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Big Ten tournament last chance to impress NCAA selection committee

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McClatchy Tribune
March 10, 2009

For teams that have already done enough to get into the NCAA tournament, the annual rite of spring known as college basketball tournaments is a good time for a tuneup.


For Illinois, this week’s Big Ten tournament is time for a full detailing. The Illini will take a two-game losing streak to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where they will be out to remind the NCAA selection committee of their worthiness for a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.


Illinois ended a seven-week stay in the AP Top 25 Monday, missing by one spot. It’s 23rd in the coaches’ poll and 20th in RPI.


Thanks to losses Sunday by Purdue and Penn State, Illinois will be the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tourney.


“It gave us a positive boost of energy by getting the No. 2 seed, though we didn’t do it on our own,” said coach Bruce


Weber, whose team beat Purdue twice to win the tiebreaker for No. 2.


Now, the Illini’s job is to play up to that No. 2 seeding, which means getting to Sunday afternoon’s title game. The Illini open tourney play at 5:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 7 Michigan and No. 10 Iowa. No. 3 seed Purdue could be waiting for them in Saturday’s semifinals.


“It helps you to win Friday,” Weber said. “It’s a bonus to win on Saturday. Historically, most of the (NCAA tournament) seeding is done


Saturday night, and our (title) game is so late on Sunday. The Friday game is big for us; we can re-establish ourselves. It’ll be a bonus if we find our way to the championship game.”


The favorites: Michigan State stood on the pedal in the second half of the Big Ten season, going 8-1 to win the conference by four games. The Spartans’ only loss in the last five weeks was at Purdue, which now has a relatively healthy Robbie Hummel.


To get a shot at the Spartans in the title game, the Boilermakers would likely have to get past


Illinois, which beat them twice, once without Hummel. If the Illini’s shooters can get back to shooting consistently, they’ll make a run at the title.


Cinderella factor

The best Northwestern team since the ’83 squad went 18-12 likely lost the chance for the school’s first NCAA bid by losing Sunday at Ohio State. But Wildcats coach Bill Carmody isn’t giving in just yet. The Wildcats (17-12), seeded No. 9, open against No. 8 Minnesota. First-place Michigan State is next for the winner.


“In some ways it’s a real nice opportunity,” Carmody said of NU’s spot in the bracket. “That would be two quality wins. That would more than catch their eyes. It would mean we beat Minnesota two out of three and Michigan State two out of three.”


Best long shot

Penn State. Talor Battle is a dominant guard, Jamelle Cornley an inspired senior forward who has proven wrong all those programs that passed on him (including hometown Ohio State).


After opening against one-win Indiana, the Nittany Lions would face Purdue, with whom they’ve split. That could lead to a semi-final match against Illinois, whom they’ve beaten four of the last five meetings.


Most to gain

Besides making buckets of money, conference tournaments are all about improving NCAA seeding. Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois are NCAA locks. MSU coach Tom Izzo believes the Spartans are already assured of a No. 2 regional seed. “We’d have to win the tournament to be a No. 1, and I’m not sure that would be enough,” Izzo said.


Getting to the title game would be huge for the Boilermakers, who could argue that a healthy Hummel makes them worthy of a top-3 regional seed.


Most to lose

After losing the last two regular-season games, a loss to the Michigan-Iowa winner could cost Illinois dearly in NCAA seeding. The better-seeded teams in Thursday’s first round—No. 6 Penn State, No. 7 Michigan and No. 8 Minnesota—can book their NIT trips if they lose.


The game-changers

Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas controls the game without scoring, but he does that too.


Purdue’s Hummel scores, rebounds and passes. Now that his sore back is under control, he should be a big factor in the postseason.


Ohio State forward Evan Turner leads the Buckeyes in everything but popcorn sales. He’s capable of scoring points in bunches.


Penn State’s Battle is fast as well as quick, with a fine jump shot. He’s the league’s most entertaining player.



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