The Big Ten tournament in 2011 is going to be an exercise in urgency. Three teams (Michigan State, Michigan and Illinois) will most definitely be presented with win-or-worry circumstances.
Others, like Purdue and Wisconsin, won't be under the gun as much, but two and three seeds are out there for the taking. Wisconsin winning the Big Ten would certain garner them a three. Purdue doing it could warrant a two. We'll see.
But let's have some more fun by talking about the worry worms. Illinois going to make the tournament, to be sure, but if it were to lose its first game — Friday, in the 4/5 tilt against Michigan — then there's a decent chance the Illini will be sent to Dayton for the First Four. Interesting situation that team's presented with, as it's underachieved all year, but definitely has the resume to keep it safe, despite what would be a bad, opening-round loss.
Michigan, on the other hand, probably needs to win that game to get a bid. The Wolverines have been absolutely ignited by Tim Hardaway, Jr.'s play as of late. You always hear about how a certain sport is better when a certain team is good. Michigan in the NCAAs is a good thing. It's been seldom in the past 15 years, you know? Would love to see maize and blue back in The Dance, especially with ESPN airing that anniversary piece on the Fab Five this Sunday.
Anyway, UM has gotta win to get in, and I think one W is all that's required, believe it or not. Didn't think that would be the case even a week ago. As for Michigan State, well, let's get to the game capsules. These babies tip tomorrow, starting at 2:30 ET.
Northwestern (8) vs. Minnesota (9). Does Northwestern deliver one last heel to the jaw of the Golden Gophers' season? This is the feel-bad-for-you game. Both teams were believed to be at-large worthy back in November and December. But now: shadows of former selves. The loser just drapes the sheet over another lost season. The winner gets sacrificed to Ohio State.
Michigan State (7) vs. Iowa (10). The Spartans are absolutely, 100 percent not going to The Dance if they lose this game. Kalin Lucas (right) can elevate his status in terms of all-time Spartans if he somehow gets MSU to a Big Ten title game. The NCAA tournament is a different beast altogether. With a win here (and, really, again, MSU needs to get its March mojo going and win this game by 15) would put Sparty against Purdue Friday.
Penn State (6). vs. Indiana (11). You know it's a backward year in the Big Ten if Penn State is the sixth seed. Not much to glean from this, I guess. The Nittany Lions are of the bubble picture, but would get on if they won this game, upset Wisconsin, then won again to make the finals. Unlikely. But good on them to navigate near the top half of the conference. Expect Penn State's Talor Battle to put on a show. He could be the one that steals it in Indianapolis this week.
Posted by Matt Norlander