Today’s first-round matchups:
No. 8 Illinois vs. No. 9 Minnesota: The teams split their season-series, with each winning on the other’s home court. The Illini’s 23 Big Ten Tournament wins are the most of any school. Illinois’ Brandon Paul has scored in double figures in five straight games after a mid-February slump. Minnesota’s win at Illinois was its last away from home; the Gophers have lost eight straight on the road.
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Penn State: A rematch of the Big Ten’s biggest upset of the season. The Nittany Lions had started the conference schedule 0-14, including a 79-71 loss at Michigan 10 days before upsetting the Wolverines 84-78 on Feb. 27. Penn State finished 2-16 in the conference, while Michigan still had a chance at a share of the conference title before losing to Indiana. The 84 points Penn State scored against Michigan tied for its season-best output. This is the third time the schools will meet in the Big Ten Tournament; Penn State is 2-0, winning in 2000 and 2001. The winner gets a second-round matchup with No. 4 seed Wisconsin.
No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Nebraska: Purdue has yet to lose to Nebraska since the Cornhuskers entered the Big Ten, winning both regular-season matchups the last two seasons as well as a Big Ten Tournament victory last spring. In this year’s game, Nebraska trailed by 20 at one point in the second half before cutting Purdue’s lead to five. But D.J. Byrd hit two 3-pointers to help Purdue stave off the rally. No. 2 seed Ohio State awaits the winner of this game.
No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern: The Hawkeyes swept the season series, winning 70-50 at Northwestern and 71-57 at home. The Wildcats enter the tournament on an eight-game losing streak, and it likely won’t end here. Iowa boasts the conference’s best field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 38.7 percent. Northwestern is 11th in the Big Ten in field goal offense, shooting 40.2 percent. The winner will face No. 3 seed Michigan State on Friday.