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Big Ten Tournament Begins

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Mar 10, 2006 1:57PM

2006_03_sports_big_ten_bbalt_tournament.gifMarch Madness is nearly upon us, with the conference tournaments as a little appetizer before the Big Dance begins next week. The Big Ten Tournament opened play Thursday in Indianapolis, with the 6 lowest seeds facing off to see who would advance to the quarterfinals.

9th seed Northwestern is already headed home after losing the opening game to 8th seed Penn St. 60-42. The same Wildcats team that Chicagoist witnessed take Big Ten Champ Ohio St. to the final second last week, couldn’t put up a fight against the Nittany Lions. Vedran Vukusic, their senior foward and team leader, played one of his worst games of the season. One of the Big Ten's leading scorers during the season, he put up just 10 points and grabbed just 1 rebound. The Wildcats fell behind 18-5 early on and never got close -- shooting just 32% from the field for the game. Northwestern's loss probably prevents them from even playing in the NIT Tournament.

Meanwhile, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini play their first game today. As the 3rd seed, the Illini face 6th seed Michigan St., who defeated 11th seed Purdue 70-58 yesterday. The game tips off at 8:10pm. The Illini are looking to defend their Big Ten Tournament Title. That might be a tough task, however. Michigan St., picked by many to win the Big Ten, has the potential to make a deep post-season run in spite of their disappointing season thus far. Last year's team also failed to live up to regular season expectations before making it all the way to the Final Four. Should the Illini get past Michigan St. tonight, they'll likely face the 2nd seed Iowa Hawkeyes. The two teams split their season series, with each winning on their own home court. So who has the upper hand on the neutral court of Conseco Fieldhouse? Chicagoist isn't even going to make a guess.

Really, that's the biggest question all weekend long. All of the top teams in the Big Ten seemed to dominate at home and found it hard to win on the road. So the Tournament Title winner could be just about anyone. Not that it means much more than a t-shirt. The Big Ten will likely send five or six teams to the Big Dance anyway. Michigan's opening round loss likely relegated them to the NIT, while Indiana can play themselves off the bubble and into the field of 64 if they can beat Wisconsin this afternoon.