The opening of the Big Ten Conference Tournament is not much to write home about. The first round consists of the bottom four teams in the Big Ten. Moreover, none of the teams have a winning record this season. Therefore, each team would need to pull off five-day miracle to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes (14-17, 4-14)
vs. No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini (13-18, 4-14)
The Iowa Hawkeyes earned the No. 12 seed with their season-finale win over the Northwestern Wildcats. They also defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini and split with the Minnesota Golden Gophers earlier in the season. As a result, the Hawkeyes won the tiebreaker. Otherwise, they would have received the last seed in the playoffs. Now, their rematch with the Fighting Illini should actually be fairly entertaining. The first meeting was decided in overtime. Clearly, neither team finished the regular season in a grand fashion. The Hawkeyes were (1-6) in February. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini were (2-6) in February. However, they did win 2 out of their last 4 games, including a win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The loser will have seven losses in February and their season will be over. Interestingly enough, the Hawkeyes did have a five-game winning streak in December. The Fighting Illini began the season with six straight wins. Yet, they have not won more than two games in a row since Thanksgiving.
The Hawkeyes have four players scoring in double figures. They are led by sophomore Tyler Cook with 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Jordan Bohannon is second on the team with 13.2 points and 5.8 assists per game. However, this could be a chance for freshman Luke Garza to have a breakout performance. He is producing 11.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. If they make it to the quarterfinals, Garza should be a big reason why.
Sometimes, the Fighting Illini have trouble scoring. When they put their best effort forward it is due to Leron Black. He is scoring 15.7 points per game on 55 percent shooting. He can score from anywhere on the court. Unfortunately, the Illini only have one other double digit scorer. Trent Frazier is producing 12.5 points per game. He’s also 1 of 2 players with three assists per game. In all, the Fighting Illini average 12.5 assists per game.
Gametime is set for 5:30 p.m on BTN. The winner will face the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines on Thursday.
Score Prediction- Illinois 79 – Iowa 75
No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-16, 4-14) vs.
No. 14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-18, 3-15)
The Minnesota Golden Gophers may have had the most disappointing season in the Big Ten. They were the No. 15 ranked college basketball team in the preseason. They opened the season with seven straight wins. Yet, off the court issues really crushed their spirit. The Gophers have gone (3-13) since January. Nine of the losses were by double digits. However, they did defeat the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in their lone meeting. The 22-point victory kicked off Big Ten play. Therefore, the Gophers should have some confidence heading into the first round. The Scarlet Knights have been in the same boat as the Gophers. They also went (3-13) down the stretch. Moreover, 10 of their final 13 losses came by double digits. Their last win came two weeks ago over the Northwestern Wildcats.
Although the records are similar, the offensive product is completely different. The Gophers are averaging 69.5 points during conference play. That’s hardly the stuff of legend. However, the Scarlet Knights are only scoring 57.9 points against Big Ten competition. They are being outscored by 12 points a game. The Gophers aren’t much better with a 10 point difference. A lot of that is due to their lack of defensive effort. The Gophers are giving up 79 points per game in conference games. If Rutgers is unable to score against the hopefully up tempo Gophers.
The Scarlet Knights have three double digit scorers led by Corey Sanders. He is leading the team with 14.3 points per game. If Sanders fails to have a strong game, they’ll need DeShawn Freeman and Geo Baker to pick up the scoring. As a team, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 40 percent from the field. They only hit four 3-pointers per game in conference action. Meanwhile, the Gophers are shooting 43 percent from the field. They connect on 6.8 3-pointers per game. The game will come down to which players can make the best offensive plays. Moreover, Rutgers has incentive to advance since they are in close proximity. They’ll have one good game left at least.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:55 p.m. on Wednesday night. The winner will face the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers in the final game of Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Score Prediction- Rutgers 70 – Minnesota 64