You are looking live at the spiritual and ancestral home of the Big Ten Conference, New York City! And more specifically, Madison Square Garden, traditional and perennial site of the Big Ten Bask -
God what a travesty. Well, we’re here now, so let’s get this in the books before the Big East kicks us out of their gym.
Only four conference teams - Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan - are assured of NCAA Tournament berths regardless of outcome, so expect plenty of desperate play from teams who for the most part will need to win the whole thing in Manhattan to go dancing.
Tonight’s matchups feature four teams who struggled badly for a variety of reasons. Minnesota was wracked with injuries and dismissed standout center Reggie Lynch midseason. Iowa was also badly hit with injuries, but concentrated at the point, where they were ill-equipped to deal with them. Illinois, coming off of a coaching change, had a roster bereft of big men, and therefore incompatible with coach Brad Underwood’s preferred style of play. And Rutgers continues its painstaking climb from historical badness under second-year coach Steve Pikiell, much-improved in every way except, well, putting the ball in the hoop.
As a result, none of these teams won more than 4 games in league play this year. As is typical, all the teams playing today will need deep BTT runs for any tournament consideration at all, let alone to punch a tourney to the Big Dance.
Game 1: Iowa Hawkeyes  vs Illinois Fighting Illini 
Iowa, 13-18 overall, 4-14 B1G, KenPom 100, RPI 116
Illinois, 14-17 overall, 4-14 B1G, KenPom 101, RPI 166
5:30 pm EST, BTN, IL -1
Creighton’s prediction: Some of you may be thinking “Iowa was really bad this year. I bet they embarrass themselves against Illinois.”
......Oh, sorry. There’s no “but consider x” coming after that sentence. That was the end of my thought. Iowa can’t defend, they can’t play a full game without lengthy scoring droughts, they can’t avoid turning the ball over and ultimately they can’t win on most nights. I suppose Fran McCaffery breaking his BTT losing streak this year of all years is both technically possible and just stupid enough to actually happen, but don’t put money on it. Congrats to Illinois for ruining Thumpasaurus’ evening by extending his misery (also known as the 2017/18 season) for another 24 hours.
AKalysis, Illinois: A roster made up almost entirely of guards has really struggled for most of the season, but there are stretches where you can see what new coach Brad Underwood is trying to do here, particularly on defense. Trent Frazier looks like a future star, and if they could just find some size a turnaround might not be as far off as it looked earlier this year. Also Underwood gives us some truly superb yellface photos, just Google him and tell me I’m wrong.
AKprediction: Statistical profiles generally suggest a close match, but look closer and there’s one stat that should be telling: turnover margins. Iowa coughs it up a ton, and Illinois forces plenty as well. It would take another Herculean effort from Jordan Bohannon to not only provide backcourt scoring punch, but to keep the mistakes down for Iowa to win this. Illinois, 74-63.
Game 2: Minnesota Golden Gophers  vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights 
Minnesota, 15-16 overall, 4-14 B1G, KenPom 108, RPI 158
Rutgers, 13-18 overall, 3-15 B1G, KenPom 161, RPI 210
30 Minutes Following Game 1, BTN, MN -2.5
AKalysis, Minnesota: If you recall Minnesota hoops fans being a little chesty before the season, remember they probably had no reason to think their team would spend most of the season without Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey, and Dupree McBrayer, but that’s how it went down, and now Lil Dicky’s squad has gone from generally being seen as a top-3 conference team prior to the season to hanging out with the other glue-eaters on Wednesday. Jordan Murphy had a completely wasted breakout year, and if it weren’t for vague seniority-related reasons, there’d be no reason to continue going with Nate Mason over Isaiah Washington, but what does it really matter at this point? This season ended for this team about 2 months ago.
AKalysis, Rutgers: You pukes better fill that arena to the rafters all 5 days of this tournament with the fans we’ve been assured for several years actually do exist and are totally passionate, or the rest of us will start looking for your receipt in earnest and not just by shuffling through that one drawer in the kitchen desk.
Anyway. With Steve Pikiell’s ability to find lots of large dudes, Rutgers’ defensive and rebounding improvements continue, but man can this team make scoring look like a chore. Corey Sanders runs as hot and cold as any lead guard you’ll see in college, so maybe he catches fire at the right time, but he’s yet to maintain any kind of game-to-game consistency and we’re at the end of his junior year. Lot of supportive chatter out there for Geo Baker as well, though what I’ve seen of him thus far doesn’t move the needle much.
AKprediction: Rutgers has played with more life lately, but that’s still a horrendous statistical profile. Sanders having a good high-usage, low-efficiency game would make a big difference, but give me the Gophs, 56-51.
Below you will find the gamethread for this riveting action. If you feel yourself tempted to raise your online voice or get heated, remember than no team lower than an 8 seed has ever won the BTT. Eat at Arbys.