No wonder the Big Ten men's basketball tournament was sold out six weeks in advance.
This week's action Thursday through Sunday at the United Center in Chicago could be as entertaining — or better — than the NCAA tournament.
That's hardly hyperbole. Not when the No. 6-ranked team in the country — Michigan — is the No. 5 seed in the conference.
“It will be like a Final Four in the Big Ten tournament,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “With the number of ranked teams, this could be bigger than any Final Four I've been in.”
The big question is whether the rigorous regular season — and now pounding on each other for four more days — leaves Big Ten schools fire-tested or burned out for the NCAA tournament.
Good teams, Izzo said, find ways to carry on.
“If anybody is going to be burned out, it's going to be our whole conference,” he said. “We beat the daylights out of each other all yearlong, yet everybody seems to be pretty strong right now.
“So I'm more worried about playing well than about getting guys too tired. Guys always want to play more games.”
On with some storylines, starting locally:
Ľ Nebraska got a bad draw: When you are the No. 10 seed, any tourney path would be difficult. But how the bracket fell after the final day of regular-season play did the Huskers no favors.
First-round opponent Purdue is coming off wins over No. 17 Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a near-upset of Michigan.
“I really feel that in the last couple of weeks this is the team you wanted to see in December and January,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “It took us too long to get to this point, but I'm glad we're at this point now.”
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The Boilermakers controlled the only game with Nebraska earlier this season, jumping to a 20-point lead in Lincoln in a 65-56 win. Their strong perimeter defensive pressure backstopped by 7-foot center A.J. Hammons is a bad fit for NU.
Even if Nebraska pulls an upset, No. 2 seed Ohio State would await — the other Big Ten team that has caused NU the most problems.
Ľ Iowa needs to win at least three Big Ten tourney games to get NCAA consideration: It was mind-boggling to see folks in Iowa City on Saturday claiming that a win over Nebraska (No. 103 RPI) was going to get the Hawkeyes (No. 75 RPI and 99th in schedule strength) back into NCAA tourney contention.
When asked about U of I's chances, coach Fran McCaffery detailed several “good” losses. Sorry. The selection committee wants to hear about good wins.
Ľ Bad blood between Indiana and Michigan: By now, most have seen the video of Indiana coach Tom Crean yelling at Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer after Sunday's game, claiming that “you helped wreck our program.”
Meyer was an IU assistant under Kelvin Sampson, whose rule violations led to NCAA probation for the Hoosiers, which Crean was hired to clean up after Sampson's departure.
On Monday's Big Ten coaches call, Crean apologized for his “professional misunderstanding.” Crean said he called Meyer as Indiana's travel party was headed to the airport, some things were discussed and he apologized.
“In retrospect, I wish I wouldn't have addressed anything after the heat of battle in a game,” Crean said. “We move on.”
Michigan head coach John Beilein said he didn't see the actual confrontation, just video. He declined to comment, other than to say: “Michigan is always going to win with class and lose with class.”
These teams are favored to meet in a semifinal game Saturday. Boxing gloves are optional.
Ľ Coaches on the hot seat: Northwestern coach Bill Carmody's thankless task of coaching the only power conference team never to make the NCAA tournament was made more difficult this year by losing four players to season-ending injuries and a fifth to disciplinary reasons.
A Chicago Tribune columnist has called for Carmody's 13th year to be his last. We'll see.
Tubby Smith at Minnesota has been under media fire for having a third straight team flame out down the stretch. The Gophers still are expected to make the NCAA tournament, but what is seen as too much underachievement makes his status worth watching.
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