The Big Ten Tournament has begun! With Northwestern set to play tomorrow, we gave our staff the chance to predict how far the ‘Cats will go and who the last team standing will be on Sunday afternoon.
Note: Most of these predictions were written before tournament action began on Wednesday night.
Gavin Dorsey: Loss in semifinals, Indiana wins
Sunday’s win over Rutgers was exactly what the Wildcats needed to get back on track. I think they get their revenge against a streaking Penn State team Friday, but fall to the eventual Big Ten Champion Hoosiers on Saturday. It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, let alone a team of Indiana’s caliber, who I think is the best team in the conference. Nonetheless, it’s going to be such a fun tournament.
Iggy Dowling: Loss in quarterfinals, Indiana wins over Michigan State
They say a picture speaks a thousand words. Please know I had good intentions.
To sum this up: How does playing Illinois in Chicago in an arena with a capacity almost three times the size of Welsh-Ryan’s sound to you? Then again, I predicted Northwestern to win four Big Ten games this season, and that jinx worked perfectly (which, in a sense, I’m trying to will into existence by doing this too). Should Penn State win on Thursday, I think a semifinal appearance is in the cards for the ‘Cats.
Elsewhere, Purdue’s guards have given me zero reason to trust they can string together two efficient games. If Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard can keep playing off each other in harmony as they have recently while MSU makes Zach Edey look like... um, any other player in America, the Spartans can follow the blueprint of their upset over Indiana. From there, it’s simple: the Hoosiers are probably the Big Ten’s best offensive team and the most well-rounded one. This is a squad that not only swept Purdue, but won on the road there comfortably last Saturday with Trayce Jackson-Davis posting his lowest scoring output of the entire season. Indiana has already lost to Maryland and Michigan State, but if there’s anyone I’d trust to win three straight games in this insane conference, it’s them.
Bradley Locker: Loss in semifinals, Indiana wins
In this tournament, it genuinely feels like any of the top-tier teams is capable of either losing in the first round or winning it all — that sentiment even applies to Northwestern. While the Wildcats dropped three of four to close the regular season, I think NU bests Illinois in what should be a stellar third matchup. However, I wouldn’t bet on the ‘Cats to put together two excellent performances in a row, especially against an Indiana team that would be looking to avoid a three-game sweep at the hands of Chris Collins’ squad. Part of me wants to go dark horse and pick Maryland to win this whole tournament, but the Hoosiers seem like a safer pick given the year they’ve had and a sort of epiphany of the noise they’re capable of making in March.
Adam Beck: Loss in semifinals, Indiana wins
Either way, if the ‘Cats play Illinois or Penn State Friday night, they’ll be doing it with revenge in mind. Northwestern proved they can beat the Fighting Illini, winning a matchup at Welsh-Ryan Arena in January, and even having a large lead in the second half in Champaign in mid-February, before Terrance Shannon Jr. helped Illinois come roaring back. Northwestern also showed they’re better than Penn State, outplaying the Nittany Lions in their clash last week before Camren Wynter sank a game winning triple in OT. Either way, Northwestern knows how to beat both teams and I’m confident they can.
Now realistically, let’s say Indiana beats the winner of the Maryland vs. Minnesota game. After already racking up two wins over Indiana by a combined three points this season, it’s improbable the ‘Cats claw out another win against the Hoosiers. Either way, it’ll be competitive, but if the Hoosiers are playing to their potential, they’re the best team in the conference and they’ve proven it by beating Purdue twice this season. Trayce Jackson-Davis is him and Jalen Hood-Schifino is a walking bucket, making Indiana a team nobody wants to face in the Big Ten Tournament. They’ll beat Northwestern in the semi-finals and Purdue in the finals to take the Big Ten’s postseason crown.
Jake Mozarsky: Loss in semifinals, Purdue wins
Northwestern got a huge win Sunday night against Rutgers in the RAC to stop a three-game losing streak that included Penn State and Illinois, both teams that they lost to in the past two weeks. Both of these losses were heartbreaking, and I think whoever Northwestern gets on Friday night will be a revenge game. I also think the rest will help the ‘Cats, and hopefully Northwestern fans show out. There is no better place for the Big Ten Tournament to be this year than United Center, especially for the season Northwestern is having.
