PAST FIVE CHAMPIONS
2013 – Ohio State; 2012 – Michigan State; 2011 – Ohio State; 2010 – Ohio State; 2009 – Purdue.
No. 12 seed Purdue over No. 5 seed Ohio State. The Boilermakers are in an unaccustomed spot, the Big Ten basement. Purdue was the league co-champion as recently as 2010, losing sole ownership because of a shocking loss at Iowa in the regular-season finale. Purdue doesn’t play smart, but it can defend. And if the Buckeyes are struggling to score from the perimeter and Purdue postman center A.J. Hammons decides to play, this one could be interesting.
MOST TO LOSE
Iowa. The Hawkeyes haven’t reached bubble status … yet. And getting knocked off in the first round by Northwestern, a team it has handled by 26 points in both regular-season games, probably won’t knock them out of the NCAAs. But it will lead to some nervous hand-wringing Sunday afternoon.
MOST TO GAIN
Minnesota has been an NCAA bubble team all season long. Most bracket projections have the Gophers on the wrong side of the in-out line heading into Indy. Taking care of Penn State for a third time this season, and then knocking off Wisconsin, might be convincing enough to get Minnesota in the field in Richard Pitino’s first season.
SIZING UP IOWA
The Hawkeyes come to Indianapolis in a free fall, losing five of their last six regular-season games. Poor defense and a lack of rebounding have turned a promising season upside-down since the third week of February. A solid effort against Northwestern would lead to a get-rich-quick opportunity against Michigan State. The Spartans have bounced Iowa from the last three Big Ten tournaments, and have won eight straight games in the series. The Hawkeyes’ Devyn Marble has been one of the league’s best scorers all season. But if Iowa can’t find its mojo on defense, both in its 2-3 zone that has been scorched of late and its’ man-to-man, escaping an 8/9 seed in the NCAA Tournament appears unlikely.