Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 10:46 pm

Big Ten quarterfinals preview

The higher-seeded teams all won in the Big Ten tournament on Thursday ... except Northwestern.

What a stupid loss for a bunch of smart kids.

The Wildcats' 75-68 loss to Minnesota ended any realistic hopes they had of making the NCAA tournament. So that's one storyline we won't deal with on Selection Sunday. That's good, I guess.

Let's look at Friday's matchups in the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan State (1) vs. Iowa (8): The good news is that Tom Izzo won't have to end Bruce Weber's Big Ten career. The bad news is that Fran McCaffery almost certainly did courtesy of Iowa's 64-61 victory over Illinois in Thursday's first round. So now we get Michigan State vs. Iowa. The Spartans beat the Hawkeyes by 34 points in the only meeting between the two schools this season. This game shouldn't be that lopsided. But Michigan State should still win easily.

Wisconsin (4) vs. Indiana (5): Tom Crean has experienced enough injuries in his tenure at Indiana to know when things are good or bad, so when he said Verdell Jones' knee injury was "not good" after Thursday's win over Penn State it was safe to assume Jones wouldn't play in Friday's quarterfinals, and that he probably won't play in the NCAA tournament, either. That's too bad. The senior deserved to finish his career the right way. Now he'll likely finish it on crutches. Either way, this Wisconsin-Indiana game will be fun. Wisconsin won the season's only meeting by single digits at the Kohl Center. Take that for what it's worth.

Michigan (2) vs. Minnesota (10): Tubby Smith ensured Northwestern will remain the nation's only power-conference school to never make the NCAA tournament by dealing the Wildcats a loss in Thursday's first round. Now excuse me while I talk to Northwestern. (Really, Northwestern? College basketball fans -- and analysts -- seemed OK with putting you in the Field of 68 despite your 1-10 record against the Top 50, and then you went out and lost to Minnesota, which isn't even a Top 50 team. Shame on you, Wildcats. I can't even look at you right now.)

Ohio State (3) vs. Purdue (6): The Boilermakers played Ohio State tough in Columbus during the regular season despite the fact that Robbie Hummel missed nine of the 13 shots he took. So if the senior star is better Friday ...
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:33 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 12:47 am

What-to-know conference previews: Big Ten

They played 18 league games and couldn't settle it.

So let's settle it in Indianapolis.

The Big Ten Tournament starts there Thursday -- Will the city be over Peyton Manning by then? -- with four games that do not feature one of the three co-champions -- namely Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. The Buckeyes' victory at Michigan State on Sunday created the three-way tie for first. It also probably cost the Spartans a shot at a No. 1 seed, but they'll still get a two seed as long as they don't do something stupid in Indianapolis (like lose Friday to Illinois or Iowa).

What about Wisconsin and Indiana?

It honestly won't surprise me if either wins this event because both are legitimate Top 20 teams, too. That's why Friday's quarterfinals should be great and Saturday's semifinals greater. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Thursday's first-round games provide some nice storylines, too.


Iowa (8) vs. Illinois (9): Each time I talk to somebody in basketball they ask me who's gonna get the Illinois job, which suggests nobody thinks Bruce Weber will coach in the Big Ten next season. And that's too bad. Weber is a good coach and a good man. But he stayed in one place too long, and now he's on his way out. He might beat Iowa on Thursday but he won't beat Michigan State on Friday.

Indiana (5) vs. Penn State (12): Indiana started the regular season as a borderline NCAA Tournament team and ended the regular season as a No. 4 seed, according to my colleague Jerry Palm. So that's a good season. It'll get better when the Hoosiers handle Penn State on Thursday. It'll get a lot better if the Hoosiers handle Wisconsin on Friday.

Northwestern (7) vs. Minnesota (10): A win here might be enough for Northwestern to secure its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. So win here, Northwestern. Just win here and make everybody (outside of Minnesota) happy. Tubby's been to enough NCAA Tournaments. It's your time, Wildcats. Don't screw this up.

Purdue (6) vs. Nebraska (11): The Boilermakers are in a strange spot. They could win this game and probably get off the 8-9 line for the NCAA Tournament or lose this game and definitely get off the 8-9 line for the NCAA Tournament. So what should they do? They should try to win, obviously. But a loss wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. An eight seed or a nine seed would be the worst thing in the world. That's all I'm saying.

-- By Gary Parrish
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:03 pm

Ohio St. and Penn St. to go for Big Ten title

It is not the final anyone expected, but after Saturday’s action in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State will play Penn State on Sunday for the Big Ten championship. The two teams both won their semifinal games with convincing performances in which their stars came out and helped carry their team to impressive victories.

