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Big Ten Tournament 2018: Inside NU’s staff predictions

Can NU win a game? Who do we see cutting down the nets at MSG?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Final-Michigan vs Wisconsin Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Big Ten Tournament kicks off on Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. It’s been a down year for the conference, but there’s still plenty of intrigue heading into the long weekend. Some of the best teams in the country are playing to hold onto or move up a seed line. The 4 seed, Nebraska, still has work to do to make the Big Ten a 5-bid league. In addition, there are plenty of underachieving teams looking to play spoiler. Here’s how our staff sees things shaking out in NYC.

Will Ragatz

How far will NU go?

One and done. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s hard to see a path to victory for Northwestern against Penn State right now. The Cats have lost six straight and are dealing with all kinds of injuries; it seems rather unlikely that either Vic Law or Bryant McIntosh will be healthy — or even play at all — on Thursday. Penn State can put Josh Reaves (who didn’t play when NU beat PSU and is one of the conference’s best defenders) on Scottie Lindsey to make sure he doesn’t hit 9 threes for a second straight game. The Nittany Lions may be without big man Mike Watkins, so NU’s best hope is for a huge Dererk Pardon game. But Penn State has more to play for, with a potential rematch against an OSU team they’ve already beaten twice looming on Friday. They’re the better and healthier team, and I think NU’s season ends quietly on Thursday.

Who will cut down the nets?

I’ve got Purdue beating Michigan State in the championship game. Ohio State and Michigan (and a couple other teams) could have something to say about it, but it seems like the Boilers and Spartans are headed for a rematch on Sunday. Last time they met, it took a Miles Bridges game-winner for MSU to hold off Purdue at home. On a neutral court, I think the more experienced team gets revenge. Tournament MVP: Carsen Edwards.

Tristan Jung

How far will NU go?

Win one game. Penn State is really struggling and Northwestern has already beaten the Nittany Lions this year. This makes no analytical sense, but Northwestern has to play well sometime, right?

Who will cut down the nets?

Rutgers, obviously. Tournament MVP: Corey Sanders.

Oh, you don’t believe me? Fine. Michigan State, Bridges. Boring.

Caleb Friedman

How far will NU go?

One and done. Penn State is a difficult matchup for Northwestern. Tony Carr is one of the most explosive guards in the conference, and Mike Watkins is a big presence inside (as long as he plays). Even so, nothing is going right for Northwestern right now.

Who will cut down the nets?

Michigan. Don’t look now, but the Wolverines have won five straight games and seven of their last eight. Michigan has beaten Michigan State and Ohio State this season, and dropped two games to Purdue by a combined five points. When in doubt, trust John Beilein. Tournament MVP: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

Chris Grismer

How far will NU go?

One and done. Even if McIntosh and Law play, Northwestern has been so inconsistent (even when healthy) this season that I’m not comfortable picking a full-strength Wildcats squad against anyone, much less an upstart Penn State team. The Nittany Lions’ defense should have no problem stopping Northwestern, who has averaged 62.2 points per game during this miserable six-game losing streak, shooting 40.7 percent from the field. If Chris Collins has his starting point guard and small forward available, the Wildcats could pull the upset. If not, Northwestern is toast. Sidenote: we’re looking at a situation where Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly will finish with the same record in their freshman and senior seasons (15-17). That’s equally unbelievable and sad.

Who will cut down the nets?

The bet here is that Purdue gets revenge for Miles Bridges’ dagger earlier this month and topples top-seeded Michigan State. Outside of a three-game losing streak (by a combined eight points), Purdue has been the most dominant and complete team in the conference this season. Tournament MVP: Vincent Edwards.

Davis Rich

How far will NU go?

Win one game. Northwestern lacks confidence, health, and momentum at the moment. In predicting a win over Penn State, I’m putting a lot of faith in Bryant McIntosh. The senior is clearly not 100%. If Thursday’s game wasn’t potentially his last, Chris Collins would have good reason to keep him on the bench and out of harm’s way. McIntosh is not going to let that be his legacy.

“If we’re going to get beat, they’re gonna have to take our heart out,” he said after the loss to Wisconsin on Senior Night.

McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey (who has been magnificent these past three games) have one more win in them, even if it’s in the second round of the conference tournament as opposed to the NCAA tournament.

Who will cut down the nets?

Michigan State. The regular season conference victor, which has ripped off 12 consecutive wins, finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the country, and starts two lottery picks, will win the conference championship? That’s not a fun narrative for the conference tournament, especially with a team like Nebraska fighting to get on the right side of the bubble. Nonetheless, Tom Izzo’s team has a number one seed to play for, and the chance to be the first team since the 2014-15 Wisconsin Badgers to win both the regular season and conference tournament championships. Tournament MVP: Cassius Winston.

Noah Coffman

How far will NU go?

Nowhere. Look, Penn State is much better than Northwestern. In arguably one of their worst games of the Big Ten slate, the Nittany Lions succumbed to the Wildcats, but they handled them easily in Happy Valley and their recent form has been much better (true for practically everybody). When you add in Penn State’s significant motivation advantage thanks to their postseason hopes, Northwestern will be in a hole before this one even tips off.

Who will cut down the nets?

Nebraska is going to pull of the shocker. The Cornhuskers aren’t as good as their Big Ten record says, but they are just outside of the bubble and desperate for some wins. A seed outside of the top 4 has only won the tournament twice in its history, so it’s lucky Nebraska grabbed that coveted double bye. Only needing to win three games and getting an extra day of rest, Tim Miles and his squad will slip into the NCAA Tournament through the back door. Tournament MVP: Isaac Copeland.

Talia Hendel

How far will NU go?

Sadly, not far. Honestly, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This season, like any good heartbreak, needs to end so it can stop hurting. It’s time to wrap it up and start working towards next season. The way this season has gone, I think it’d be something of a miracle to get anywhere in this tournament, and it’s time to just accept that and move on.

Who will cut down the nets?

Michigan State. I’m with Davis - this team is extremely talented and the bench runs deep. Their play doesn’t lag no matter who’s on the court, and the team remains solid even when stars are in foul trouble. I don’t see anything happening in this tournament that is capable of shaking up this group of players, particularly with the leadership and immense scoring talent of... Tournament MVP: Cassius Winston.

Martin Oppegaard

How far will NU go?

One and done. Northwestern went 1-3 this season without Vic Law, including losses to Wisconsin and Iowa. There’s little reason to believe anything changes Thursday.

Who will cut down the nets?

I love Ohio State in a revenge opportunity against Penn State in the quarterfinals. Chris Holtmann has worked wonders to turn around a program decimated by transfers that was thought to be at least a year away from competence. A year removed from limping to a 7-11 conference record, the Buckeyes complete their comeback season at Madison Square Garden behind Tournament MVP and Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop.