It's finally here. The Big Ten Tournament starts today, and while some of the best teams in the country will play each other over week, the teams at the bottom of the conference will also have the chance to make some noise. And that's what today is for. The last four teams in the Big Ten standings take the floor today, and while that might not excite everyone, the games should at least be somewhat evenly matched. Lets take a look at both games.
Game of the Day: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (4:30 p.m. ET | ESPN 2)
It was a rough year for both these programs. Minnesota went just 8-22, and recently lost most of its roster to either suspension or injury. And Illinois had an extremely frustrating season, dealing with a plethora of injuries that seemed to break the Fighting Illini's spirit.
Now, the two teams meet in Indianapolis with the chance to play Iowa in the next round on the line. When the two teams met last on Feb. 28, Illinois won by 13. The Fighting Illini also won a much closer game, 76-71 in overtime on Jan.23.
The safe pick in this one has to be Illinois, which not only won both games but also has the better record and the higher seed. Still, since its Jan 10 win over Purdue, Illinois has gone 4-10 with all four victories coming against Minnesota and Rutgers. The Illini have also had to endure the recent rumors that head coach John Groce is on the hot seat. So basically, it hasn't been a fun stretch for them.
Minnesota seemed to have a little momentum a few weeks ago when it won two in a row by upsetting Maryland and beating Rutgers. But the Gophers fell back down to earth by losing their last three games, including a blowout-loss to Rutgers in the regular season finale. Of course, that stretch was made worse by the broken foot suffered by senior Joey King and the suspensions to Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer, and Kevin Dorsey.
In order to beat Illinois this time around, Minnesota will have to find a way to contain Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, something it struggled to do the last two times. While Minnesota's freshman wing Jordan Murphy is a solid player,he doesn't score in volume the way the Illini duo does. The Gophers have a shot in this one, but the edge goes to Illinois.
Look out for Rutgers. After months of frustration, the Scarlet Knights finally broke through and won a conference game by beaten a depleted Minnesota team by 23. Now, Rutgers looks to build on that momentum in the Big Ten Tournament.
Don't expect a run from the Scarlet Knights. They're going up against a decent Nebraska team with a couple of really talented players in Andrew White and Shavon Shields. Now, the Cornhuskers have lost five in a row and definitely aren't playing well right now, but they've also beaten Rutgers by large margins (90-56 on Jan. 9, 87-63 on Feb. 6) twice this season. Nebraska should definitely be favored in this one. The winner will play Wisconsin next.