Hoopla's Big Ten Tournament Predictions
One man will dare to do the bold and pick almost no upsets
It’s Big Ten Tournament time, an absolutely delightful week for the most entertaining conference in college basketball.
This is also a deeply important week for a handful of teams either trying to make the NCAA Tournament (Purdue, Nebraska, Michigan State) or trying to work up to a Top 16 ranking and get home games for the first two rounds of the tourney (Michigan).
In ESPN’s most recent Bracketology, released this morning, seven Big Ten teams were currently in the Field of 68:
Indiana - 1 seed
Iowa - 2 seed
Maryland - 2 seed
Ohio State - 3 seed
Michigan - 5 seed
Illinois - 9 seed, Last Four Byes
Purdue - 10 seed, Last Four Byes
Nebraska was listed as the third team among the First Four Out, while Michigan State was the fourth among the Next Four Out. They both really need wins in the Big Ten Tournament, hey I wonder if they play each other!
So, let’s go through the games and who I would pick to win them. Games with an asterisk (*) are not official, but are who would play if my predictions are right to that point. Each game also has what Her Hoop Stats projects in a neutral-site matchup between the two opponents.
No. 12 Minnesota vs. No. 13 Penn State
HHS Projection: Penn State 76-74 (54.3%)
The first matchup of the week is an intriguing offense-heavy contest between an outrageously inconsistent Minnesota team and Penn State, who has been consistent in being underwhelming.
In their last five games, the Gophers beat Nebraska and Purdue, but lost to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Penn State, on the other hand, are up to six straight losses, five of which are by double digits. There just doesn’t seem like a lot of fight left in these Lions, and I think Minnesota will prevail here in what can be considered a home game.
My pick: Minnesota
No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 13 Northwestern
HHS Projection: Northwestern 68-65 (60.6%)
Rutgers has done it! It has made it to the Big Ten Tournament with double-digit wins and a fully healthy eight-player roster, and that’s worthy of enough credit. Northwestern has just one win in its past eight games, but looked competitive for much of its last matchup against Nebraska.
This is likely to be low scoring, at least for Big Ten standards, and while neither team has played great, I like the Scarlet Knights in this matchup thanks to the star ability of Kaylene Smikle, who scored 21 against the Wildcats in their lone matchup this season.
My pick: Rutgers
No. 8 Nebraska vs. No. 9 Michigan State
HHS Projection: Nebraska 71-69 (56.6%)
Thursday starts with the most important game of the Big Ten Tournament. Two teams that desperately need a win here to get a look at the NCAA Tournament battling against each other.
Both teams won a pair of contests last week to help their bubble cases, and their lone meeting this season was a tight 71-67 Nebraska win thanks in part to 20 points from Isabelle Bourne.
The Cornhuskers had a great week and are looking impressive behind improved play from Jaz Shelley, but Michigan State has also won 4 of its last 5, with the lone loss being a narrow defeat to Maryland.
It’s a hard one to call, and it should be close throughout, but I will give the narrow, narrow edge to the Spartans, who have played good teams close all year and have the talent to slow down Shelley and score points on the other end.
My pick: Michigan State
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Minnesota
HHS Projection: Michigan 80-64 (88.9%)
This is the first matchup I don’t have much debate on.
Yes, Michigan just lost a bad one to Wisconsin, but the Wolverines have all the motivation to win here and need to do so. It could be closer than the projection, but I would be stunned if we don’t get Ohio State-Michigan Part III on Friday.
My pick: Michigan
No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
HHS Projection: Purdue 76-64 (82.7%)
I’ll be honest, I would not want to play Wisconsin right now, especially if my team really needed a win to secure a spot in the dance.
The Badgers have won three straight, including a statement victory over Michigan to end the regular season. Its talented underclassmen are playing great basketball, and Julie Pospisilova has the ability to take over.
But Purdue is a deep, talented team that can slow down to Wisconsin’s pace without issue. I’m going to trust in the Boilermakers to not mess this up for me, a guy who wants all the Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. But let it be known: I am scared about this one.
My pick: Purdue
*No. 6 Illinois vs. No. 11 Rutgers
HHS Projection: Illinois 77-62 (89.2%)
Illinois should be a lock, and I think that it is, but a win here would remove all the doubt.
For Rutgers to even get to Thursday is, again, a big deal in my eyes, but a roster this small may also struggle in a back-to-back games format. Even without that factor, the Illini have proved all year that they are great at beating the teams they are supposed to, so this should be win No. 22 for Shauna Green in what’s already been a historic season.
My pick: Illinois
*No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 9 Michigan State
HHS Projection: Indiana 81-64 (89.8%)
Indiana gets a chance to avenge that first loss of the season here, while Michigan State gets a chance to put an exclamation point on its résumé.
