If you are a college basketball fan, this is a wonderful time of year. Most of the conferences, large and small, are playing their tournaments. In conferences where the tournament champion gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, winning the tournament is their only chance to make The Big Dance, and the players play their hearts out. Already we have seen upsets, like Marquette defeating Villanova and Georgetown upending Syracuse.
For the Big Ten, today is a bit of a “play in” day, where the top seeds have a bye and the second division teams face off for the ability to advance. Ohio State starts its tournament play tomorrow with a noon game against Michigan, which beat Iowa today.
Tournament games often have a desperate edge, where the interests of the two teams are radically different. For a team like the Buckeyes, which has an NCAA bid locked up, the coaches’ main interest probably is avoiding injury — although I’m sure the players want to play well and go into the NCAA tournament on a bit of a roll. For Michigan, however, it is a one game season. They can make it to the NCAAs only if they beat Ohio State and win out, and as a result I’m sure the Wolverines will be playing with even more fire than normal tomorrow. The wild card in the game will be the bitter underlying rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan. No true Buckeye wants to lose to Michigan, ever, and if Ohio State’s players can drive a final stake into Michigan’s difficult season, I am sure they will be burning to do so.