Breaking down the Big Ten Tournament

Malcolm+Hill+drives+to+the+basket+during+the+game+against+Michigan+State+on+March+1.+Columnist+Matt+Gertsmeier+says+that+though+the+Illini+could+use+a+fresh+start%2C+they+could+still+have+a+chance+in+their+must-win+game+against+Michigan.

Austin Yattoni

Malcolm Hill drives to the basket during the game against Michigan State on March 1. Columnist Matt Gertsmeier says that though the Illini could use a fresh start, they could still have a chance in their must-win game against Michigan.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

One of the greatest weeks in college basketball is upon us.

Wednesday marks the start of the Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C. After a season where almost every Big Ten team beat up on each other, any sort of outcome seems reasonably possible. That means this week could have the potential to give a few teams a shot at renewing their seasons.

And if there’s any team that could use a fresh start, it’s the Illini.

Via Twitter, Illinois basketball is promoting the tournament as if it were a new season. It’s almost as if Illinois is dropping a subtle hint that the Rutgers game has made getting into the NCAA tournament much harder, and now its only hope is a Big Ten tournament run.

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    They’re not wrong about that.

    Following Saturday’s loss to Rutgers, many people speculated the loss killed the Illini’s chances at being a bubble team. Many brackets moved Illinois to the First Four Out category and rightfully so. A four-game win streak can’t be ruined by the worst team in the Big Ten.

    I like the mentality of the Illinois basketball Twitter account. It’s time to clean the slate. The Illini dropped a big egg with the loss to Rutgers. It was worrisome and could very well impact Groce’s job. But, the past is the past, and it’s time to move on.

    Illinois needs to come into the conference tournament with the thought that this is a new season. It starts with Michigan on Thursday.

    This is the rubber match between Illinois and Michigan. The Illini took the first game, winning by 16 points at home, while Michigan took care of business with an 9-point win in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This time around, the game will be played on a neutral court.

    This is a very winnable game for Illinois, and if it wants any hope at redemption, a win is a must. Many predictions have the Wolverines as a nine-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and that could cause some complacency issues for the Wolverines.

    If the Wolverines still maintain a sense of urgency against Illinois, then the Illini will need to rely on their passing game and rebounding to come out on top. Illinois shot lights out in its win over Michigan back in January. Shooting above 60 percent from the field is going to be hard to replicate, which is why Illinois needs to emphasize the things they can control – finding the open man and crashing the glass.

    If Illinois can defeat Michigan, it will have Purdue on its plate. It’s really hard to imagine Illinois putting up a fight with the Boilermakers after taking a 23-point beating back in January. Purdue is also 8-2 in its last 10 games while Illinois has gone 5-5.

    Looking at the big picture of the tournament, there are a few teams that could wreak havoc, including Purdue, Michigan State, Iowa and Maryland.

    Purdue is the clear favorite after winning the regular season title. It certainly helps to have Caleb Swanigan, the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year, manning the front court.

    In that same section of the bracket is Michigan State, who is now on a two-game losing streak. Tom Izzo has to be yearning for a late push before the NCAA tournament, and now the only opportunity is the conference tourney.

    Another team I could see making a run are the Hawkeyes. Iowa has a fairly comfortable path to the semifinals with Indiana and Wisconsin in its way. Iowa went 1-0 against both of those teams. The Hawkeyes are also riding a four-game win streak.

    Maryland hit a bit of a rough path in late February, embarking on a three-game losing streak. The Terps used Rutgers as a slump buster and are now on a two-game winning streak. Guard Melo Trimble looks like he might be heating up at the perfect time.

    My overall prediction is Purdue will defeat Michigan State and Maryland will beat Iowa in the semifinals. The Boilermakers won the regular season conference title, and I expect them to carry that over and hoist the tournament trophy by beating Maryland.

    But, heck, maybe the Illini will surprise all of us and muster together a big tournament run. They just better hope they don’t face Rutgers in the finals.

    Matt is a Junior in Business.

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    @MattGertsmeier