio State, having gotten the double-bye.
“We’ve got to come out ready to play,” reserve guard Andre Curbelo said. “… That’s (like) a Final Four game, a championship game. We’ve just got to come out ready to go from the get-go, just like we did today. And we just got to be ready to go mentally. The job is not finished. And just got to have that mentality for (Sunday).
Projecting the field
If prognosticators are correct, the Big Ten will get 9 teams in the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is unveiled at 6 p.m. today (CBS), exceeding the league record of 8 set in the last tourney in 2019.
Not only will the Big Ten beat it by one — at least that’s the way the Field of 68 is being projected now — but it’ll have better seeds, too. This March, the league is likely to have two No. 1s in Michigan and Illinois and potentially two No. 2s in Ohio State and Iowa. Both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS’ Jerry Palm anticipate that being the case in their latest bracket releases.
During the 8-bid season in 2019, the Big Ten didn’t have a 1 seed, instead its top four seeds were No. 2s Michigan and Michigan State, No. 3 Purdue and No. 5 Wisconsin. The remaining were Maryland (6), Iowa (10), Minnesota (10) and Ohio State (11).
This season, Lunardi and Palm have Purdue as the Big Ten’s 5th-best seed, as a No. 4. They deviate on Wisconsin, with Lunardi putting the Badgers as a 7 and Palm as a 9. Palm has Rutgers as an 8, while Lunardi thinks the Scarlet Knights will be one seed lower.
It looks as though bubble teams Michigan State and Maryland are safely in the field, with neither bracketologist putting them within its “last four in.” Lunardi projects a 10 seed for Maryland and an 11 for MSU, while Palm forecasts the opposite, a 10 for the Spartans and an 11 for the Terrapins.
Back in ’19, of the 8 that made the tournament, Michigan State advanced the furthest, getting to the Final Four. Purdue very nearly joined the Spartans but lost in overtime to eventual champion Virginia in the Elite Eight. Michigan’s run ended in the Sweet 16 while everyone else flamed out in the second round or sooner.
By the way, if the Big Ten gets 9 entries as expected, it’ll join the 2017 and 2018 ACC and the 2012 Big East. But it won’t be a record. In 2011, the Big East sent 11 to the Big Dance, including UConn, which won the national championship.
Michigan’s Isaiah Livers out
Michigan suffered a loss to Ohio State Saturday, but the bigger one might have come earlier in the day.
The program announced before the game that senior Isaiah Livers is out indefinitely with a stress injury to his right foot. He had an MRI Wednesday following the Wolverines’ win over Maryland.
Livers says he’s dealt with the foot injury for weeks, but it was re-aggravated vs. the Terps.
“We haven’t gotten the chance to even talk about or discuss any type of return date,” he said. “We’re just focusing on each day and trying to rehab it as best as possible. I know they put me in a boot, which is comfortable. It keeps me off my foot. It can reduce time. But (Michigan trainer Alex Wong) says it’s one of those things where you’ve just got to further evaluate. And each day, each week, you’ve got to figure out what’s going on with it.”
Livers is averaging 13.1 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists this season for Michigan.