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Big Ten Tournament Preview: Several Bubble Teams Look To Solidify Resumes

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In the second day of the Big Ten Tournament we get a full day with four games, including a top ten Ohio State, formerly ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State trying to finalize their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State Spartans vs Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 11:30 AM ET BTN

Michigan State has seemingly done the unexpected and climbed back into the NCAA Tournament. A 5-2 stretch that included wins over three top five teams in Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan will do that for you. Outside of a loss at Michigan, the only loss in that stretch came at Maryland in a game they didn’t look particularly good in.

Hanging out just above them at what looks to be a 10 seed is a Maryland team that will need a win. At 10-10 they were in a rough spot until a five game winning streak (two of which came against Nebraska) helped seemingly right the ship. Back to back losses to Northwestern and Penn State in the final week has to have Maryland feeling a bit less certain, with an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament being potentially problematic if the bubble shrinks at all.

That’s honestly the biggest intrigue here, as both of these teams would lock up a bid with a win. If they lose? Who knows. Michigan State likely has done enough thanks to beating three top five teams (and likely two number one seeds) in the past couple weeks. If Maryland closes with losses to Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan State, with their only ‘good’ win the past month being at Rutgers...there’s always the chance the committee jumps ship.

When these two teams met last the Spartans couldn’t do much of anything offensively, shooting 33.3% from the field and 28.6% from three. It was a rare misfire from a team that has looked much better on that side of the ball down the stretch. As for Maryland, they shot nearly 50% from the field, limited turnovers and had a 24-15 free throw advantage.

This time the game isn’t taking place at Maryland and Michigan State is riding high after a win over Michigan on their home court. Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala have been big down the stretch, but can they do the same again today? It’s possible. But the Spartans are one game away from locking up a postseason spot and they’ll take care of business early Thursday.

Pick: Michigan State

Minnesota Gophers vs #9 Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET (25 Minutes After Game 1) BTN

Minnesota advanced to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, somehow, by beating the Wildcats last night. The Gophers shot an icy 36.7% from the field, went 10 of 24 from the free throw line and committed 17 turnovers. If Minnesota doesn’t step up considerably that’s not going to cut it against a top ten Buckeyes program. To further complicate the matters the Gophers will likely be short handed as it’s unlikely center Liam Robbins and guard Gabe Kalscheur will play.

So we have a struggling and short handed Minnesota team going up against a strong Ohio State team. A Minnesota team that ranks as one of the worst field goal shooting and three point shooting teams in the country and will play without their best frontcourt presence. All while star guard Marcus Carr continues to struggle. That’s not a good sign.

It seems like a lifetime ago when these two teams last played and Minnesota won by 17 points. Hell, both of these teams were ranked and the Gophers were 10-2 after the win. Since then the Gophers have gone 4-12. Ohio State has faded a bit to close the season, losing their last four. Of course those include losses to Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and a surging Michigan State team. Can they right the ship?

Four game losing streak aside, Ohio State still came close to knocking off Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois. They struggled to close out close games, something not exactly foreign to the team (see the home loss to Purdue). EJ Liddell has been big down the stretch, Duane Washington Jr. has been rolling and Ohio State is a heavily experienced team that has considerably more talent across the board.

Can Minnesota win? Well, upsets do happen and if the team can have a big day from Carr it’s always a possibility. But at the end of the day the Gophers can’t shoot, have had issues with their backcourt all year and will have no answer inside without Robbins. Ohio State snaps their four game skid this afternoon.

Pick: Ohio State

Indiana Hoosiers vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET BTN

Indiana is historically awful in the Big Ten Tournament. Under Archie Miller they have gone 0-2 and they are 1-5 over their last six games. They haven’t won back to back games in the tournament since 2003. It’s been awhile.

The Hoosiers didn’t close the season well, either, with a five game losing streak knocking them out of postseason contention. Indiana hasn’t scored more than 58 points in their last three games and came out flat once again in another loss to their rivals in Purdue. When everything is said and done it’s looking like a legitimate possibility that Archie Miller could be coaching his last game with Indiana tonight.

Rutgers would have likely ended their NCAA Tournament drought last year had their been an actual tournament. This year they’re trying to take care of business and make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Things were seemingly progressing in that direction, though a loss at Nebraska by 21 points put a potential wrench in the works. Wins over Indiana and Minnesota likely have Rutgers dancing, but a bad loss to Indiana could prove problematic. The Scarlet Knights are currently hovering around a 9 or 10 seed line so it’d take something drastic to knock them out of the postseason, but look for Steve Pikiell to eliminate any doubt.

When these two teams last met Trayce Jackson-Davis dropped 21 points and Al Durham added 20 points on 5 of 7 three point shooting. Outside of them, though, the team didn’t do much of anything. That has kind of been the issue at Indiana, with the Hoosiers struggling to piece together a well rounded offensive unit all season. To further complicate matters the team might be without Armaan Franklin and Race Thompson today.

So we have a short handed Indiana team that can’t shoot threes and can’t do much of anything outside of Trayce Jackson-Davis scoring inside. A Hoosiers team that has historically been awful in the Big Ten Tournament and could be playing their last game with their current head coach. Will they manage to stay alive and find a way to beat the Scarlet Knights?

No. Not a chance.

Pick: Rutgers

Penn State Nittany Lions vs Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM (25 Minutes After Game 3) BTN

Penn State came back from 15 against Nebraska, outscoring the Cornhuskers by 20 in the second half to move on to the second round. Penn State has now won three in a row, including wins against Maryland and Minnesota. And excluding a home blowout defeat against Purdue, Penn State has looked good the past month. Even in the midst of a four game losing streak in February the Nittany Lions almost knocked off a number of more prominent teams including Iowa and Ohio State.

Wisconsin has looked off for awhile now, not winning back to back games since mid-January. After a 3-3 stretch, the Badgers closed the season going 1-5 and losing their last three. None of those losses were bad, but it is a bit surprising to see Wisconsin incapable of winning so many close games down the stretch.

These two teams played back to back earlier in the season with the two teams splitting the series. Wisconsin hasn’t looked particularly good since, only picking up wins against Nebraska and Northwestern since then. The Badgers have a more talented roster, including guard D’Mitrik Trice and forward Micah Potter, but they have struggled offensively against better defenses and just haven’t found a way to get it done. Penn State has a relatively balanced backcourt attack but could use more offense inside from their frontcourt. Penn State has also struggled with close games against better opponents this year, something that could prove problematic tonight.

Stephen Bardo made the comment last night that he thinks Wisconsin has been “bored” this season and that that was the reason they’ve struggled this season. It’s an interesting take when you realize the past month or so that Wisconsin has struggled has seen the team lose predominantly to the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. Bardo also mentioned that the Big Ten Tournament could awaken the Badgers, a team that is high on experience and has the roster to make a run this week.

Will they? I’m not entirely sure, as the Badgers have proven numerous times this year that they just can’t beat the best of the best in the Big Ten (their best win is surprisingly either Michigan State or Rutgers). Can they at least bounce back and beat Penn State? Definitely. Especially if Penn State comes out sloppy like they did against Nebraska.

It’ll be another Big Ten caliber bruiser, but look for the Badgers to move on to the quarterfinals.

Pick: Wisconsin