It may be college bowl season, and today may be New Year’s Eve. The focus of today in the sports realm, to me however, is the beginning of Big Ten basketball. Action tips off right now on ESPN2 where Minnesota hosts the Michigan State Spartans. After that, the Hoosiers of Indiana visit Iowa in what promises to be the start of a great conference season.
The Big Ten is shaping up to be one of the top basketball conferences in the NCAA yet again. With six teams (Michigan #2, Indiana #5, Ohio State #10, Minnesota #14, Illinois #15, and Michigan State #19) currently in the top twenty the next few weeks should really shake up the rankings. But just as the conference is ridiculed for not winning the big game in football, the same goes for the Big Ten in March. No team from the conference has hoisted the National Championship trophy since 2000 when Tom Izzo and Michigan State defeated the Florida Gators 89-76. The conference has been represented four times since then, but none of the teams were able to get that last victory. However, I am not focusing on March just yet. Here are some interesting match ups in the Big Ten to look forward to in the coming weeks.
January 6 – Iowa @ Michigan – I would have actually picked today’s game against Indiana to be a key match up for the Hawkeyes, but since I assume you are already watching it I will choose their next ranked opponent. It just so happens to be their next game. Playing two top five teams in the nation is tough for any team to do. Add in that they are in your conference and these two games are even more important. Iowa had a great start sitting at a record of 11-2 after non-conference action. If they plan on keeping the momentum going and building a resume for the NCAA tournament they have to rack up a couple wins against ranked opponents. We will definitely have a better picture of how impressive their record is after the first week of Big Ten play.
January 9 – Minnesota @ Illinois – I know it is early, but based on what I have seen this season I think it is safe to say the Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio State are locks for the tournament–pending a monumental collapse by one or more of them. I also expect Izzo to find a way to have Michigan State primed and ready for a Big Ten tournament run and then on to an NCAA run. With those four teams getting into the tournament that probably leaves room for one or possibly two more spots for Big Ten teams. Minnesota and Illinois did a great job taking care of their non-conference games and the nation has noticed by ranking both of them inside the top fifteen. But, I think that last spot or two comes down to these two and Wisconsin and/or Iowa. What better to make sure you are above your competition than to beat them head-to-head?
January 19 – Ohio State @ Michigan State – A rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship. These two teams are the most legitimate threats to Indiana and Michigan for top of the standings. There may not be a Draymond Green or Jared Sullinger in the low post to provide some great big man play, but with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Ohio State’s arsenal of shooters this will be a fun game to watch. Couple Thad Matta’s chuckers with Izzo’s half court offense and this battle will come down to which team can force the other to play at their pace.
February 17 – Ohio State @ Wisconsin – The Badgers are another team that needs marquee wins to improve their hopes of joining the madness in March. Wisconsin has four losses already compared to nine wins, but none of those losses were detrimental to their chances. I chose the game against OSU for the reason I think they have a great chance to upset the Buckeyes with their home crowd behind them. Matta has had a history of struggling against Bo Ryan’s swing offense and the match up between the two back courts with Aaron Craft and Ben Brust on the same court will be quite entertaining. A win here for the Badgers would be great to hold up to the selection committee in March.
February 2, March 10 – Michigan @ Indiana, Indiana @ Michigan – These two programs are the favorites, in my opinion, to win the regular season conference championship. Ohio State has lost to the only two top ten teams that they have played, which doesn’t bode well for them against these top five teams. And I don’t think Izzo has the roster to compete against Indiana and Michigan in regular season play. As far as the the Big Ten tournament goes it is a toss up as is any other elimination tournament. Both games the Hoosiers and Wolverines play hold a lot of meaning in regards to who will win the conference. I am picking the home team in both games, but it is really a toss up to me.
I am not going to make a prediction as to who will win the conference championship–regular or tournament–because college basketball has such a large amount of parity that me choosing a team is as relevant as the President of the United States’ Final Four picks.
Who will win the Big Ten? Who will the NCAA tournament? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.
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