As the entire weight of the Big Ten converges on Conseco Fieldhouse this weekend for the conference tournament, there are 11 teams with 11 different perspectives on what would mark a "successful" trip to Indianapolis.
While no one will have difficulty finding something to play for in this tournament, it simply means more to some teams than others.
Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois are nationally ranked and have already secured an invitation to the NCAA tournament. They would be best served by a single victory on Friday - and an injury-free loss on Saturday. This would pad their "W" column for the selection committee and earn them a better shot at a high seed, as well as get them an extra day of rest before the Big Dance.
Iowa and Northwestern only have one hope to make the elite field of 65; they have to go home with scraps of net in their pockets on Sunday, or start preparing for the NIT. College basketball aficionados across the nation will be cheering for the underdog Wildcats in particular; like a band kid at a high school drinking party, NU has never been invited to the tournament in the 69 years that the NCAA has hosted the annual gala.
Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin need to win as many games as they can, but one or two wins over the weekend for any of them would lock up a tournament seed. These teams sit on the exciting crossroads where talent meets necessity; they have everything to play for - but unlike NU and Iowa, they have the athletes to make it happen.
Indiana, meanwhile, will likely cut down the nets in ecstatic celebration - if their season miraculously survives the first round.
If IU pulls off a monstrous upset on Thursday, the intrastate rivals would collide in the state's capital at 9:30 p.m. on Friday night. But local fans will still have plenty to cheer for throughout the weekend, even if Purdue lays an egg and IU makes its presumptive exit after the first game. Indiana high school standouts are scattered throughout the conference, with Hoosiers representing Iowa (J.R. Angle - Franklin, Jason Kelly - Carmel), Michigan (Zack Novak - Chesterton, Stu Douglass - Carmel) and Ohio State (Walter Offutt - Indianapolis, Mark Titus - Brownsburg).
The top seed has won the last two years, and Michigan State is heavily favored to continue that trend, as the only AP top-10 team in the conference. However, they do have a penchant for lackadaisical ball handling and lack a dominant scoring threat - and could easily lose to any Big Ten team away from home, as they will be this weekend.
The next top contender has to be Illinois. Last year, as the No. 10 seed, they tripped over themselves into the finals before Wisconsin handily sacked their improbable run. They bring a strong following of fan support to Indy and have a well-balanced squad of scorers, which has become far more dangerous than last year's second-place team.
Purdue was horrifically disappointing a year ago, as they were out-hustled and knocked around by the Illini in their first and only game. Despite their usual hometown edge, The Boilers have only made the finals once; it was more than 10 years ago, and they have never won. However, they have all the scoring power of last year's team with more experience, as well as the inside presence of JaJuan Johnson, who has developed exponentially since last year's short-lived postseason.
Four of the five Purdue starters played their high school basketball in Indiana (Chris Kramer - Huntington, Robbie Hummel - Valparaiso, JaJuan Johnson and E'twaun Moore - Indianapolis).
The turkey-shoot-tourney tips off on Thursday at noon, with No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 Northwestern. The winner will throw dukes with Tom Izzo and the No. 1 Spartans on Friday at noon.
Also Thursday, No. 7 Michigan plays No. 10 Iowa, as both teams vie for a birth in the national tourney, and the right to play Illinois the next day.
Finally, No. 11 Indiana will scrap against a favorable sleeper team in No. 6 Penn State Thursday at about 6 p.m.
Penn Sta ... ahem ... the winner of IU and Penn will face Purdue at 9:30 Friday night, after Wisconsin and Ohio State fight for the affections of the tournament selection committee.
In past years, tickets have always been available at will call the day of the tournament, without the need for advance purchase. Big Ten student tickets are $25, and single-session tickets for the general public range from $30 to $75. All-session tickets, which include admission to all 10 games, are $175 or $275, depending on seat location. Tickets can be purchased at the Conseco Fieldhouse box office, Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 317-239-5151.
What to do after the game
All right, it may look like shameless self-promotion, and it is, but it's shameless self-promotion with a purpose
. Our Nightlife Guide 2009 is out this week and our street team is also out, hawking (and doving) it, and we've got a bunch of great nightlife destination parties planned. Here's the schedule:
Wednesday, March 11, 7-10 p.m.
Lulu's, 8487 Union Chapel Road; 317-251-5858; www.lulusindy.com
Join us as we celebrate the official first night of the Nightlife Guide.
Thursday, March 12, 5-9 p.m.
Coaches Tavern, 28 S. Pennsylvania St.; 317-917-1191; www.coachestavern.com
Basketball fans converge downtown as the Big Ten Tourney kicks off.
Friday, March 13, 8 p.m.
NUVO and X103 present The Bailout Bash
Performances by Punch Judy and No One Zero
Rathskeller, 401 E. Michigan St.; 317-636-0396; www.rathskeller.com
Win lots of cash and prizes at one of Indy's best party destinations.
Saturday, March 14, 1-7 p.m.
Moon Dog Tavern, 4825 E. 96th St.; 317-575-6364; www.moondogtavern.com
Watch the Big Ten Tourney games and win prizes from NUVO.
Sunday, March 15, 3-8 p.m.
Champps Downtown, 49 W. Maryland; 317-951-0033; www.champps.com
Watch the tourney just minutes away from the actual action.
Tuesday, March 17, 5-11 p.m.
McGilvery's, 3009 N. High School Road; 317-290-1331
Conner's Pub, 6331 Ferguson St.; 317-255-5039
On St. Patrick's Day, toast to the winners and losers at either - or both - of these locations.
For more info on all of these events, visit nuvo.net/streetteam.