The most parity-driven conference in college basketball this season, the Big Ten, should produce one of the more compelling tournaments. As the quarterfinals get underway, the top four seeds will make their debuts after receiving first-round byes. Nebraska is jockeying for position after knocking off Wisconsin to get a likely at-large bid, while Minnesota is hoping a strong showing will nab the Gophers a spot in the Big Dance.
To open the quarters, top-seeded Michigan will face No. 9 Illinois. The Illini got here by taking care of business against Indiana, riding Tracy Abrams' 25 points to victory. Illinois forced 16 turnovers -- including eight steals -- against the Hoosiers. The Illini will not be given an at-large bid, so their only shot to make the tournament begins now. Michigan is led by All-American candidate Nik Stauskas, who burst on the scene to become one of the best players in the Big Ten this season. The Wolverines won the Big Ten regular season title with 15 wins, including a win in their only game against Illinois.
March Madness sidebar (3/15)
No. 4 Nebraska is slated to make just its seventh NCAA Tournament in the history of the program, but could seal the deal with a run in the conference tourney. The Cornhuskers will face Ohio State, who snuck by Purdue to advance to the quarterfinals. The Buckeyes needed 19 points and 15 rebounds from LaQuinton Ross to polish off the Boilermakers, getting just enough in a back-and-forth game against Purdue. The Buckeyes split a pair of games with Nebraska early in the Big Ten season.
Next, No. 7 Minnesota will look to build a tourney resume against No. 2 Wisconsin. The Gophers held off Penn State to keep their bubble hopes alive, using Austin Hollins' 18 points to notch the first-round victory. Richard Pitino's team may need another win or two to clinch a spot, needing to overcome a sub-.500 record in Big Ten play. The Gophers are playing Wisconsin for the third time, having split the season series with the Badgers. Wisconsin won eight of its last nine games to close out the regular season.
Finally, No. 11 Northwestern stormed into the quarters after upsetting No. 6 Iowa in the opening round Thursday. The Wildcats are still seeking their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, and are a step closer after knocking off the Hawkeyes. Tre Demps went for 20 in the win. A tough test lies ahead, with No. 3 Michigan State coming off a first-round bye. The Spartans faltered at the end of the season, but are finally healthy and ready to make a post-season push. Michigan State swept the season series over Northwestern.
Friday's schedule of games:
No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 9 Illinois, noon ET, ESPN
No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Ohio State, 2:25 p.m. ET, ESPN
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Minnesota, 6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Northwestern, 8:55 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network