Big Ten: Who's Gonna Dance?

Tournament kicks off Thursday

When the 12th Annual Big Ten men's basketball tournament tips off Thursday it will feature one of the deepest fields in recent years. If a couple of the bubble teams make a strong showing at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, as many as nine teams could have a case to be in the Big Dance next week.

Michigan State (25-5, 15-3) claimed the No. 1 seed after capturing the Big Ten title for the fifth time under Tom Izzo. Illinois (23-8, 11-7) earned the No. 2 seed, while Purdue (22-9, 11-7) clinched the No. 3 spot. Wisconsin (19-11, 10-8) claimed the No. 4 seed and Ohio State (20-9, 10-8) earned the No. 5 seed.

Each of the top five teams receives a first-round bye and will start tournament play on Friday the 13th. Feel the chills?

Most of the focus for Chicagoans is on Northwestern and Illinois.

At 11 a.m. Thursday #8 Minnesota (21-9, 9-9) takes on #9 Northwestern (17-12, 8-10). Look for our hometown Wildcats to tie the school record for single season wins at the expense of "Tubby Time."

Remember, brackets never appear in nature composed of 11 teams, so the irregular format unfortunately needs explanation every year. Check out the brackets here.

Izzo is too good of a coach to be caught off guard by the Princeton offense of Northwestern again. Sparty won't get back-doored like they did in East Lansing this past January. State advances while NU goes on to host and win an NIT game next week, therefore breaking the school record for victories in a season!

But nothing is guaranteed in this tourney, as the No. 1 seed has won the tournament only four times (Wisconsin last year, Ohio State 2007, Illinois 2005 and Michigan State 1999).

Nobody has a better record in this tournament than Illinois (21-9), the #2 seed, who will likely end Iowa's season slowly and painfully in yet another low-scoring game. This contest will tip off at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

The Illini will remain one of just four schools (Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State are the others) to have advanced to at least the quarterfinals in every year of the event. Another thing the orange and blue have going for them, which is nice, is this fact: the #2 seed remains the event's leader in championships. No. 2 seeds are 15-5 and have won four titles, been to the finals five times and in the semifinals on six occasions.

They say it's difficult to beat a team three times in one year, and Penn State will learn that the hard way when Bruce Weber and the Illini finally figure out a way to beat the pesky Lions in the late afternoon game. Star sophomore guard with a porn star name -- Talor Battle -- can rest easy though, as Penn State has already punched their ticket to the Big Dance.

And after all the upsets I've picked, I still find myself with a #1 vs. #2 final game. Which is usually what happens in March Madness anyway. All the upsets occur in the first couple rounds, and it's almost always high seeds within the final stages of your brackets.

This is the final game airing before Sunday's Selection Show, and really won't end up meaning much because 1) Both these teams are already in 2) Seeding and placement has mostly been determined by the time the clock turns to zero.

It is hard to defeat a team three times in one season, but Michigan State gets it done beating the Illini, who will finish second for the fifth time in tourney history.

Read more of Paul Bank's work on The Sports Bank, the NBC Chicago Street Team Blog and

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