Postseason Preview: Big Ten 1st Rd.
The undermanned Northwestern Wildcats begin their attempt to gain a very unlikely automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday against Minnesota. This is the #8/9 game and it feeds into a date with #1 Ohio State, probably the worst possible match up for every team in the country.
First though the Wildcats will have to get past the Gophers with only eight healthy scholarship players. Mike Capocci is out due to a concussion, JerShon Cobb's back still seems to be injured, Jeff Ryan isn't going to pull a Willis Reed and one of the "healthy guys," John Shurna, spends most of his day in a walking boot. Of course Minnesota has some problems of its own and just lost to Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena in the Wildcats' final game of the regular season.
Since Northwestern has known since their final home game that they'd be playing Minnesota I assume they'll have some surprises in terms of strategy prepared. So let's put it into action!
Northwestern vs. Minnesota:
Where: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
What: Big Ten Tournament First Round
When: 1:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2
What else you need to know: This is one of three games in the Big Ten's first round. It's also the only game in which the two teams are evenly matched. Iowa beating Michigan State or Indiana beating Penn State would be an epic upset, but either team winning this one is completely understandable. Both of these teams are currently sitting on the NIT bubble and with nine top seeds already losing in their conference tournaments its getting pretty dicey. The team that wins this one will get another valuable Top 100 victory and should be able to feel good about their chances during Sunday's night's selection show on ESPNU. Minnesota might get a boost from the return of point guard Al Nolen. Nolen hasn't played since the Gophers defeated Michigan on January 22. As of Sunday he hadn't been cleared to play in the game. Why is this important? Well Minnesota is 2-9 without Nolen and 15-4 with him. Yeah. Bill Carmody is going to have to pull a Thad Matta and shorten his rotation due to injuries so expect to not see many minutes from anyone besides the two centers, John Shurna, Michael Thompson, Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio. In fact, this could be Marcotullio's third start of the season. This should be a really entertaining game, so if you have time sneak out of work and catch it.