Thursday's Big Ten Tournament slate features four games, two of which hold some important post season tournament implications. Lucky enough for us, the fans, we start our day with what could be the best and most important game of the day between the Michigan Wolverines and Northwestern Wildcats.
Game of the Day:
#8 seeded Michigan Wolverines vs. #9 seeded Northwestern Wildcats (12:00 PM ET - BTN)
This past Saturday, the Wolverines had a primed opportunity to solidify their NCAA bid against a slumping Iowa Hawkeyes team. A win at home against one of the teams directly in front of them would have gone a long way in terms of boosting Michigan's resume.
If only it worked out the way they drew it up on paper, as the Maize and Blue picked the worst possible time to have one of their worst offensive games of the season. It also didn't help that the Iowa game was their fourth loss in five games.
Now, Michigan needs to run through the gamut if they want to achieve their post season goals. By most industry experts, the Wolverines are listed as one of the "First Four Out" teams and losing to a Northwestern team -- one they just beat by nine points two weeks before -- would ultimately kill any chance they hoped to have.
Northwestern on the other hand, is a mortal lock for the NIT. While this game may not mean as much to them in terms of the Big Dance, they have the potential to jump up a seed or two in college basketballs best consolation prize -- which could mean one more home game for a young team that could use the extra practice and game time.
#7 seeded Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #10 Penn State Nittany Lions (6:30 PM ET - ESPN2)
Yet another must win game for a team that is blowing bubbles on the sidewalk and watching the big dogs eat. Ohio State finds themselves in the same boat as their biggest rivals, Michigan. Depending on where you look, Ohio State is either listed in the "First Four Out" or "Next Four" after that.
A big weekend in Indy -- which will probably have to include an upset win against Michigan State -- could put Thad Matta's young team into the field of 68. Oh and to make matters even more interesting, if Ohio State makes it through Penn State, it would be their third match up against Sparty in 18 days (both games before that were blowout losses for the Buckeyes).
The Nitanny Lions need to recreate their Big Ten Tournament magic from a season ago if they hope to nab an NIT bid. But Pat Chambers has his team playing well as of late and has an onslaught of talent coming in to help out next season. This may be the last time you think about Penn State for a while, but as a friend, you all better get ready for the surge that is coming in Happy Valley.
#5 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes vs. #12 seeded Illinois Fighting Illini (2:30 PM ET - BTN)
While the Iowa Hawkeyes don't need a win to get in by any means, they do need to build off of Saturday's win at Michigan. They need to keep the good times rollin' into the NCAA Tournament. And while I don't have many doubts in this matchup against the limping Fighting Illini -- a team that lost four of their last five games before the Big Ten Tournament -- I do think Iowa needs to come out swinging early and reclaim the confidence they were playing with at the beginning of the conference schedule.
In terms of Illinois, I'm not sure they have the ponies available to stop Jarrod Uthoff or Peter Jok (who was the leading scorer in their previous matchup). Leron Black's suspension hurts them here and even with spectacular games from Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, I just don't see this as a potential upset special.
#6 seeded Wisconsin Badgers vs. #11 Nebraska Cornhuskers (9:00 PM ET - ESPN2)
Who is this Nebraska team? Because I haven't been able to get a grasp on them this entire season. If you squint long enough, they look like a respectable, middle of the road Big Ten team that could snag an NIT bid. But then when you look at the bigger picture they painted and it's not so attractive (with their losing record including nine losses in their last 11 games).
The Wisconsin Badgers are the exact opposite of that. There is no squinting needed. The Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten and the country and have been since the middle of January. They are absolutely surging right now for the artist formally known as "Interim Head Coach, Greg Gard" and should be on watch to potentially upset Maryland on Friday.