Ohio State defeated Michigan 68-61 on Saturday afternoon in the league's first semifinal. Jared Sullinger was not quite his usual dominant self, but still had beastly moments, scoring 14 points and finishing with 13 rebounds in the victory. Jon Deibler added 16, including two big shots during a 16-0 run in the second half that helped push the Buckeyes lead to 63-45, from which the Wolverines could not come back. With the victory, Ohio State has set itself up to potentially be selected the No. 1 overall seed on Sunday when the brackets are announced, regardless of the final outcome of the Big Ten tournament. A conference win however would make the Buckeyes the first repeat Big Ten tournament champions since 2000.

Thad Matta’s team’s opponent will be Penn State, thanks to an impressive 61-48 victory over Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have been one of the surprises of college basketball this season, but came into the Big Ten tournament likely needing a couple of wins to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday however they looked clearly the part of a NCAA team, shutting down Michigan State offensively and getting terrific performances from Talor Battle and Tim Frazier. Battle scored 25 points in the victory and Frazier had a spectacular 22 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists to help Penn State produce one of their most complete performances thus far this season.

The final will be a repeat of a game from just two weeks ago, when Ohio State took out the Nittany Lions 81-62 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State had no answer then for Jon Diebler, who set a conference record by draining 10 three-pointers in the game and making a mockery of the Nittany Lions’ perimeter defense. Stopping the three point shot, while still finding a way to double team Jared Sullinger in the post is a hard row to hoe for any team, but is especially crucial for a Penn State team that likes to play with so few offensive possessions. 

From the outset, Ohio State will seek to control tempo and keep the game at much faster pace than Penn State has been accustomed to seeing so far this tournament. Penn State’s defense has been the story early on in the Big Ten tournament and they are only allowing teams to average 45.3 points a game against them in Indianapolis. Expect Ohio State to quickly force transition opportunities, while making Penn State run much more than their opponents have so far in Big Ten play. When the two teams played a close game in Columbus earlier this year, it was because Ohio State allowed Penn State to dictate pace, a mistake I don’t expect them to make in the final.

Sunday will be a big day for Ohio State regardless of the game’s outcome. The Buckeyes are certain to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and may very well end up its overall No. 1 seed. Penn State has had an impressive run thus far this week and has likely played its way into the final 68 Sunday evening with its impressive (if visually unappealing) performances. But the ride is likely to end on Sunday, as Ohio State crushes its dream of winning the first conference tournament title in school history, on the Buckeyes' path to a potential Final Four destiny.

Posted by Matt Jones

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:33 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:35 am

Saturday's Big Ten matchups unexpected

Very few people likely had Ohio State vs. Michigan and Michigan State vs. Penn State as their two Big Ten semifinal matchups before the tournament started. However, those are exactly the games we are going to get on Saturday in the Big Ten conference tournament semifinals.

The first game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines does follow seeding, but still comes as somewhat of a surprise. The Buckeyes looked exceedingly vulnerable in their first round win over Northwestern. Unlike in the past couple of weeks, when ball movement and top-notch passing had been the signature strengths of their team, Ohio State only had three assists for the entire game against Northwestern and too often looked stagnant on the offensive end. Thad Matta had expressed just how happy he was with his team's development coming into the Big Ten tournament, but Saturday's game will tell us whether the Friday performance was simply an aberration or a sign of potential problems that could be creeping in.

Ohio State's opponent Michigan, comes in having likely assured itself of a NCAA tournament berth and can now focus on trying to play a good game against its rival. The Wolverines have been terrible against Ohio State over the past few years, but this season both games have been competitive. John Beilein has gotten a good one-two scoring punch from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, the latter of which was great in the victory over Illinois on Friday. If Michigan is to have any chance of pulling the upset, both players must be able to score effectively and find a way to limit the possessions of the big guys down low for Ohio State. In both prior losses, interior points have been the difference and that will once again have to be the focus for Michigan.

In the second semifinal, the story is all about Michigan State and the resurgence once again under Tom Izzo in March. Coming into the Big Ten tournament, it wasn't even clear that the Spartans were assured a berth in the NCAA tournament. But as always, Izzo has his team playing the best when it matters the most. Kalin Lucas was brilliant against Purdue on Friday, scoring 30 points in an absolute embarrassment of a team that still considered itself to be an outside contender for a No. 1 seed. As with all Izzo teams, this Spartan group has turned up the March heat by ramping up defensive intensity and making fewer mistakes. It has been a recipe for success in the first two games of this tournament and with a win on Saturday, could get Michigan State back to an unlikely conference title game.

