Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 11, 2015

The Big Ten tourney kicks off today with 14 teams hoping to land a spot in Sunday's championship at the United Center in Chicago. Here are the top four storylines.

The action tips off today with No. 13 Penn State vs. No. 12 Nebraska at 4:30 p.m. ET Wednesday at the United Center. BTN's first game is at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday, when No. 11 Minnesota meets No. 14 Rutgers (watch live on BTN2Go, too). We'll have five games total, including two on Thursday and Friday. Our live scoreboard is here.


1. Can Wisconsin earn a No. 1 NCAA seed?

The Badgers are currently slotted as a No. 2, with Kentucky, Duke, Virginia and Villanova projected as the No. 1 seeds by all bracket geeks. To have any shot to jump to the top line and out of the same region as mighty Kentucky, the Badgers-the No. 1 seed in Chicago–need to win the Big Ten tourney. And UW also needs to beat as many good teams as possible along the way, including No. 2 Maryland in the title game. Even if Wisconsin does that, it likely won?t be good enough if Villanova-the team it has the best shot to overtake-wins out in the Big East tourney. (UK, Duke and Virginia figure to have No. 1 NCAA seeds locked up, regardless of their fate in their respective league tourneys.)

VERDICT: Wisconsin won't earn a No. 1 seed.

2. How many games does Illinois need to win to earn an NCAA bid?

Currently, Jerry Palm of has the Illini as one of his last four in as a No. 12 seed in a first-round game vs. No. 12 Texas A&M. Joe Lunardi of has the Illinois out of his bracket, slotting the Illini among his ?next four out? after his ?first four out.? Not good. So, needless to say, Illinois may need as many as two victories in the Big Ten tourney to feel good about its chances to earn an NCAA bid for the first time since 2013. Illinois is the No. 8 seed in the Big Ten tourney, opening vs. No. 9 Michigan on Thursday. A victory vs. the Wolverines would set up a date vs. No. 1 Wisconsin on Friday. Illinois? Realtimerpi is No. 58.

VERDICT: Illinois won't make the Big Dance.

3. How much work does Indiana need to do in Chicago?

The Hoosiers are in slightly better shape than Illinois. Palm has Indiana among his last four in, playing as a No. 11 seed vs. No. 11 seed Ole Miss in a first-round game. Lunardi has IU among his ?last four in,? as No. 12 seed playing No. 12 BYU in a first-round game. Indiana is the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tourney, playing No. 10 Northwestern in its opening game on Thursday. Win that, and a date with No. 2 Maryland looms. Some think the Hoosiers still may slip into the Big Dance even if they lose to NU, which has won three of the last four vs. Indiana. But, can IU take that chance? But also consider this: How much would a victory vs. the Wildcats enhance the Hoosiers? resume? Still, a win is a win is a win at this point for a slumping IU squad. For what it?s worth, Indiana?s is No. 56.

VERDICT: Indiana will get into the Big Dance.

4. Does Purdue need to win any games?

This is an interesting issue. The Boilermakers finished 12-6 in the Big Ten. Typically, that would be more than good enough to earn an NCAA bid. But Purdue?s overall resume lacks pop. To wit: Its is No. 55, not much better than Indiana or Illinois. The Boilers earned a double-bye as the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tourney. They figure to play No. 5 Iowa on Friday. Palm has the Boilermakers as a No. 11 seed battling No. 6 St. John?s. Lunardi has Purdue as a No. 11 seed playing No. 6 Providence, resting just outside the bubble among Lunardi?s ?last four byes.? A one-and-done experience in Chicago could have Purdue squirming in its seat on Selection Sunday.

VERDICT: Purdue will earn an NCAA bid.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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