Naysayer’s Notes on the Big Ten Tourney and Beyond
We Indianapolites are so accustomed to hosting big events that after a while we tend to take them for granted. For example, let’s look at the Big Ten Basketball Tournament in town this weekend (women) and next (men).
Following this season, the league championship moves to the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and Madison Square Garden will host the event the following year. Let’s hope that after these two away years, the Big Ten comes to its senses and plants the tournament in Indianapolis permanently. We have a proven track record, and, after all, there isn’t a city in America that can host large tournaments as well as Indy. And if these events are truly supposed to be fan-centric (and not for the TV networks), then Indy has to be the place. Hands down.
I digress. Let’s take a look at what’s in store at this year’s tournament.
In addition to winning and placing well in your conference, this, and generally all the Big 5 conference tournaments, are about determining seeding for the NCAA tourney. Bubble teams like Michigan and Ohio State could play their way into the big dance with deep tournament runs.
In the men’s tournament, the hottest two teams coming in aside from our Hoosiers are Wisconsin and Michigan State. They are each an impressive 9-1 in the last 10 games. The Badgers (much has changed since my last rant) have played their way back into the post-season conversation, and an upset victory at Purdue this Saturday would just be icing on the cake.
A couple of weeks ago I thought Iowa’s Fran McCaffery had Big Ten Coach of the Year wrapped up, but boy, was I misguided. Since then the Hawkeyes have been the team we expected from the start, dropping to sixth in the Big Ten and 16th in the polls after holding the top league spot and a No. 3 national ranking. The race has shifted, and Indiana’s Tom Crean is looking like the favorite, although Wisconsin’s late-season push puts Greg Gard into the mix.
There’s also been a recent shift in the race for Big Ten Player of the Year. Popular opinion says it should be Denzel Valentine from Michigan State, while others think Yogi Ferrell has played his way into contention. Ferrell’s performance sparked his Hoosiers to close out the season on a four-game winning streak to clinch the outright title. It’s hard to argue with winning.
What the Tournament Means to Indy
The Big Ten offers Indianapolis national and international exposure. Because we are such a friendly and cooperative community, the positive accolades the city receives from on-air pundits is invaluable and just proves why Indy should be the permanent home to the Big Ten Tournament. There is also the fact that it attracts 100,000-plus fans for just the men’s competition alone.
Bonus: How Indiana Teams Will Fare in NCAA Tournament
INDIANA – The Hoosiers have proven themselves a good team that took care of the competition they had. Not to say the Hoosiers’ schedule was jam-packed with highly rated teams, but to their credit, they won the games they needed to win (minor Penn State blip) and ended up with the outright championship. A good showing in the Big Ten Tourney, and IU could be as high as a three seed. IU will be a tough out and should make the Elite 8.
PURDUE – Even though the Boilers have struggled on the road, they went 16-1 at home, and closing out the season with wins over two Top 10 teams will help the Boilers secure a No. 5 seed. Round of 16 is about the best I can see for this group.
IPFW – Currently 23-8 (12-4), IPFW is tied in the Summit Division with South Dakota State and heading for a potential No. 15 seed in the NCAA. Even if the Mastodons falter in their league tournament, experts say they still have a great shot at an at-large bid into the field of 68.
VALPARAISO – Drew Bryce has people in the Horizon League comparing his team this year to the Butler teams that made it to the Final Four. Even though they will be a low seed, watch out for this team that combines size, strength, and physical ability with quickness and scoring. Opposing coaches says playing the Crusaders is akin to playing a Big Ten team.
BUTLER – Still some work to do for the Bulldogs. Recent wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall have bolstered the Dogs, but ultimately a good-to-great showing in the conference tournament will propel Butler into the tourney. From there, who knows what this team can accomplish. But if the Bulldogs get in, they will struggle and lose out in the first round.
NOTRE DAME – The Irish had climbed back into the Top 25 a couple of weeks ago, but a series of setbacks have dropped them off that list and placed them securely on the bubble. The ACC Tournament will be key to ND’s chances of getting in. If they do, don’t look past the second round.
EVANSVILLE – Coach Marty Simmons has his Purple Aces at 23-8 and in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference. The MVC doesn’t normally receive an at-large bid, so winning the conference tournament is paramount to the Aces having a good feeling on Selection Sunday. It will be nervous times if they don’t.
BALL STATE – It has been quite a while since we could say the Cardinals have a shot at the NCAA—however long the shot is. BSU has a 19-11 record and sits atop the Mid American Conference West Division. The only way the Cards make the tourney, though, is to win the MAC Tournament. It’s possible but not probable.
IUPUI – Jason Gardner’s second year at the helm of the Jaguars has been better, but the team is still a work in progress. The only path to the NCAA is winning the Summit League title, which will be a monumental task. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen if I were you.