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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

3/7/07 - Tournament Preview - Part I

A team-by-team breakdown of this weekend's Big 10 Tournament. Today I will be focusing on the teams in Thursday's opening round games. Check back tomorrow for a look at the #1-5 seeds with 1st-round byes.

The Wolverines finished the season with a nice home win over Michigan State followed by a close, but very disappointing loss to Ohio State at home. With a 8-8 conference record, Michigan no doubt has some work to do if they plan on playing NCAA Tournament games next week. The good news is 8 seeds are 7-2 in opening round games since the beginning of the Big Ten Tournament. However, Michigan needs to get at the very least 2 wins this weekend in order to get back into the bubble discussion.

In last year's opening round game, then 10-seed Minnesota defeated Michigan 59-55 before losing to eventual Tournament Champion Iowa on Friday. The Gophers have dropped 8 straight conference games to end the regular season and finish with a 3-13 record in Big 10 play. Those 3 wins were over Purdue (Jan. 3rd), Penn State, and Northwestern. Minnesota has not been within 10 points in a game since February 10th, a 2 point loss to Michigan at home. I think Minnesota matches up decently with Michigan, but I also think Gopher fans should expect a very short stay in Chicago.

#7-Michigan State
This year's Spartans have been the definition of the Home/Away, Jekyl/Hyde, Big 10 team. MSU finished the regular season at .500 with a 7-1 home record and a 1-7 record on the road. Thanks to the toughest in-conference schedule and some nice non-conference wins, most "Bracketologists" have the Spartans in the Dance as of now. Historically there may be some concern in East Lansing, looking at the fact that 7-seeds are only 3-6 all-time in opening round games. Those concerns are no doubt lightened by the fact that MSU's first round opponent in lowly Northwestern. Out of the six teams playing on Thursday, Michigan State probably has the best chance to hold up the trophy on Sunday. A win over Northwestern would set up a very fun rematch of their last second loss Saturday at Wisconsin.

In their only meeting this season, Northwestern lost to Michigan State 66-45 at MSU. The Wildcats can take some confidence in the fact the 7/10 game has been most likely to produce a 1st round upset in Big Ten history. 10-seeds are 6-3 all-time in their match-ups with 7-seeds. But no 10-seed has ever made it past a 2-seed and advanced to the semifinal. I have no reason to hide that I will be personally cheering for the upset tomorrow, just so I can have the pleasure of watching Wildcat senior Tim Doyle dominate from his spot on top of Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone defense for just one more game!

After losing at Iowa to end the regular season, Illinois has found themselves smack dab in the middle of the "Last 4 in/Last 4 out" territory. A couple of wins this week would certainly help their cause and impress the selection commitee when it matters most. The bad news for Illinois is that I see this matchup as being the most likely to produce an early upset in this year's tournament. Coming into this Thursday I see Penn State as one of the best 11-seeds of recent memory. But if the Illini can get past the Lions, things could shake down very nicely for them to make a deep run into the weekend.

#11-Penn State
The Nittany Lions have to be one of the best 2-14 teams in Big 10 history. A lot was expected from this bunch before the 2006-07 season, but for many reasons this Penn State team has never gotten things rolling. They have played 2 very tight games this year versus the top-ranked team in the country, Ohio State, and have shown at times, the ability to hang with anybody. However, in the 9 year history of the Big 10 Tournament, an 11-seed has won their 1st round game only once. That was Illinois in 1999 during their miraculous run to the championship game. This is a very dangerous team that could spoil the hopes of many Illini. Penn State has absolutely nothing to play for other than a Big 10 Championship.

Comments on "3/7/07 - Tournament Preview - Part I"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (March 7, 2007 at 2:21 PM) : 

Doyle Rules!


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