Nebraska thoughts, standings, & MSU predictions
Two straight? Great!
This one was your typical grind it out, low scoring Big Ten game. Nebraska’s defense kept it in the game in the first half, and the Illini’s did the same in the second half. Combine that with some hustle plays, and it’s enough to send me home happy from what may be the good guys’ last win of the year. Sure, we didn’t see as complete a game as possible from Tracy and Joe tonight. But I’m OK with that if the wins (or even just hard-nosed performances) keep coming. As I said before, let’s build for brighter days ahead.
Cue the head coach…
Turning our attention to the standings, 12 of 18 pickers this go around notched a win, with illiniearl taking top honors once again (He’s on a roll!) along with newcomer Rod Burton. Overall, illinibadger remains in the lead, and everyone in red is still in the running with three games to go.
Up next…a journey to East Lansing (the g is silent, I think).
My research on MSU over the past week ran the gauntlet. Early on it was “Hey, these guys are hitting their stride and are legit national title contenders.”. Later, after the Nebraska loss, it was “This walking wounded train is about to go off the tracks.”. I’m inclined to not count out Tom Izzo and side with the former analysis. With the defensive-minded Branden Dawson expected to return from injury this weekend, the Spartans will be about as healthy as they’re going to get, and as such, would be wise to not tinker with things any further and go full steam ahead into the postseason. The wild card as of late for the green and white has been Keith Appling, who has struggled to score since returning from his own injury.
My prediction: MSU 74, Illinois 61
The key in this one will be for the Illini to wear the Spartans down and not let up. That’s the only way you’re going to win against a talented team in a tough atmosphere like the Breslin Center. It also wouldn’t hurt if the MSU big men had an off game.
Looking at the bigger picture, if the Illini can tread water for the rest of the regular season and if Penn State picks up a few more losses, the Big Ten Tournament opening round becomes a lot more favorable. The nine, 10, and 11 seeds play the eight, seven, and six seeds respectively. When I wrote this prior to Wednesday, those possible opponents are Nebraska, Minnesota, and Indiana – three winnable games. However, if you drop down to the very bottom (the 12 seed), you play the five seed, which, when I wrote this, was Ohio State – a much harder road. Could one win in the league tournament be the difference between the NIT and the CBI? I’m not sure, but it can’t hurt to win at least one.
Coming up Saturday: MSU thoughts, standings, & Michigan predictions
[Ferrell audio via Dreamworks Pictures, Sparty gif via ESPN/Big Lead Sports]