March 10, 2009

Previewing the Big Ten tournament

MADISON, Wis. - Sunday night marked the end to one of the most unpredictable, sometimes senseless, Big Ten regular seasons in recent memory. Michigan State wound up finishing with only three losses and wining the conference, but after that, no team finished with more less than seven losses.

When all 11 teams migrate to Indianapolis later this week, one would have to expect the 2009 Big Ten tournament to be one of the most open fields since the tournament's inception 11 years ago.

"How the Big Ten has come from where it was maybe when it had some down years is great," Wisconsin forward Marcus Landry said following his teams finale against Indiana. "So going into the tournament here, you've got teams like us that have lost six games, seven games and other teams that lost the same amount.

"What you've seen during the season is what you'll see in the Big Ten tournament."

What we have seen this season is an upstart Northwestern squad go into both Purdue and Michigan State and claim victory. We saw Iowa, only a five-game conference winner, beat Wisconsin and Penn State at home.

Speaking of Penn State, the Nittany Lions swept Illinois and also claimed victory in front of the Izzone at Michigan State. Minnesota swept the Badgers. UW lost six straight but righted itself to win seven of its final nine and Ohio State yet again secured a bye into the quarterfinals.

Needless to say, Thursday cannot come too soon as this season's tourney promises to be spectacular. Before Minnesota and Northwestern kick off the festivities at Conseco Fieldhouse, BadgerBlitz.com previews the tournament.

Who should win it?

Michigan State: As outright winners of the regular season by four games, MSU would have to be the favorite. However, after taking on the winner of the Minnesota or Northwestern game, one the Spartans should win, either Wisconsin or Ohio State will stand in their road to the finals.

Should MSU play the Badgers, it will get an opportunity to avenge a loss in the semi-finals a year ago in which it blew a double-digit lead late in the second half. And then this season, the Badgers had a 12-point lead with 12 minutes to play in the teams' only meeting before bowing down to the Spartans and eventually losing by 11.

On the year, MSU has swept the Buckeyes, so Wisconsin would likely give the Spartans the biggest amount of trouble in the semi-final round. Then, a potential rematch with Purdue, a team hampered by injuries all season, would likely be the only thing between an outright regular season and conference tournament championship double dip for Sparty.

Who could win it?

Wisconsin: Take away double-digit losses at Purdue and at Michigan State (even though UW blew a 12-point second half lead) and the Badgers lost the other six conference games by a combined 24 points. Not to mention that UW had the lead in every second half, except for at Illinois, before being unable to finish off the opponents down the stretch.

So, what do all the close losses suggest? It is truly simple, the Badgers can compete with anyone and everyone in this league, and should the ball start bouncing in its favor, UW could make a deep run in the tournament. Plus, when a team plays as good defensively as the Badgers do, they will always be in the game.

And Ryan always has his team playing its best ball during the conference tournament slate. Over the past five years, the Badgers have reached the Big Ten tournament finals four times, winning two of the four.

"I think our guys have stayed hungry," Ryan said. "You got to play hard and smart for three, maybe four days. For us it's been three because we've been able to avoid the first day's action since we've been here. So we've been fortunate that way in the sense that we've taken care of business in the regular season.

"The fact that we've been successful, the players have committed to that."

Who needs to make a run?

Both Indiana and Iowa will need to win the tournament to have any post-season aspirations. Outside of that, the Big Ten has nine teams with at least eight conference wins.

Northwestern would likely have to make a run to the championship game, and probably win it, to have a legitimate shot on selection Sunday. That makes the Minnesota-Northwestern opener of the utmost importance. The loser of that game would have likely played itself out of the tournament.

Otherwise, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State could all use at least one more victory to pad their record and improve their resume for the committee.

Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois seem to be locks, with Wisconsin and Ohio State knocking on that door, but poor performances would really hamper the seeding process for any of those schools.

Penn State, after losing at Iowa last weekend, has something to prove. And Michigan needs to follow its huge road win at Minnesota with a win over Iowa and potentially Illinois in the quarterfinals to secure a birth to the big dance.

All-conference performers:

First team (unanimous coaches and media selections)

Manny Harris: Michigan
Kalin Lucas: Michigan State
Evan Turner: Ohio State
Talor Battle: Penn State
JaJuan Johnson: Purdue

Second team (coaches)
Mike Davis: Illinois
Goran Suton: Michigan State
Kevin Coble: Northwestern
E'Twaun Moore: Purdue
Marcus Landry: Wisconsin

Second team (media)
DeShawn Sims: Michigan
Goran Suton: Michigan State
Kevin Coble: Northwestern
Jamelle Cornley: Penn State
E'Twaun Moore: Purdue

Third team (coaches)
Demetri McCamey: Illinois
DeShawn Sims: Michigan
Craig Moore: Northwestern
Jamelle Cornley: Penn State
Robbie Hummel: Purdue

Third team (media)
Mike Davis: Illinois
Demetri McCamey: Illinois
Craig Moore: Northwestern
Robbie Hummel: Purdue
Marcus Landry: Wisconsin

Honorable mention (* indicates unanimous selection)
Mike Tisdale*: Illinois
Jake Kelly*: Iowa
Raymar Morgan*: Michigan State
Lawrence Westbrook*: Minnesota
William Buford: Ohio State (coaches only)
Jon Diebler*: Ohio State
Stanley Pringle*: Penn State
Trevon Hughes*: Wisconsin
Travis Walton: Michigan State (media only)
Chris Kramer: Purdue (media only)
Joe Krabbenhoft: Wisconsin (media only)

Player of the year (unanimous)
Kalin Lucas: Michigan State

Freshman of the year (unanimous)
William Buford: Ohio State

Coach of the year
Tom Izzo: Michigan State (coaches)
Ed DeChellis: Penn State (media)

Defensive player of the year
Travis Walton: Michigan State

All-Freshman team
Matt Gatens: Iowa
Delvon Roe: Michigan State
William Buford: Ohio State
B.J. Mullens: Ohio State
Lewis Jackson: Purdue

All-Defensive team
Chester Frazier: Illinois
Travis Walton: Michigan State
Damian Johnson: Minnesota
Chris Kramer: Purdue
JaJuan Johnson: Purdue

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