It pays to win in the Big Ten, with the top four teams earning a bye past the first round of the conference tournament, which begins Thursday. There is still plenty of Big Ten action out of the gate with four games in the first round.
The No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers and No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini open up the day's slate of games. Indiana needs to make waves in the Big Ten Tournament. Otherwise, the Hoosiers might join the dubious ranks of teams who went from a No. 1 seed to the NIT in a single year. Indiana and Illinois split their regular-season matchups, with each team winning its game at home and Illinois needing overtime to pull out its victory. The Hoosiers enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak, although they played Michigan hard on the road to close out the regular season. Illinois, on the other hand, finished conference play with a three-point win on the road over Iowa.
No. 7 Minnesota is on upset watch against No. 10 Penn State. SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean has Minnesota slotted as one of the first four teams out, and a loss to the Nittany Lions would certainly seal that fate. The two teams closed out the regular season against each other, with the Golden Gophers coasting to a comfortable 81-63 win. Minnesota weathered 24 points from D.J. Newbill by spreading the offense around; five Gophers scored in double-digits during the game.
No. 5 Ohio State seemed like the cream of the Big Ten crop until January hit. Now, the Buckeyes are forced to take on No. 12 Purdue in the first round of the tournament. The Buckeyes lost four straight early in Big Ten play, but they eventually righted the ship to finish 10-8. The Buckeyes won both games between the teams this season. Purdue enters the Big Ten Tournament mired in a six-game losing streak.
No. 6 Iowa and No. 11 Northwestern close out the first round Thursday. Iowa enters the tournament on a two-game slide, losing to Michigan State on the road and Illinois at home. Northwestern is just the team to help Iowa get a tune-up game before heading into the meat of the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa won both meetings this season by exactly 26 points each time.
Thursday's full schedule of games:
No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Illinois, noon p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Purdue, 2:30 p.m. ET (estimated), Big Ten Network
No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 10 Penn State, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern, 9 p.m. ET (estimated), ESPN2
Here is a link to the full tournament bracket.