But, I think the semis is where the ‘Cats fall out. It’s so difficult to beat a team three times in a year, and I think Indiana will be the matchup if the ‘Cats do win Friday night. So, I think Indiana beats Northwestern on Saturday. With that same logic, Indiana loses to a Purdue team that is fired up on Sunday. Matt Painter’s squad will surely have revenge on its mind after losing to the Hoosiers twice already, and the Boilermakers will be celebrating on Sunday.
John Olsen: Win in final, Northwestern wins
Tournaments are extremely unpredictable, but teams who don’t turn the ball over and play strong defense tend to be the most successful. Add this to my usual tenant of not picking the overall No. 1 seed, and that means the only option for me here is NU.
Ethan Segall: Lose in final, Iowa wins
These conference is so strange. The fact that the Rutgers game determined whether Northwestern would be seeded two or nine goes to show that this conference is wide open. Excluding the cancelled tournament in 2020, three of the last five tournament winners have not been in the top four seeds. A team like Michigan, Iowa or Illinois is incredibly capable of repeating that trend. On paper the two teams from the state of Indiana appear to be the most daunting, but I’ll pick Northwestern to advance two rounds for the heck of it, including a third victory over the Hoosiers. Be prepared for surprises and upsets but it’s an incredible feeling to go into this tournament knowing the ‘Cats have already locked up a March Madness appearance and are now only playing for pride, seeding and a first-ever conference tournament title.
Brendan Preisman: Loss in championship, Purdue wins
While this conference has been incredibly chaotic, there’s only two teams with proven success on the road this year: Northwestern and Purdue. It is for that reason that I think both of these teams will have a lot of success in Chicago. I trust Wildside to make the United Center feel miserable for every team whose fanbase doesn't reside in Illinois, and Purdue has the best player in the country. And for those of my colleagues who are concerned about going up against Indiana again, consider this: that won’t be the matchup. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are on a run, and I think that run will get them to the semifinals. Northwestern will be able to handle them, but not Zach Edey.
David Gold: Win in final, Northwestern wins
A part of me wanted to pick Ohio State to run the gauntlet and win the tournament because it would be the perfect summarization of how chaotic the Big Ten was this year; however, I truly think Northwestern is the best team in the tournament. In the postseason, defense and forcing turnovers travel well, and the Wildcats’ defense is stifling. NU gives up the second-fewest points in the conference and is top 10 in the nation in turnover margin. Also, Northwestern is 4-0 against the double-bye teams in the regular season. I think the ‘Cats find themselves in another rock fight Friday night but do just enough to take the rubber game against Illinois, and I don’t see them having trouble with the entire state of Indiana. They’ll beat Purdue in the final, hopefully to the chagrin of Gregg Doyel.
Zain Bando: Lose in quarterfinals, Indiana wins
For those who might have forgotten, the Big Ten Tournament’s No. 1 seed, Illinois, was knocked out Friday morning last March. With how nuts the Big Ten regular season turned out to be, anything is possible. I think Purdue will get knocked out on the eve of championship Sunday. While Northwestern will avoid Purdue, I don’t trust that Chase Audige, Boo Buie and Ty Berry will be ready for Illinois (assuming it gets past Penn State Thursday night). Despite Illinois’ struggles, they have been the class of the Big Ten for several seasons now. With ex-national champions Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr. at the helm, the experience will trump everything if the two teams match up Friday evening.
While Chris Collins’ Big Ten Coach of the Year nomination was well-deserved, I think Mike Woodson’s Indiana Hoosiers are peaking at the right time. They’ve knocked off the Boilermakers twice this season and nearly beat Northwestern in Evanston. Given NU’s dominance at Welsh-Ryan Arena, that’s not an easy thing to do. I expect Trayce-Jackson Davis to carry the Hoosiers to Sunday and beat Michigan State to win the tournament title.
I hope I’m wrong and we get Indiana-Northwestern in the semifinals or Purdue-Northwestern in the championship. Regardless of how far the Wildcats go this weekend, we can all agree that this season has been a rollercoaster, and anyone can make a run in March.
Nonetheless, Friday evening should be a night to remember.