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!