It's almost time for the best teams in the Big Ten to make their 2016 tournament debuts! After some exhilarating action and fun surprises in the second round, the quarterfinals are already chock-full of story lines.
No. 8 Michigan Wolverines vs. No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers
12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
It may have gotten a little dicey down the stretch, but Michigan beat Northwestern 72-70 in overtime on Thursday thanks to a clutch jumper by junior leader Zak Irvin. The win keeps the Wolverines' NCAA Tournament hopes alive, but those hopes won't last long without another big victory this afternoon.
This time, Michigan's opponent will be Indiana, and that's going to be a tall order, because the Hoosiers are like a better version of the Wolverines. Even with injuries taking out James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, Indiana still has a brutally efficient offense thanks to the precision of Yogi Ferrell, the athleticism of Troy Williams, and the interior presence that freshman Thomas Bryant brings to the table.
Bryant is especially important due to his ability to turn rare missed shots into second chances for Ferrell and company. For Michigan to make it to the semifinals on Saturday, big men Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle have to keep Bryant and Williams off of the glass.
OTE Pick Em Predictions:
No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers
Approx. 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The hot shooting of Illinois continued into the second round yesterday as Jalen Coleman-Lands knocked down five three-pointers to lift the Illini to a 68-66 upset over Iowa. You can blame the suddenly positive karma on Lovie Smith or Josh Whitman or whomever you'd like, but it appears that all the talent on Illinois's roster is finally forming a cohesive unit at the right time.
thumpasaurus: Illinois did all that damage yesterday with only six points from Malcolm Hill on 2/9 shooting and 2/2 from the line. Purdue's trees will likely do a better job of neutralizing a surging Maverick Morgan, but if Nunn and JCL stay hot and Hill puts up a typical Hill line, it's still anyone's game. I'm excited for this one.
That's bad news for Purdue, a team I picked to make the finals of the tournament because of its ability to score on the interior. Although the Boilers lost to Illinois back on January 10, the two teams' destinies appear to have split in opposite directions since then. Purdue still has the length on defense with Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards to make life difficult for opposing wings. If A.J. Hammons is fed properly in the post, Illinois will have a tough time continuing its magical run.
OTE Pick Em Predictions:
No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
6:30 p.m. ET on BTN
During their current six-game winning streak, the Spartans defeated Ohio State twice by a total of 34 points. If that's not enough to convince you that this is a mismatch, consider all the trouble the Buckeyes had trying to put Penn State away yesterday. Bryn Forbes is probably licking his chops after watching the Lions shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc.
On paper, the Buckeyes appear to have the athletes necessary to keep up with their rivals from East Lansing, but that didn't work out during the final game of the regular season, when Michigan State scored 91 points thanks to a huge 27-point, 13-assist game from Denzel Valentine. To keep up, JaQuan Lyle is going to have to continue playing his best basketball of the season while finding creative ways to get the ball to his best three-point option in Kam Williams.
OTE Pick Em Predictions:
No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. No. 3 Maryland Terrapins
Approx. 9:00 p.m. ET on BTN
While some may have had a suspicion that Illinois could sneak into the quarterfinals with the way Iowa has played down the stretch, Nebraska showing up here is even more of a shock. The Huskers had lost five straight coming into the tournament and didn't exactly look like world-beaters against Rutgers in the first round. Meanwhile, Greg Gard's Wisconsin team had gone 11-2 in its last 13 games, which included a victory over Nebraska on February 10. But here's the thing: Shavon Shields didn't play in that first meeting. Jesse says:
What can you say? I had a feeling this would be a good game, and Tim Miles' team showed up with the effort we've known them to reach from time to time. Defensively, Nebraska absolutely confused FOTY Ethan Happ. Sure, he got 17 points, but if you were watching the game, he was constantly confused by double teams and his five turnovers were huge in giving Nebraska the upset. Shields does not want to go down without a fight, and while each successive round probably leads to proven exhaustion and the inevitable end, I'm happy he and co-captain Benny Parker get to do this thing on their terms. Nebraska probably will not beat Maryland, but they will fight to the end. I can get behind a team that does that.
Don't sell these Huskers short. The Terps have been struggling lately with only two wins since their February 9 romp over Bowie State. We've discussed Maryland's struggles down at OTE headquarters and DJ was saying something about Diamond Stone and Robert Carter clogging the lane and not giving Melo Trimble enough room to operate. You'd think a smart coach like Mark Turgeon would be able to figure out a solution, but on the other hand, the Terps' lack of depth doesn't give him a lot of lineup combinations to choose from.
OTE Pick Em Prediction:
Will the top seeds prevail or will the underdogs continue their magical runs to March? We're only a short time away from finding out!