Iowa and Michigan started the tournament off a little after 11:00 am central time. The crowd was a little thin at the start of the first game, with quite a bit of Illini orange sprinkled through. This really is a beautiful venue for basketball, and contrary to many people's opinions, I think Indianapolis is the perfect spot for this tournament. It is centrally located within driving distance to all 11 Big Ten campuses, and it is easy to get around and walk virtually anywhere.
The Wolverines played a good first half, and it looked as if Iowa wasn't even excited to be there. Iowa played very sloppy in the first half, while Michigan built a sizable lead into the halftime break. In the second half, both teams had trouble finding the basket, as it seemed like forever between made baskets. Michigan finally prevailed, 55-47, to send them into a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Wisconsin Friday morning.
The second game of the day featured the Fighting Illini versus Penn State. The Illini had played the Nittany Lions twice this season, and had come up just short both times. This time, however, they got off to a strong start and actually took a double digit lead on more than one occasion. The three point shots were falling left and right, and, remarkably, so were the free throws. The Illini hit their first 7 attempts from the charity stripe, and led at the half, something that is not uncommon. In the second half, the Nittany Lions chipped away at the lead, and actually took the lead late in the game. Penn State has lost their two top scorers, and started 4 freshmen in the game against the Illini. The end of the game seemed eerily familiar, and one can only think of the movie 'Groundhog Day' to think how this game would end up. But, this time was different. With the Nittany Lions leading late in the game, the Illini inbounded the ball and found Chester Frazier underneath for the go ahead basket. Penn State couldn't get the last shot to fall, and the Illini escaped with a 64-63 victory. The win gets the Illini a date with second seeded Purdue Friday evening in the quarterfinals. The Boilermakers have defeated the Illini twice this season, so, can the Illini pull another rabbit out of their hat?
The first day's final game featured Minnesota and Northwestern, ad it appeared early the the Wildcats would run away with the lopsided victory. Northwestern led by as many as 15 in the first half, and held a sizable advantage at halftime. But, as has happened to Northwestern much of this season, they couldn't hold the lead and ended up losing to the Golden Gophers 55-52. Northwestern was in prime position to upset Minnesota, but finishing up the Big Ten season at 1-17, really don't know how to close a game out like that. So, Minnesota earns a berth in the quarterfinals against Indiana, who is in turmoil of their own. Talk has subsided a little about the Kelvin Sampson issue, but you can tell that it is still on a lot of minds of IU fans, and it is beginning to show in their style of play.
The first day ended with a gathering of media personnel at a watering hole in downtown Indianapolis. It seems strange to be face to face with personalities such as Barry Alvarez, Gene Keady, and Shon Morris, just to name a few. It was a veritable who's who of national media hanging out at one central location.
So, what will Day 2 of the Big Ten Tournament bring? Besides the games mentioned above, Michigan State and Ohio State have a rematch of their final regular season matchup. Regardless of how things end up, this is quite an atmosphere for basketball, and I hope that Indianapolis stays the host of the tournament for years to come.