Big Ten Tournament Preview

IS THE BIG 10 TOURNAMENT A PREVIEW OF THE NCAA'S FINAL FOUR?

You get the sense from media coverage this week that the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament is going to feature Duke, Florida, and six teams from the Big 10. Is the media right that the Big 10 conference is almost all that matters right now in terms of the championship discussion? Or, will be finding out soon that the whole league was overrated...and you just couldn't tell because they played so many games against each other?!

It's your job as handicappers to start making that determination with the eye test during the Big 10 tournament that starts Thursday in Chicago. Can you find defensive holes that powers from other conferences will be able to exploit next week? Can you find weakness on the boards? How about guard play? Everyone will know heading into the Sweet 16 whether or not the Big 10 is for real. Smart handicappers will know before then...and will be exploiting oddmsmaker errors between now and then.

Here how Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has seeds for the conference in his current Bracketology projections (as of midday Wednesday).

Indiana...projected #1 seed
Ohio State...projected #2 seed
Michigan State...projected #3 seed
Michigan...projected #3 seed
Wisconsin...projected #4 seed
Illinois...projected #8 seed
Minnesota...projected #9 seed
Iowa...not currently in, #7 team out of the mix

That's five teams in the Sweet 16...and only two in the Elite Eight. But, many in the media are lobbying hard that Michigan State should also be a #2 seed...and that Michigan should be considered as good as a #2. The computers are suggesting that Minnesota is a lot better than that projected seed. You're just not hearing much "Meh...the Big 10 isn't anything special this year." Let's outline how a crash and burn is at least possible.

INDIANA: this team doesn't have much of a bench, which means they can't handle foul trouble very well. Can you be sure the Hoosiers can avoid foul trouble through the whole Dance?

OHIO STATE: something about how this coaching staff prepares has let to repeated Dance disappointments. The Buckeyes have trouble playing to their seed when expectations are high. Has anything changed this year?

MICHIGAN STATE: well, we LOVE these guys historically in the Dance...so it's hard to find a glaring weakness beyond the fact that their luck may be due to run out.

MICHIGAN: the Wolverines may be primed for an early upset because their defense is soft and has faded in recent weeks...and their late game offense is dormant because they play too passively. We are not impressed with how Michigan closed the season.

WISCONSIN: like Ohio State, they have trouble playing to expectations when expectations are high. There's a "live by the three, die by the three" element to their game. And, they're also so slow offensively that they can keep inferior teams within striking distance. They showed signs of getting the hang of the Dance last year. But...you never want to ask a team to make treys several games in a row.

ILLINOIS AND MINNESOTA: the talent is there on both teams to play a great game every so often. Consistency is a huge concern. You can ask either team to play spoiler. They will really have to lift their games to make any statements in the NCAA's. Either could take out a power...but either could fall in their opener to an off-the-radar opponent.

Maybe Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, and even Wisconsin or Michigan are destined for the Elite Eight or Final Four. Anything can happen in the Big Dance. We think it's most likely that only one reaches the final weekend...and two reach the Elite Eight.

One of the amazing things about the Big 10 is how often their best teams get caught looking ahead to the Big Dance...and play HORRIBLY in the conference tournament. It doesn't always happen. But, it happens a lot more here than in any other conference. One of the powers loses their first game in the round of 8. Another falls in the semifinals...and you have two mid-level spoilers playing for a conference title on CBS while the best teams are home watching on TV.

Given the "locked in" outlook for so many Big 10 powers, that could very easily happen again this year.

INDIANA'S HALF OF THE DRAW
1...Indiana
4...Wisconsin
5...Michigan
8...Illinois
9...Minnesota
12...Penn State

That is conceivably the toughest half of a draw "on paper" we've ever seen in any tournament! Illinois is easily the best #8 seed in the nation...and probably of the last several years across the nation. Minnesota is seen as a top 25 caliber team in the computers...which means they would be about a #4 or #5 seed in most seasons in this event.

Look at Indiana's projected path:

  • First game vs. the 8-9 winner, a talented, fired up bubble team that's already beaten them once
  • Second game vs. strong Wisconsin or Michigan (Penn State's unlikely to go deep)
  • Championship vs. a Lunardi #2 seed coming from the easier half!

Speaking of the easier half...

OHIO STATE'S HALF OF THE DRAW
2...Ohio State
3...Michigan State
6...Iowa
7...Purdue
10...Nebraska

Iowa's not in the Big Dance yet even though they're seeded ahead of Illinois and Minnesota and are getting a lot of respect from computer ratings. Purdue isn't even on the Dance radar even though they're seeded ahead of Illinois and Minnesota. We do like how Purdue finished off the season...and they're a team we're looking at very closely as a possible darkhorse in this event. If you assume that chaos is going to reign again in Chicago...Purdue's a nice to take some shots on. Given the lack of Dance invitations in this half of the draw...things could really get blown open down here.

And...if that does happen...then Indiana's earlier pathway may get a bit softer if they want to cut down these nets too. You just never know what's going to happen in this electric event!

JIM HURLEY loves attacking vulnerable lines...which means he loves the Big 10 tournament! But, he knows we have a very full card today with so much major and mid-major action spread over day and night sessions (ideal for the use of smart money management!). You can purchase his top plays right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about today, or our full tournament package, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

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Back with you Friday with an expanded preview for one of the marquee matchups of the day. It will be tough to choose just one! We'll pick out one top game each day through the weekend to run through our gauntlet of indicator stats that have served us so well through the season on these pages. You've been ahead of the curve all season...and now we're ready to race down THE ROAD TO RICHES through MARCH MADNESS!

It's CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK in college basketball. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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