As for Penn State, the upset win against Wisconsin was probably (a) the ugliest game in the history of organized basketball and (b) enough to get the Nittany Lions in the NCAA tournament. The game on Friday night featured the fewest possessions of any college basketball game since 1998...an amazing statistic that showcases just bizarre a game it actually was to watch. But all that matters to Penn State's players and coaches is the result, and with the win the entire postseason has opened up. A win over Michigan State would remove all doubt as to the team's future, and because the Lions only scored 36 points on Friday night, they should have plenty of energy left to score the necessary points on Saturday.

Posted by Matt Jones

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:12 am
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Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:06 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:28 am
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Posted on: March 12, 2011 2:43 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 4:11 am

Odd day in Indy sets up unpredictable Saturday

Conference tournament quarterfinal days are by their very nature, unpredictable. The combination of high stakes, postseason jitters and differing motivation levels inevitably creates surprising games and often curious results. But even in the span of strange days in major conference tournament land, Friday's foursome of contests in Indianapolis will be hard to beat. 
It began with Ohio State needing overtime and a questionable technical foul call late in order to dispense with Northwestern, 67-61 in overtime. The Buckeyes, who had looked like potentially the most complete team in America over the last month of the season, looked decidedly ordinary throughout Friday's game, missing shots, executing poorly and having the look of a team not hitting on all cylinders. If not for a professional performance from freshman Jared Sullinger, whose 16-18 shooting from the free throw line was the difference in the game, Ohio State would have taken an embarrassing loss right at a time that it was supposed to be getting in gear for a national championship run. It may or may not be indicative of the play to come for the Buckeyes, but going into Saturday's semifinals, the taste of the performance against Northwestern has to be at least a little unsettling.

While Ohio State avoided the disappointing upset, Purdue not only fell victim, but was destroyed in the process. The Boilermakers dropped a shocking loss to Michigan State 74-56 in a game that they were very rarely in. From the outset, the Spartans jumped on top, building up a 14 point lead at halftime. Kalin Lucas was a star, scoring 30 points and dominating a Purdue team that looked nothing like its top ten ranking. The Boilermakers had hoped to lock up a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but with the force of the loss, now may be looking at a 3 and a potentially much more difficult first round game. Whereas for Michigan State and Tom Izzo, it is March, which means that once again, they are playing their best basketball.

Wisconsin and Penn State played one of the strangest (or should I say, most unwatchable) basketball games of the past decade on Friday, as the Nittany Lions won 36-33. The game featured only 42 total possessions, the fewest for any game in college basketball since 1998. Both teams played at a snail's pace, provided virtually no tempo and set the entire sport back at least 20 years by emptying the arena from all but the most diehard fans. But the win did give Penn State a fighting chance to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, an accomplishment that seemed very unlikely just a few days ago.

Finally, in the most normal of the quarterfinals, Michigan topped Illinois to get a step closer to an NCAA tournament berth. John Beilein's team won 60-55, extending the inconsistent and perplexing play of the Illini. Michigan's Darius Morris led all scorers with 17 points and added 7 assists, in a dominating performance for the Wolverines.

With the action on Friday, the entire bracket for the tournament has now opened up, allowing a number of interesting opportunities. Ohio State is clearly the definitive favorite and will take on its rival Michigan on Saturday. But it will be interesting to see if Thad Matta's team can bounce back from its uncharacteristic performance on Friday and put together a complete game against the Wolverines. No team played better in the last couple of weeks of the regular season and the Buckeyes have owned Michigan over the last few years. But I saw troubling signs against Northwestern that I didn't expect this Buckeye team to project, making me wonder if I should just write it off as a one game aberration or something to remember when the brackets are announced. Saturday's game will give us a good indication as to which is correct.

As for the second semifinal, Penn State will have an opportunity to bore another team into submission and pull of a second upset against Michigan State. Tom Izzo seems to have his team once again playing better in the postseason that at any time during the regular season and his group could be peaking on exactly the right timeframe. The Spartans have likely locked up a berth in the NCAA tournament, but Penn State may need one more victory to feel confident when the brackets are announced. Expect a lot of passion from both teams as Michigan State seeks to fulfill its lofty early expectations and the Nittany Lions play for a rare trip to the NCAA promise land.

One thing is certain. No matter what happens on Saturday, it won't be any more surprising than the bizarre stretch of games we saw on Friday.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com