The Hoosiers will not underestimate the Spartans, but I think that Michigan State makes this one a battle. Mackenzie Holmes had 32 and 12 in a loss last time, and should be the difference maker here once again.
My pick: Indiana
*No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Michigan
HHS Projection: Ohio State 74-73 (51.8%)
I think Ohio State has figured something out recently.
A 1-1 week for a top 12 team may not speak to that, but the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines convincingly in Ann Arbor before losing as tight as possible to a red-hot Maryland team because Cotie McMahon was about 0.2 seconds too slow.
Ohio State is 2-0 against the Wolverines, is playing good basketball again and maybe, just maybe, could get Jacy Sheldon back, but I won’t hold my breath on that one. Hopefully Leigha Brown is back from whatever “internal issue” kept her out of Michigan’s last game, but if the Wolverines are still without Laila Phelia, I think the Buckeyes win this one for a third time.
My pick: Ohio State
*No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 7 Purdue
HHS Projection: Iowa 84-72 (81.4%)
Part of me thinks Purdue is the type of team that can give Iowa fits.
When these two met over three months ago, the Hawkeyes went up huge early (44-23 at half) then cruised the rest of the way. Obviously, that can’t happen again if Purdue wants a chance, but if the Boilermakers can hang around, I think this one gets more interesting than many would expect.
Purdue has a lot of annoying qualities: Well-rounded scoring, tenacity on defense and an excellent defensive point guard in Jeanae Terry that could force a lot of Caitlin Clark turnovers.
Can I talk myself into a monumental Purdue upset over a team that just beat Indiana? Not quite, there’s just so much talent on that Iowa team, but let me tell you I did get close.
My pick: Iowa
*No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 6 Illinois
HHS Projection: Maryland 81-72 (76.8%)
I think Maryland is not getting enough credit right now. That Clark buzzer-beater has made too many forget that the Terrapins ate Iowa’s lunch and went back for seconds in a 96-68 beatdown one week ago.
Illinois is a good team, and I would have thought this could be a big game for Kendall Bostic, but I just watched Monika Czinano score 4 points against this team that has no forwards. I think that Maryland is a buzzsaw at the moment, and could roll here.
My pick: Maryland
*No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 Ohio State
HHS Projection: Indiana 80-70 (76.6%)
I know, I know. I have picked all the top four seeds, and the only “upset” I have so far is the 9 seed over an 8. It’s lame behavior, but I think that the top three teams are almost no-brainers to get here, while Ohio State has been far better against Michigan in the two games we have to use. So, yeah, here we are.
Anyway, time to pick more chalk! Indiana beat Ohio State twice by a combined 37 points, and there’s not a soul on that roster that can slow down Holmes in the paint. It’s the Achilles heel for this Buckeyes roster, and it will stop their run here.
My pick: Indiana
*No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 3 Maryland
HHS Projection: Iowa 85-82 (56.3%)
Did I mention that Maryland beat Iowa by 28 points a week ago?
Look, I don’t think that happens again, but do I think Iowa can, within 11 days, figure out how to be 29 points better than it was the last time these two teams played? I just don’t.
Maryland’s game plan was complete perfection, players outside of its big three are stepping up and this team looks ready to make a deep run later in March. Iowa is a great team, and this one should be a lot of fun, but I like the Terps to take away the Indiana-Iowa rematch.
My pick: Maryland
*Championship: No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 3 Maryland
HHS Projection: Indiana 79-71 (71.2%)
I’d love to see infinite minutes of Indiana and Iowa playing against each other as much as anyone, but this matchup, with how well both teams are playing, should lead to equal fireworks.
The Hoosiers and Terrapins met once this year, back in January, and it was a 68-61 home win for Indiana. Both teams are 11-1 since then, with both losses being on the road to Iowa.
Indiana and Maryland both have loads of weapons, excellent head coaches that know how to use them and can both slow it down or score well in transition. As said prior, Maryland lacks a interior threat, which could lead to big Holmes points, but Brenda Frese has seemed to find a way to take post players out of the game.
This would be a fascinating chess match to watch, and while it would be slower than a Hawkeyes final, it should be as excellent to digest. Part of me thinks Maryland can get back to the mountain top, but another part thinks that Indiana comes in hyper motivated to end the Big Ten campaign with a win after how things ended in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
My pick: Indiana
And so, here is the full Hoopla bracket, with approximately *two* upsets, both of which are basically coin flips, sorry!
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fyi, kim barnes-arico does a weekly tuesday-morning drop on an ann arbor radio station…this morning she said that leigha brown will be available. the program had announced that she would miss wisconsin as the “second of two games,” so this was something of a confirmation. no info on the actual “issue,” however.
she also said that laila phelia is progressing but still not back. sounds like phelia is pushing for clearance and anxious to play - i heard that as a good sign that’s she’d at least be ready for the ncaa tournament? i guess?