Thursday’s opening round was littered with blowouts. Northwestern’s bludgeoning of Rutgers capped off a perfect 4 for 4 day of 20-point victories in the Big Ten Tournament.
Don’t expect that in day three.
The spreads are much smaller — or nonexistent — in Friday’s quarterfinal matchups. The bubble teams are gone, except for Indiana, which somehow worked itself back into the bubble, maybe?
But aside from the Hoosiers, we’re looking at the Big Ten’s seven locks for the Big Dance. So the questions now become, how do those seven teams stack up against each other, and where will they end up come Selection Sunday?
It will be intriguing to see how coaches strategize with assured spots in the postseason, but every team wants as much momentum as possible heading into the final few weeks of the season.
That momentum won’t be easy to grasp from here on out. Betting line courtesy of theScore.
Big Ten Game of the Day:
-No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers
- TV/Time: 6:30 PM ET on BTN
- Spread: Wisconsin (-5)
Yes, Indiana has played in our Big Ten Game of the Day in back-to-back days. This is the same Indiana team that virtually everyone had ruled out from the NCAA Tournament unless the Hoosiers could somehow string together a miraculous Big Ten Tournament run.
Well, here we are, amidst a potentially miraculous Indiana run.
The Hoosiers scored 96 points on the road at Ohio State to close out the regular season. That scoring outburst — one that many predicted would be the Indiana standard after opening the season with two 100-point games — propelled the Hoosiers into the conference tournament and stuck.
Indiana dropped 95 in a massacre of the bubble-clutching Iowa Hawkeyes to open the tournament Thursday. Now, the cream and crimson will try to carry that momentum into a matchup with second-seeded Wisconsin, a team that’s caused Indiana fits for years.
The Badgers won both regular-season matchups and held Indiana to 68 and 60 points, respectively, in the two contests. The 60-point game started a five-game skid that moved the Hoosiers to the wrong side of the bubble, and it was Indiana’s second-worst scoring night during the conference season behind a 55-point game against Northwestern.
The Hoosiers will have to keep torching the nets in Washington, D.C., in order to keep the postseason-chase alive, and it’ll have to come against one of the Big Ten’s top defenses.
Does Tom Crean’s bunch have more surprises in store?
- Pick against the spread: Wisconsin
-No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs No. 5 Michigan State Spartans
- TV/Time: 2:00 PM ET on ESPN
- Spread: Michigan State (-1.5)
This could easily be the Game of the Day. If the Hoosiers can’t keep their hot scoring going against Wisconsin, we’ll quickly turn to the 4-5 matchup for what should be a very evenly matched contest.
Michigan State got the upper hand over Minnesota in both regular season matchups, one of which came in a 1-point overtime slug fest.
But Minnesota won eight of its last nine and is hungry to come back from a lopsided loss to Wisconsin in the regular season finale that dropped the Gophers from the 2-seed to the 4-seed. The Gophers’ season has been filled with streaks — winning streaks of six and eight; a losing streak of five.
Now would not be the time for Richard Pitino’s squad to start another streak. That would result in a couple of quick exits from the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
It would also equate to a Tom Izzo team getting hot heading into the Big Dance, something we’ve seen plenty of times before, and something that’s scary for the rest of the field. Izzo owns March.
It’s tough to beat a team three times in a row, but Michigan State matches up comfortably with Minnesota. I expect the Spartans to control the paint to advance to the semifinals.
- Pick against the spread: Michigan State
-No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers vs. No. 8 Michigan Wolverines
- TV/Time: 12:00 PM ET on ESPN
- Spread: Purdue (-3)
Jerseys? We don’t need no stinkin’ jerseys!
Another very intriguing quarterfinal matchup, if only because you never know which Michigan team is going to show up.
The Wolverines don’t have a ton of standout wins on their resume this season, but an 82-70 victory over Purdue in the only matchup between the two teams this season was arguably their most impressive. Michigan jumped on the Boilermakers from the get go and dominated pretty much the whole game.
Moritz Wagner held his own against Caleb Swanigan, outscoring the Purdue big man 24-18. Wagner stretches the floor and forces the Purdue forwards to play a little out of their comfort zones.
Michigan also shot 11 percent better from 3 than Purdue in that game, showcasing the long-range ability of the Wolverines, which never truly means they’re out of a game.
Michigan followed the win over Purdue with a 2-point loss to Northwestern before blowout wins over Nebraska and Illinois.
A scary plane crash forced the Wolverines to wear practice jerseys against Illinois, and Illinois probably wished it was just a practice, getting their bubble burst in a 75-55 loss.
The plane crash didn’t seem to deter the Wolverines and may have even tightened the bond within the program. That’s what Michigan will need to knock of the Big Ten champs.
- Pick against the spread: Michigan
-No. 3 Maryland Terrapins vs. No. 6 Northwestern Wildcats
- TV/Time: 8:55 PM ET on BTN
- Spread: Maryland (-1.5)
Maryland and Northwestern met just once during the regular season, a 74-64 win in favor of the Terrapins. It was the Melo Trimble show in that 10-point win, as the Maryland star went for 32 points on 12 of 17 shooting (4 of 5 3PT).
On the other hand, Northwestern’s leading scorer, starting guard Bryant McIntosh, scored just 9 points on 3 of 13 shootings (0 for 5 3PT).
The two guards will be the focus once again in Friday’s rematch.
Trimble followed the win over Northwestern with 27 points in a loss to Wisconsin, but has since hit a bit of a slump. He scored just 12 points per game in the four games heading into the Big Ten Tournament and shot just 22 percent from beyond the arc.
Maryland lost two of its last four.
McIntosh, meanwhile. has averaged 17.8 points since that loss to Maryland, up 3 points from his season average. He hasn’t scored in single digits over the last six games.
Northwestern cruised past Rutgers in the opening round, but the much more athletic Terrapins will cause plenty more problems for the Wildcats in Friday’s nightcap.
A win over Maryland would give the Wildcats a huge lift heading into the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Trimble and the Terrapins have other plans.
- Pick against the spread: Maryland