Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Big Ten readies for tournament

The Big Ten basketball tournament tips off Thursday, with the coveted prize of an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Five teams already have guaranteed spots in the NCAA tournament, but with the parity of the league this season, no team is the clear favorite to win this weekend.

The regular season ended with a four-way tie for first place among Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana. This was the first time that has happened in 75 years. While it created an exciting season, these records are now out the window as the tournament begins.

“Any of the 11 teams can win it,” Purdue coach Gene Keady said. “Certainly there [are] a couple teams that probably should win it; but that hasn’t been the model this tournament has gone on.”

Iowa ran the table last year as the sixth seed, pulling off an impressive four wins in four days. Head coach Steve Alford emphasized endurance, depth and staying healthy as keys to their run, emphasizing that a team must also shoot well, and that whichever team gets hot could end up the winner.

Coaches must prepare their teams for the single-elimination mentality of the tournament. Every shot becomes important, as many teams’ seasons hinge on each game.

“Every play can determine the fate of your season,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “Whether it’s fate, whether it’s luck, or whether it’s skill, those things make it a great game. One or two plays determine an outcome, and it is that small margin for error that makes it so exciting.”

The tournament has moved this year to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The neutral setting allows no real home-court advantage, but may help Indiana and Purdue. Wisconsin, Ohio State and Indiana each get first-round byes, while all the other teams square off Thursday.

Every team will be motivated to win. For those who have had a poor or average year, this is the only chance to extend their season. This sense of urgency, along with the league’s parity, should lead to upsets. As for the teams who are destined for the NCAA tournament, a loss now provides a wake-up call for them to refocus.

“The league has played out to be as good a league [as] there is,” Illinois coach Bill Self said. “Certainly, so much parity sets up what should be a very exciting weekend in Indianapolis.”

Gophers on the bubble

After finishing sixth in the Big Ten, Minnesota has found itself on the mysterious bubble for the NCAA tournament. The Gophers’ fate depends upon their performance in the conference tournament this weekend.

Minnesota went 16-11 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten. Their record is merely average for the NCAAs, but it does include impressive wins against Ohio State and Indiana, two of the four teams that won the conference title. The Gophers also knocked off Oregon earlier this year, which is currently ranked ninth in the polls.

“I can’t believe a team in our league that goes 9-7, with a victory over Oregon, would not be an NCAA tournament team,” Illinois coach Bill Self said. “At 9-7, Minnesota would be one of the best 34 at-large teams.”

Minnesota faces Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. If they can get past the last-place Nittany Lions, the Gophers will be set for a rematch against Illinois. Minnesota suffered a heartbreaking loss Sunday, 67-66, as Illinois closed the game on a 10-0 run. A victory would have sealed a trip to the Big Dance.

Some analysts are now predicting the Gophers must win at least two games to have a shot. Coach Dan Monson could not believe how times have changed.

“[Going] 9-7 in the past is in. It’s a lock,” Monson said. “Our record is normally one that people would take in a heartbeat before the season started, [but it] is one that people are scoffing at right now.”

Whether Monson likes it or not, Minnesota’s season is on the line this weekend. The Gophers must play well in this tournament, or they will be watching the real one on TV.

Conference Player of the Year

Indiana’s Jared Jeffries was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. The sophomore led the Hoosiers to a share of the conference title, their first since 1993.

Jeffries averaged 15.9 points and was second in the league in rebounds with 7.8 per game. He was also fourth in both blocks and steals. Hampered by injuries in the second half of the season, Jeffries still led Indiana to a 19-10 record and 11-5 in the Big Ten.

“What we accomplished this year was (due to) him,” Indiana coach Mike Davis said. “If he didn’t go down with an ankle injury, we’d be outright champs.”

Jeffries, who was rookie of the year last season, beat out Illinois’ Frank Williams. Williams was player of the year last season and led the Illini’s comeback in the second half of the season to gain a share of the league title.

Indiana, ranked in the top 25, is a lock for the NCAA tournament. Jeffries and the Hoosiers are the fourth seed in the conference tournament and will face Michigan State Friday. Davis had only praise for Jeffries’ courage this season.

“To be able to bounce back [from injury] and play the way he’s played, a lot of guys wouldn’t go on the court,” Davis said. “He’s putting Indiana before himself, and that means a lot.”

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