Smile Politely

The Big Ten season culminates now

The Big Ten Tournament runs from Thursday through Sunday at Conseco Field House in downtown Indianapolis. If you’ve never gone, I recommend it. The area is nice and safe, and has interesting hotels and restaurants. You can park without paying a million dollars.

That the Big Ten Conference (headquartered in Park Ridge, Ill.) favors Indy over Chicago demonstrates the racket of doing business in the Windy City.

The best way to get tickets is to hang around outside Conseco Fieldhouse at the end of each game. Half the fans from each contest will be looking to dump their useless tickets. It’s a buyers’ market.

The Thursday teams won’t draw many people, apart from Indiana fans who’ll likely have single-session tickets. But the Friday and Saturday games will feature unexpected losers, or fans with unrealistic expectations. Offer them a pittance for their all-session passes.

If you go, you can watch Seth Fein pretend to know how to take pictures from the baseline.


Michigan State starter Chris Allen is suspended indefinitely. Maybe that means he’ll be playing Friday. Only Tom Izzo knows. Allen is the one that looks like Lisa Bonet.

The rebounding, the tenacity and the bench will be the difference if MSU prevails. I don’t like to predict sports outcomes. I don’t gamble, and I’d rather analyze what actually happens than try to figure out what might happen.

I think MSU has the best shot of winning the tournament because they don’t rely on any particular person or any particular statistical advantage. They rebound well. They have some defensive punishers. Tom Izzo is not as brilliant as a lot of people say he is, and that’s what makes him effective. He reacts to very obvious imbalances in real time. This is not about theory, but observation.


Thad Matta plays a short rotation. Maybe that means tired legs. Maybe it means well-oiled machine. I’m not sure anyone could convincingly demonstrate that an OSU tourney championship/fizzle were due to either.

If Jon Diebler can’t miss and Evan Turner hits all his spots as well as half of his shots, OSU wins the BTT.


With four full-time coaches in West Lafayette and two in Champaign, Purdue has the broadest intra-conference reach when it comes to controlling that which can be controlled.

But no amount of guidance could persuade Robbie Hummel’s tendons from staying intact.

Purdue could win the BTT, and it would be the greatest Indianan overachievement since AJ Moye.


A few weeks back, I said Illinois needed three more wins to get an NCAA bid. They’ve won one game since then.

If Illinois beats Wisconsin and Ohio State this weekend, I think they’ll probably get in.

Small-conference tournaments haven’t produced any unexpected, bubble busting automatic bids. Beating the Buckeyes is as easy as installing a missile defense shield to lase Jon Diebler’s bombs from the sky before they do any damage. Or guard him.

The rest is a piece of cake. Shoot flawlessly and hope Mark Titus gets all the Bucks massively stoned Friday night.

But playing the Ohio State presumes beating Wisconsin first. Unfortunately,


Bo Ryan continues to get the best out of his players while Illinois has devolved into public infighting.

It’s still possible that Illinois beats the Badgers. But they’ll have to hit a high percentage of their shots. DJ Richardson did a great job defending Jason Bohannon last week. Someone else will have to make a remarkable contribution.


Four of the Big Ten’s bottom 6 could launch improbable tourney runs.

Iowa and Indiana have no chance.

Indiana has some horses, but the team’s in turmoil. Tom Crean fired an assistant coach this week. Southern Indiana continues to praise Bob Knight, Nathan Bedford Forrest, etc. Steve Alford’s success at New Mexico has them all a-titter. (They don’t have the internet.)

Penn State could do damage if Jeff Brooks and Bill Edwards play the way they did in Champaign. If Chris Babb shoots light out. If Talor Battle retains any will to fight.

Michigan can beat anybody, they just haven’t. It’s inexplicable. I blame the Zacks.

Minnesota is the most dangerous of the six. They had a lot of off-court problems this year. Lately they seem to have overcome the distraction. Their roster includes a lot of Big Ten bodies and various skill sets. Tubby Smith wins everywhere he goes.

Northwestern was pegged to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its history. For a while it seemed like they’d do it even without Kevin Coble. The BTT is their last chance. Drew Crawford received much “Freshman of the Year” consideration. Juice Thompson remains dangerous to any team. John Shurna is the best nerd in the Big Ten.

Iowa just sucks.

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