Trahan: Breaking down the Big Ten Tournament

Kevin Trahan

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

The Big Ten Tournament, which begins Thursday morning in Indianapolis, will mean something different for each Big Ten team. For some, it’s a new beginning and a chance to shock the college basketball landscape in a run to the NCAA Tournament. For teams already locked into the Big Dance, it’s a chance to gain momentum to make a run in March.

It’s unfamiliar territory from some teams – Northwestern, for the first time in awhile, does not need to win the title to make the NCAA Tournament, while Illinois likely needs four wins in four days.

Check out my picks for tournament and some storylines to watch over the next four days.

Team that needs a win the most: Northwestern

Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament drought has been well-documented, but this year the Wildcats come into the Big Ten Tournament with perhaps their best chance to break the streak.

NU heads into the tournament as a bubble team, and despite having no bad losses, the Cats are just 1-10 against top-50 RPI teams and finished 8-10 in the conference.

It’s unclear how many games NU needs to win to get into the Big Dance and a lot of that will depend on the other bubble teams, but the Cats certainly need to win their first game against Minnesota on Thursday. If they can get past the Golden Gophers, a win against Michigan the next day would likely get them in.

Darkhorse: Iowa

After a terrible start to the season, Iowa was a pleasant surprise in Big Ten season, finishing with an 8-10 record that included a wins against Michigan and Indiana and sweeps of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes showed clear improvement in their second season under Fran McCaffery, but they’re a young team that has struggled with inconsistency.

Despite the rough patches, Iowa has proven to be a dangerous team when it gets hot, as senior guard Matt Gatens tore up Indiana, Wisconsin and Nebraska on a late-season run. Plus, the Hawkeyes’ fast-paced style has given some slower Big Ten teams trouble.

There is no guarantee Iowa will get past Illinois, which is capable of going on a run itself, but if the Hawkeyes advance to the second round, they’ll face a Michigan State team that is reeling somewhat and will be without freshman Branden Dawson.

Iowa certainly won’t be favored against the Spartans or any later games in the Big Ten Tournament, but it certainly has the chance to pull off some upsets if its shooters get hot.

Team That Will Disappoint: Wisconsin

Bo Ryan has been a model of regular season consistency during his time in Madison, Wisc., but his Badgers teams have consistently underperformed in NCAA and Big Ten Tournament appearances.

Wisconsin won the Big Ten Tournament as recently as 2008 and made the finals in 2007, but has lost coming off a bye in each of the past three years, all as the higher-seeded team.

This year, Wisconsin will likely draw a hot Indiana team that will be playing a pseudo home game. Given the Badgers’ struggles away from home and inconsistency on offense this season, they are a prime suspect to lose their first Big Ten Tournament game for the fourth straight year.

The Pick: Indiana

Indiana may be the surprise of the year in the Big Ten, as the Hoosiers came off a last place finish in 2010-2011 to post a 24-win season in 2011-2012. They boast signature wins against Kentucky, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan and have finally – well, sort of – learned how to win on the road.

The Hoosiers are riding a four-game winning streak into Indianapolis, including three straight against Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue. Plus they will likely have a favorable crowd throughout the tournament considering how close the Indiana campus is to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana is a streaky team, but it has played well with momentum all season. The Hoosiers have plenty of momentum coming into the tournament, and in a resurgent year in which the conference title is really anyone team’s for the taking, Indiana looks poised to make a run.

Big Ten Tournament Notes

– Only one team has ever won four games in four days to win the tournament. Iowa did so as a six seed in 2001 and remains the lowest seed to ever win.

– The lowest-seeded team to ever make the championship game was 11-seeded Illinois in 1999. The Illini also made the final as a 10 seed in 2008.

– With the arrival of Nebraska, the tournament will feature four games on Thursday for the first time ever. Furthermore, the five seed used to get a first round bye, but now must play the 12 seed in the first round.

– Northwestern lost to Minnesota in their first meeting of the regular season last year, but went on to beat the Gophers in the second regular season game and the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers and Wildcats split in the regular season this year, with Minnesota winning the first meeting again. They will once again meet in the first round of the conference tournament.

For breaking coverage of the Big Ten Tournament, check out The Daily’s live blog from Bankers Life Fieldhouse at our new sports website,