The Great Big Ten Three Way (with extra cheese) became a reality after the Boilermakers and Spartans won their season finales over the weekend, thus sending co-championships to East Lansing and West Lafayette to go with the one earned in Columbus last week. Purdue took care of business dispatching a surging Penn State while Michigan State collected a share of the title by pummeling the Wolverines -- a fitting end to an underachieving season in Ann Arbor.
Though the three battled to a share of the regular season championship, the one seed has lived in Columbus since the victory over the Illini. With the bracket out, that honor means the Buckeyes will play their first game on Friday at noon (ESPN) against the Michigan (8) - Iowa (9) winner.
Matta's crew went 3-1 against the pair in conference play, with the lone loss coming in Ann Arbor when DeShawn Sims decided it would be a good time to have a career game with Evan Turner on the shelf. Outside of that incident, the other games represented challenges at points, but also ended up near or above double digit territory in the final margin.
But... if nothing else, the tournament represents a one last life support ring for lousy teams and Sims acknowledged that fact, saying "It's a different season now, we have nothing to lose." Saying that, the Buckeyes are playing great basketball and the nine days off between games is huge for a team without a real bench of any kind.
Should Ohio State advance to the semifinals, they will run into the winner of the Wisconsin (4) - Illinois (5) game. On paper and given the seeding, it looks like it should be a close game, but Illinois has tanked down the stretch and the Badgers are fresh off waxing the Illini in Champaign. Again, without Turner, Bo Ryan's squad destroyed the Buckeyes in Madison earlier in the year. Three games later, Wisconsin beat Purdue and then promptly lost potential 20 point man Jon Leuer for the next nine games, including the return trip to Columbus in which Ohio State prevailed 60-51. With all due respect to Iowa and Michigan, a matchup with Wisco actually worries me a little.
Lurking down in the other half of the bracket is the two seed, Purdue, and the three seed, Michigan State. With Robbie Hummel, Matt Painter likely had the most talented team in the conference, but the Boilermakers have looked shaky without him. One thing they do have going for them is the luck of the two seed. Since the tourney's inception, the two seed is the event's leader, boasting a 16-6 overall record while claiming four titles and five berths in the tournament final.
Like everyone else in the conference, the Spartans endured injury problems of their own when Kalin Lucas went down with an ankle injury, leading to a three game swoon and a sudden fall from what looked like an invincible perch atop the standings. They rallied a bit, winning four of their last five to finish strong, but the home loss they took on the chin from Ohio State (Izzo's second-straight loss to Matta), leaves me feeling (probably dangerously) confident should we be fortunate enough to meet them in the finals.
As it stands, I love the path ahead of this gelling team. It won't be easy, but a Big Ten Boat is a very real possibility.
Won the Battle, Lost the War
Iowa marched to an easy Big Ten championship in wrestling, with the Buckeyes finishing a quasi-disappointing fourth, but Ohio State wrestler Lance Palmer had the match of the tournament, defeating Brent Metcalf in the finals for his first win against Metcalf in five tries. I'm trying to think of an analogy for non-wrestling fans for how big of an upset this was. Think Texas over USC in the Rose Bowl, or better yet, the United States over Canada in Vancouver. Both sides were talented and well-regarded, but it's a big upset, nonetheless.
Black Heart Gold Pants summed it up nicely from a Hawkeye perspective (emphasis mine):
Iowa did rack up 156.5 team points, the most by any team in eight years. They did have the title locked down before the championship matches even began and ended up winning by 37 points. They did have two individual champions, as many as any team there. They qualified a wrestler at each weight class for the NCAA Tournament. By most standards, the tournament was a smashing success and another indicator of Iowa's greatness this season. So why, then, did it feel more like a funeral than a celebration for much of the finals? Three main reasons: expectations, attitude, and the mythology of Brent Metcalf.
Congratulations, Lance, slayer of beasts.
We really hate arguing on the internet, particularly when it gets nasty, for all of the obvious reasons. I guess in hindsight, then, I wasn't being sensitive to the fragile psyche of Purdue fans coming to terms with the sudden realization their season is going to end a lot sooner than they imagined when I engaged in some trash-talking with Purdue blog Boiled Sports via Twitter.
You can see the whole flap here, should you be so inclined, but the end result is that I was accused of taking glee in the misfortunes of others and being antagonistic. Yes, the fine gentlemen that churn stuff like this out on a regular basis were served up some antagonism they just couldn't deal with and for that, I am very sorry.
For future reference, do not engage in arguments with grown men with "J Money" as a nom de guerre, but if you do, take comfort in having The Villain on your side.