By Amy Parlapiano @amy_parlapiano
1. The Feel-Good Story Might Be Over:
Northwestern has never qualified for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and as of a couple of days ago, it looked like they had a real, legitimate shot for this to be their year. Or, you know…maybe not. The Wildcats lost to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, a loss that severely hurt—if not killed—their chances. According to their coach Bill Carmody, “the ball just didn’t bounce right for us.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t get a spot—obviously, as sports fans, we’ve all seen stranger things happen. But if you’re holdin’ out for Northwestern as your Cinderella Story this year, you might want to start scopin’ out a Plan B. Maybe Indiana? Not that the Hoosiers are underdogs at all this year—they’re #15 in the country, had a perfect-non-conference season, and killed Penn State 75-58 in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament. They’re currently projected to go as a 4-seed in the tournament. And with all their past basketball success, Indiana’s not exactly a replacement for Northwestern as the “feel-good Cinderella, scrappy underdog” story that people eat up. But the people of Indiana could really use some good news and happy sports stories right now. So if you’re an indifferent fan and need a Big Tenteam to throw your support behind, they’re a valid, and talented, option.
2. MSU & OSU & Michigan: 3-Way-Tie/Rivalry Of Awesome
When I first became interested in the University of Michigan 5 years ago as a potential college choice, I became interested from a sports-perspective strictly because of their football program. (Of course, as is typical with my sports-rooting-preferences, their football program was horrible 3 of the 4 years I was there). No one ever talked about basketball, except for maybe the brief nostalgic reference to the Fab 5. Before 2009, they hadn’t been in the tournament since 1998. They haven’t gone beyond the 2nd round since 1994. While for most of the history of NCAA Football, Wolverines have called the Spartans their “little brother,” there’s no doubt that when it comes to basketball, Michigan isn’t even in the family. They’re like the 3rd cousin twice removed. No one cares about them. However, due to the success of the last 4 years, they are suddenly making their way into the family. This year, they finished in a 3-way tie for the Big Ten Championship with the Spartans and the Buckeyes, their two biggest rivals. Michigan fans even sat and rooted for Ohio State to win (yes, you read that correctly), so that the Wolverines would wind up with a share of the Big Ten title. Michigan’s resurgence has been great for The Big Ten. The always present rivalry between them and the Buckeyes, as well as the Spartans, is revived with even more intensity now that Michigan is actually a respected, talented team. They’re fun to watch, and they’d certainly be deserving of their projected 3-seed rank in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is still the best team in the Big Ten. As of now, the conference still belongs to the Spartans and the Buckeyes. But the fact that not only Ohio State, but now Michigan, has an extremely solid chance at winning the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, with Indiana and Purdue as long-shot possibilities as well, proves that Michigan’s resurgence has really solidified the Big Ten as the strongest conference in college basketball right now. The sheer amount of competitiveness and talent within the Big Ten is not just exciting for Michigan fans, but for all supporters of the Big Ten.
3. Game To Watch: Buckeyes and Boilermakers
Friday’s matchup of Purdue vs. Ohio State should be particularly interesting, especially since as of late because Purdue has shown their potential to be an extremely dangerous team. They’re coming off a convincing win against Nebraska in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, where coach Matt Painter summed up what makes the Boilermakers so successful: “We haven’t tried to be a team that we’re not.” Currently projected as a 9 seed for the NCAA Tournament, a win against OSU in the Big Ten tournament could really help them snag a better seed and put together a really successful run in the tournament. Purdue’s excellent offense against Ohio State’s extremely efficient defense will create an exciting matchup, and I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to see Purdue prevent Ohio State from winning its 3rd straight Big Ten Tournament. Regardless, if you only watch one game this weekend, watch this one.