Selection Sunday is this weekend, which means the greatest gambling stretch of the year is upon us. If you haven’t received an invite yet and are interested in participating, email me and I’ll send you the details. Good luck and GO ILLINI!
The 2006 Big Ten Tournament tips off today at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Even though I wish the event was back in Chicago for the weekend, the depth of the conference this season means it’s going to be unpredictable and exciting starting from the first game. There’s no locks anywhere this year. Here are my predictions for the first round:
Game 1: #8 Penn State vs. #9 Northwestern – The Wildcats, who lost to the Nittany Lions in their 2 previous meetings this year, are going to get over the hump this time around. Vedran Vukusic is going to lead Northwestern’s Princeton-style offense to victory and slow down Penn State’s outside shooting. Predicted Winner: Northwestern
Game 2: #7 Michigan vs. #10 Minnesota – Two of the most inconsistent teams in the conference. Michigan had a great first half of the Big Ten season, while Minnesota had a great second half. Daniel Horton and Wolverines, however, are going to be hungrier since they need notch the win so that they can rest easy on Selection Sunday. Michigan ought to be in the NCAA Tournament at this point, but they can’t afford a first round loss here. My guess is that they’ll be fired up just as they were in their game against the Illini a couple of weeks ago and roll over the Gophers. Predicted Winner: Michigan
Game 3: #6 Michigan State vs. #11 Purdue – The consensus around the Big Ten is that the Spartans were a disappointment this year. Certainly, with the nucleus of last year’s Final Four team back this season, Michigan State was predicted to be one of the top 5 teams in the nation. Instead, they didn’t even crack the top 5 of the Big Ten. However, Illini Wonk pointed out how the unbalanced schedule of the Big Ten stacked the deck against the Spartans this season. He noted that Michigan State had to play all of the top 5 teams in the conference twice for a total of 10 games. In contrast, Big Ten champion Ohio State only had to play 5 games against the top 5 (the only team of that group they played twice was Wisconsin). What does this mean? While the Spartans underachieved on a number of fronts this year, they’re still a whole lot better team than their record indicates. Remember this when you’re filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket next week. Anyway, Michigan State is going to kill Purdue in this game to set up a Friday nightcap with Illinois. Trying to win a third game against the Spartans in the same season scares me a little bit, but I’ll approach that subject tomorrow if my prediction for today turns out to be correct. Predicted Winner: Michigan State
Enjoy the games today!
When the Big East Conference announced that it was adding DePaul to its roster of schools, two primary thoughts came to my mind. First, I was excited to see DePaul reaffirm its long-standing Catholic university rivalries with Notre Dame and Marquette while adding on top notch eastern opponents such as UConn, Syracuse, and Georgetown. My next immediate thought was how great it would be to watch DePaul play in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in March every year no matter how the team’s season went.
Well, the second thought is going to be held off until at least next year. The Big East decided to have only the top 12 teams out of the 16-team conference make it to New York for the tournament, which began yesterday. DePaul fell on the short-end this season.
A number of Big East coaches (and not just the ones who aren’t in New York this week) have complained that this format is going to put immense pressure on the coaches that don’t make it to the conference tourney. Plus, every school wants the opportunity to wine and dine its alums and supporters in Manhattan once a year. Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, however, didn’t want to have a 16-team tourney because he wanted to avoid forcing the top seeds to play 4 games to win the championship.
Tranghese is correct in his concern. The top seeds in the tournaments for the five other BCS conferences only need to play 3 games to win their respective championships. The last thing the Big East wants is for its top teams (who are usually Final Four contenders) to be exhausted heading into the NCAA Tournament. Yet, there’s a way for the Big East to preserve an advantage for its top seeds and still invite all 16 teams to the Mecca of Basketball: make the conference tournament into a 5-round extravaganza.
Here’s how it would work. The bottom 8 seeds would play in the first round. The 5th through 8th seeds would receive a first round-bye and play the winners from the first round in the second round. The top 4 seeds would get byes for the first 2 rounds and meet the second round victors in the quarterfinals.
This format allows the top seeds to only have to play 3 games to win the championship. At the same time, it gives the bottom teams a chance to participate but they need to run the gauntlet of 5 games to win the tournament. That means that the chances of a fluke team getting the Big East automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament are slim, which is how it should be. Finally, as a fan, think of what the first 3 rounds would be like – 3 straight days of quadruple-headers of college basketball at the highest level!
Under this proposal, the fans get more meaningful games, the bottom-feeders get the opportunity to go to the Garden, the top teams still have the same advantage in terms of the number of games they need to play as they do in the present structure, and the Big East and its members get one more day of television and ticket revenue. What’s not to love?