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2016 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament: Wednesday preview and open thread

The Big Ten Tournament starts today!

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For many fans, this year's Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament doesn't begin in earnest until Thursday or Friday, but we know that the hard-core fans who read Off Tackle Empire care about the bottom of the conference as well as the top. That's why we're making this open thread in addition to Thump's breakdown of the four worst teams in the bracket.

Would it bother us all that much if the tournament field was tightened up to exclude sacrificial lambs like Rutgers and Minnesota? Not really, but more basketball is almost always a good thing, especially when it gives you an excuse to check out of work early in the middle of the week.

No. 13 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. No. 12 Illinois Fighting Illini

4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Illinois -10

Complain all you want about how Illinois's 2016 campaign has gone. The Gophers have had it worse, and they didn't get shiny new football coach news to distract them from the miserable basketball season. With three key contributors suspended and Joey King sitting out with a foot injury, Minnesota doesn't even resemble the team that upset Maryland just three weeks ago.

Instead, we're going to watch a group that just got blown out by Rutgers try to compete with a not-great-but-also-not-Rutgers Illinois team. The incredibly versatile Malcolm Hill has a chance to build off of his dominant performance versus Penn State that saw him score 39 points on just 21 shots with 13 rebounds in a losing effort. At the very least, he'll cause serious problems for freshman Jordan Murphy and a Gopher squad that is dealing with serious depth issues.

No. 14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. No. 11 Nebraska Cornhuskers

7:00 p.m. ET on BTN, Nebraska -14.5

It might not mean much to outsiders, but Rutgers has to feel a lot better about its chances today after pulling off a 75-52 victory over Minnesota for the program's first win since December 28. That hopefully will distract the Knights from the fact that they went 1-17 against a Big Ten schedule that featured six games against the three other teams playing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Nebraska has lost five in a row, including the last three with Shavon Shields back in the lineup and looking like his old self. After he suffered a head injury during the Huskers' 87-63 triumph over Rutgers on February 6, it was heart-warming to see Shields miss just four games and spring into action with 25 points against Penn State. Teamed with Andrew White III, Shields should provide enough offense to get Nebraska by the Knights for the third time this year, but White is in the midst of a cold stretch with just three three-pointers made in his last three games.

Countering for Rutgers will be Corey Sanders, who had put up three straight incredible performances before being suspended two weeks for a violation of team rules. After returning to the team in a loss to Michigan State, Sanders put up 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and a whopping six steals in the win over Minnesota.