Purdue women spoil Illini upset hopes

 

This week, it's the men's Big 10 tourney time

If any Hoosier basketball fan is feeling snubbed because Indianapolis does not host any NCAA tournament games this year, their weepy eyes can be dried upon the bill set for the Big 10 men’s tournament. The pairings have been set, and the Indiana/Purdue rivalry could potentially reach boiling temperature for the first time this millennium.

The intrastate rivals will raze Conseco to the ground Saturday at 4 p.m., provided they each escape their miserable first round opponent unscathed.

The Hoosiers won the only skirmish between the two teams this season by double digits. However, that victory came with the favor of home court and familiar leadership. Since then, the candy-striped pants of the Hoosiers have been slowly popping at the seams, and they lost two of their last five games, narrowly escaping with a fistful of insignificant wins. Meanwhile, Purdue won three of four, clawing its way past IU for second place in the conference by a single game.

The tournament’s top seed is No. 8 (ESPN/USA Today) Wisconsin. The Badgers only lost two conference games this season — both of them against Purdue. But Wisconsin starts four upperclassmen (a retirement community by today’s standards) and has the nation’s best defense, allowing roughly 55 points a game.

The Spartans of Michigan State also pose an imminent threat to the prospect of a hometown champion. They humiliated IU with a 30-point slaughtering behind Tom Izzo’s woodshed last week, and at their best they are a corps of cleverly disguised humanoid scoring machines. At their worst, however, they are more like the Pacers.

Even if Indy’s robust population of crimson-and-gold-clad alumni get their wish for a grudge match Saturday, the tournament will have to be an epic show to upstage the drama of the women’s tournament this past weekend. The ladies of the ninth-seeded Illini upset the top-seeded Buckeyes and then the Spartans to face Purdue for the Big 10 crown. But with less than one second remaining and a title on the line, Purdue’s Lakisha Freeman offered a soft 5-foot jumper, and as it hung mid-flight, the horn sounded, the neon outline of the backboard glowed a funereal red and the ball splashed definitively through the net. Purdue crushed the orange miracle run on a last second jump shot. They have now won as many women’s Big 10 tournaments as the rest of the conference … combined.

The men’s action begins Thursday morning and concludes with the championship round Sunday at 3:30 p.m. For a complete tournament schedule, visit www.BigTen.org. All-session tickets are $150-$275, and single-session are $30-$85.

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