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In preparation for the Big Ten Tournament tomorrow, we put together a preview featuring the final efficiency margin table along with capsules of the early games and the teams that earned byes.
Ohio State’s offensive explosion in the final two weeks cemented the Buckeyes where they belong: at the top of the league. Just about everyone else fell into line about where you would expect. The lone exception is Minnesota, whose numbers are propped up by Al Nolen playing the first half of the conference slate.
Despite Michigan’s second half surge, they still have a negative efficiency margin in conference play which is actually .02 points per possession worse than last year’s squad. This year, however, two Big Ten teams with negative efficiency margins – Michigan and Michigan State – are still in a position to grab NCAA tournament bids. Squads with a negative efficiency margins in conference play are almost always eliminated from the tournament swiftly. In fact, it’s been five years since a team with a negative efficiency margin made the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The caveat is that John Beilein teams routinely break this rule. The last major conference team with a negative efficiency margin team to win a tournament game was Michigan in 2009. The last negative-EM team to make the second weekend was West Virginia in 2005. Will Michigan 2011 break the rules again? A respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament and the Wolverines will have a chance. Preview capsules after the jump.
Penn State vs. Indiana
Penn State has a long ways to go to make the NCAA tournament but not because of anything the Nitanny Lions did in conference play. Penn State played the league’s toughest schedule, with single plays versus Iowa and Indiana, but managed to tie for fourth with the fifth best efficiency margin. Pathetic non-conference performance aside, Penn State has the look of a team capable of making a run. Look for the Nits to steamroll Indiana and give Wisconsin everything they can handle.
Michigan State vs. Iowa
Michigan State has everything to play for. The Spartans have been to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments and a loss here would almost assuredly send them to the NIT. Iowa fans might just be glad not to see Michigan across from their name on the Big Ten Tournament bracket. The Wolverines have ended their season in Indianapolis three years in a row.
Iowa is certainly in rebuilding mode but Fran McCaferty’s squad has showed signs of life. The Hawkeyes enter the tournament after a home win over Purdue and split the season series against the Spartans – a 20 point home win and a 19 point road loss. It would likely take a horrific shooting night from Kalin Lucas to doom Michigan State but you have to play the game.
Northwestern vs. Minnesota
Northwestern lost seven of its final 11 games this season but remains the hotter team in this game. Minnesota has disintegrated before our eyes, closing the season by losing nine of its final 10 games. Someone has to win this game but don’t expect much in the way of aesthetics. Northwestern knocked off the Gophers last week and Tubby Smith has confirmed that Al Nolen will remain sidelined in the Tournament.
Michigan vs. Illinois
The only predetermined game on Friday pits a pair of bubble teams head-to-head. Michigan’s current standing might be more tenuous than Illinois’ but the Wolverines are playing very good basketball of late, winning eight of 11 games including a pair of buzzer beating losses. Unfortunately for Michigan, one of those losses was at Illinois and the size on the Illini roster presents problems for Michigan’s undersized frontline. Michigan was just 2-18 from three point range in the first game and some hot shooting might be the difference this time around. The winner punches an NCAA ticket, the loser will have a long wait until Selection Sunday.
The Buckeyes are not just the best team in the conference, they are the best team in the country. Ohio State’s offense comes into this game on fire, having scored 346 points over the last 251 possessions, a remarkable 1.38 points per trip. The rest of the conference better hope that the NBA rims in Conseco Fieldhouse affect Ohio State’s shooting stroke because not much else has worked lately.
Purdue entered last weekend with a chance at sharing the Big Ten title. All the Boilermakers had to do was beat Iowa and hope Wisconsin could upset Ohio State for a second time. The question is whether the Iowa loss was the wake-up call the Boilermakers needed or an ominous sign of things to come. Purdue will likely face a Michigan State team that they handled twice this season with relative ease.
Similar to Purdue, Wisconsin enters the tournament on the heels of a loss. However, the Badgers didn’t lose to a basement feeder – they got run over by Ohio State’s offensive juggernaut in Columbus. The real concern might be that the Badgers have struggled away from home with seven road/neutral losses and a couple of narrow road escapes (Iowa, Michigan). Jordan Taylor vs. Talor Battle could be one of the most exciting individual match-ups of the tournament, in what could be Battle’s last Big Ten game, barring one last bout of heroics.
NCAA Tournament Stakes:
With so many Big Ten teams on or around the bubble, there are strong NCAA Tournament implications with every result in Indianapolis. Here’s a rundown of what the Big Ten Tournament means for each school’s NCAA tournament prospects.
- Ohio State: Likely has a No. 1 seed locked up, playing for the No. 1 overall seed.
- Wisconsin & Purdue: Assuming both teams meet in the semi-finals, the winner likely earns the chance to play the first weekend in Chicago.
- Illinois: The Illini have the strongest bubble resume and are likely in the tournament, even with a loss to Michigan.
- Michigan: Michigan needs a win over Illinois to feel safe. A loss might not end their chances but it probably shifts the “best case scenario” to a trip to the First Four in Dayton.
- Michigan State: A loss to Iowa would knock the Spartans out of the tournament but a win probably doesn’t officially punch their ticket. A quarterfinal win over Purdue would do the trick.
- Penn State: The Nittany Lions might need to make it to Sunday to make the dance but wins over Indiana and Wisconsin would put them in the mix.
- Must Win Tournament: Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana
- Northwestern over Minnesota, Michigan State over Iowa, Penn State over Indiana
- Ohio State over Northwestern, Michigan over Illinois, Penn State over Wisconsin, Purdue over Michigan State
- Ohio State over Michigan, Purdue over Penn State
- Purdue over Ohio State