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A wide open Big Ten tourney

BY BRENDAN STILES | MARCH 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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The 2010 Big Ten season could best be described as wacky. Three teams — Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan State — tied for first place with 14-4 conference marks. Because the Buckeyes and Spartans only met once, Ohio State’s win at Michigan State on Feb. 21 gave the Buckeyes the top seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans sit in the No. 3 spot behind Purdue.

Not only that, but they all have played games this season with their best players injured.

At the start of the Big Ten slate, the Buckeyes’ Evan Turner had missed two games (both of which were road losses) because of a broken vertebrae in his back. However, the Ohio State junior returned to lead the Buckeyes to victories in 14 of 16 Big Ten games en route to being named the conference’s Player of the Year on Monday. Ohio State will face the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 Michigan and No. 9 Iowa.

“As a coach, I would tell any parent that if your son wants to be an All-American national Player of the Year, you need to analyze how Evan Turner acts and how committed he is. It’s unbelievable,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. Turner, who will likely be the national Player of the Year, averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game.

Last month, the Spartans experienced life without last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas. The lone game he missed was on Feb. 6, a contest Michigan State lost at Illinois. Starting at the No. 3 seed in this week’s tourney, the Spartans will draw the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 6 Minnesota and No. 11 Penn State.

Now the Boilermakers are learning how to deal with not having their go-to guy, Robbie Hummel, who tore his ACL in a game at Minnesota on Feb. 24.

Remarkably, Purdue has won two of three since Hummel’s injury, and winning the Big Ten Tournament could possibly vault the Boilermakers to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. Purdue will play on Friday against either No. 7 Northwestern or Indiana, which is the 10th seed in this week’s tourney.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “We’re just trying to get better every single day, we’re trying to be positive every single day and also embrace the challenge of playing without [Hummel].”

Then there’s the lone quarterfinal already set for Friday, which will be a rematch of a game last weekend. No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 5 Illinois will meet five days after the Badgers left Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., with a 72-57 win against the Fighting Illini. In fact, Wisconsin comes into this game having won its last four games, all of which have taken place since the return of forward Jon Leuer from injury.

While Wisconsin looks like a team poised to make a deep run in this week’s event, for Illinois, the situration is urgent. Sitting at 18-13 overall and having lost five of its last six, the Fighting Illini need a second victory over the Badgers to help cement an at-large bid. Another loss to Wisconsin on Friday could potentially send Illinois to the NIT.

“Now we’ve put ourselves in a major bind,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “We got to go to the tournament and do some damage if we’re going to have any chance for postseason.”

The action will start Thursday at 1:30 p.m., when the Wolverines and Hawkeyes square off inside Conseco Field House. That game can be seen nationally on ESPN2.


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