Many think that the first day of the Big Ten Tournament doesn't mean that much. Try telling that to the teams that actually win and live to play another day. The Michigans, Minnesotas, and the Fighting Illini all accomplished that feat on Thursday, and are locked into the quarterfinals of the tourney. The atmosphere becomes electric on Friday, as the top tier teams begin action. Top-seeded Wisconsin and ninth seeded Michigan kicked off the morning session, and Wisconsin had the edge early, as Michigan is showing the effects of playing on the first day. Michigan made a comeback near the end of the first half, but Wisconsin kept the advantage, leading 26 to 18 at the half. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan helped bring the Wolverines closer by getting a technical foul called on him. Despite how badly Michigan played in the first half, Wisconsin didn't actually do themselves any favors, and the game could still be in the balance. However, in the second half, Michigan played much like they did on Thursday in the second stanza, and fell to the Badgers 51-34. Michigan ends their season at 10-22 and most likely will not be in any of the postseason tournaments, due to their record. Wisconsin lives to see another day, and will be in the semifinals on Saturday taking on
In the second quarterfinal game of the day, Michigan State, seeded fourth, took on the fifth seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in a game that was up and down the court at full speed. Michigan State always travels well, and this year was no exception, as they brought a lot of fans to Indianapolis to root their team on. The game went back and forth for much of the first half, with neither team pulling ahead by a large margin. These are fun games to watch, because both teams give it their all. At the half, the score was tied at 30, meaning both teams almost equaled what Michigan scored in the entire first game! The second half began with both teams leveling off a bit from their first half output. Every time that it looked like Michigan State would run away and hide, Ohio State would find a way to get back into the game. The contest went down to the final few minutes, where Michigan State eventually pulled the game out by a score of XX to XX. Ohio State, on the proverbial NCAA "bubble", may have seen their tournament chances take a serious hit with this loss. Michigan State's Drew Neitzel delivered for the Spartans, scoring XX points.
The Buckeyes drop to 19-13, and will be very interested onlookers for the remainder of the weekend, as they hope for an NCAA bid as an at-large team.
The Fighting Illini were the third game if the day, and the atmosphere was very electric in Conseco at the start of this game! With Purdue only about 50 miles from Indianapolis, it was no wonder that they had a large fan base following them. But, looking up into the stands, it seemed that all the other fan bases were cheering for the Boilers as well, giving them a decided home court advantage. The Illini fell behind early in the game, but they managed to come back each and every time. Guys like Mike Davis and Jeff Jordan have given the Illini the spark that they needed. The Illini fought back to tie Purdue at 28 apiece heading into the halftime locker room. In the second half, the Illini held tight with the Boilermakers, and every time that Purdue pulled ahead, the Illini had an answer. Demetri McCamey really came into his own in this game, as well as Jordan. After a hard fought battle, the game went into overtime tied at 63 apiece. In the overtime period, the Illini struck first, and McCamey kept the Illini going. After a long and grueling battle against the Boilers, the Illini bounce Purdue from the Big Ten Tourney 74-67 in overtime to earn a berth in the semifinals on Saturday.
The final game of the evening featured the second seeded Indiana Hoosiers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesota jumped on Indiana early and often, and at one time had a 16 point lead. Indiana chipped away at the lead, and only trailed by 7 at 34-27 at the break. In the second half, the Hoosiers came back and eventually took the lead, making this another game that would go down to the wire. Despite all that has happened to the Indiana basketball program over the last month, the ending to this game has to be the icing on the cake. Blake Hoffarber took a long inbounds pass and hit the game winning shot, a la Christian Laettner, to seal the Hoosiers' fate. So, with both Indiana and Purdue bounced from the tournament on the same day, tickets should be pretty easy to find for the game on Saturday.
The Illini will take on Minnesota in the semifinal matchup, a team that they have beaten 19 straight times. Michigan State and Wisconsin will be in the other semifinal matchup, with the winners meeting on Sunday afternoon for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The improbable run is halfway there, and folks, there is still a chance for the Fighting Illini to be dancing on Selection Sunday!