Michigan Basketball: A Look At The Big Ten Conferences Chances -- Minnesota and Illinois -- Fortune Cookies -- Part I

Posted at 7:00am — 3/20/2013

Michigan Basketball: A Look At The Big Ten Conferences Chances — Minnesota and Illinois — Fortune Cookies — Part I

Several years ago, the Big East had maybe seven teams in the top twenty, and many thought the conference bullies would crush everyone until top-level competition came along well into the tournament.

The Big Ten is in a similar mode this year, and the salient question is to what extent can the BIG teams parlay the toughest competition in the country into Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final four slots?

There are always two theories at work in scenarios like this. One theory says the quality of the regular season play will get at least two and maybe three teams into the Elite Eight. The other theory puts forward the perception that all the beating and banging will take its toll and the dominant league fares no better or worse than anyone else.

Both theories are based on perceptions that come true now and then both ways. And so the final result is really based more so on other factors such as recent play, favorable draws, upsets within the bracket, game location, depth, game day coaching, and reaction to pressure. How the fouls are called can be critical as well. The deeper into the tournament, the more likely rough play is allowed as the major conference referees get the call. The roughness and toughness that has permeated college level basketball that last couple of decades is now referred to as good defense. Teams with lesser athletes and a more sophisticated style have the best chance of an upset in the opening round.

Illinois and Minnesota are wild cards, head scratchers is not a bad term to insert. Both teams can play very well, or lose by double digits.

Both teams can be had by pressure, since the guards are more scorers than ball handlers. Both teams have high profile guards that can get hot and hit big numbers, or roll snake eyes the entire game. Illinois is weaker inside than Minnesota.

Minnesota plays UCLA in the first round. The PAC 12 (or whatever) teams have not fared well in the last decade in either being selected or advancing in the tournament. This year the PAC 12 is well represented, but every team is a long shot to advance deep into the tournament. UCLA is starting to make a comeback from mediocre to elite, but the top of the mountain is still a long way away. UCLA beat some good teams this year and lost to Georgetown, Cal Poly, and several league teams. The team did win 25 games, but again, the PAC 12 competition is decent, but not near Big Ten caliber. The league, and west coast leagues in general, like to play fast and the whistles blow quicker on contact.

Minnesota has more quality wins than UCLA, but more losses. UCLA is 7-5 against good competition. Minnesota has gone on streaks once the Big Ten started and is currently on a three game downer. The Gophers just seem to match up better against some opponents, and not well against others.

This game could be a nail biter. UCLA leads the PAC 12 in scoring and Minnesota’s guards love to let the ball fly. The team that plays the best defense probably has the best chance.

UCLA is young, a factor that may work to Minnesota’s advantage. The youthful UCLA players, however, are very athletic and capable of strong play. But one, Jordan Adams, an all-conference honorable mention freshman, is out with a broken foot.

Larry Drew II is a top shelf point guard at distributing the ball and may match up with Andre Hollins.

Mar 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Tubby Smith reacts in the second half during the first round of the Big Ten tournament against the Illinois Fighting Illini at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

One freshman, Shabazz Muhammad, was one of the top high school players in the nation last year, being ranked first at his position (swingman) by several sites. He is capable of giving Minnesota some grief on the court. He is averaging nearly 18 points a game and is clear NBA talent. Losing Adams will hurt, as Jordan was averaging over fifteen points a game, but is the type of player that can carry on offense.

Travis Wear, a North Carolina transfer, gives the Bruins some inside strength. Kyle Anderson, another heralded freshman, provides strong rebounding and decent scoring. UClA is not a great rebounding team and Minnesota may exploit this weakness a little

The athletic talent of UCLA is very strong, and again young. The spread on this game is three for Minnesota, based on better offensive rebounding and defensive effectiveness for Minnesota. Clearly, the loss of Jordan Adams of UCLA probably tilted this figure as well. Minnesota has also given up fewer points in a tougher league. Minnesota is not a defensive giant, but neither is UCLA.

This is a strange game to pick, with the loss of Adams. But the talent difference goes to UCLA. Both teams are semi-boxes of chocolates. The fact that UCLA won the PAC 12 and is an underdog to a mid-pack BIG Ten team speaks volumes about the still skeptical to the PAC 12 odds-makers. Picking UCLA here, with a low confidence rating, but some services put Minnesota at a near 2-1 chance of winning.

Illinois is in a similar situation as above with Colorado. Both teams can get hot or play strangely cold. Colorado, now in the PAC 12, finished with a 21-11 record, 10-8 in the league, and was rewarded with a ten-seed, toward the end of seeding for major conference teams. Many “talking head” types of self-proclaimed media expertise like Colorado to wins some games in the tournament.

The odds makers do not agree making Illinois about a 6-4 favorite to move onward. This is also rated a low confidence pick game, which means, you go with your gut or flip a coin, and wait to see what happens. It is games like this that determine bracket winners, those either or games that make or break bracket success. I am a genius, or, I should have known, will be the battle cry for such head scratcher games.

Colorado has plenty of athletic talent, including a big and little guard combo in Spencer Dinwiddle and Askia Booker. Andre Roberson, at only 6’ 7” pulls in over 11 rebounds a game. Illinois is not that strong inside and the Buffaloes may find a weakness to exploit.

This game is another box of chocolates. Colorado will fire up plenty of threes, and on some nights so does Illinois. The game outcome may hinge on which team hits best behind the arc. Coach Groce is known for tough perimeter defense, so that element could swing in favor of Illinois.

February 24, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach John Groce reacts during the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at the Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This time the choice is the Big Ten mid-packer Illinois. Coach Groce is intense, confident, and prepares his team to play good defense. If Colorado wins it will be because of strong talent. The real wild card is guard Brandon Paul. The pure stats favor Colorado, but again, the value of playing in the Big Ten has not been discounted.

Down the road with an opening round win- Minnesota faces the prospects of playing Florida and Georgetown, teams that Minnesota probably would not match up with successfully.

Illinois- may face Miami, Marquette, Butler, or Bucknell. This is a very difficult mission, but not beyond the threshold of possible.

More coming up- stayed tuned to more of the highly refined GBMWolverine mega-cognition, data driven, dart board predictions, which we gladly offer at a very reduced price.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff

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