After one of the most competitive seasons in Big Ten history, conference teams are preparing to tip off the league's 13th conference tournament Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Here are five questions that will be answered this week:

How will top-seeded Ohio State respond Friday when it plays for the first time in 10 days?

Evan Turner and the Buckeyes haven't seen outside competition since defeating Illinois on Feb. 23, and coach Thad Matta, left, is as eager to see how the layoff will affect his team as anybody.

"It's been an odd feeling having a bye at the end of the season. We've tried to focus on things in practice to keep our sharpness and conditioning," Matta said. "We've practiced well, but the truth will be told Friday when we play again."

How do coaches balance a desire to have their teams play well and peak as they work toward the NCAA Tournament versus a desire to win the Big Ten Tournament?

While Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, right, said his team attempts to win any tournament it plays in, others said the approach can differ from one year to the next.

"The year we won the Big Ten tourney title, our team went in having won 13, 14 straight, and I thought it was important that we continue that momentum. But, we've won the league and gotten beat in the first game once or twice, too," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

"A lot of it depends on where your team is. Some years, a couple of extra days of rest heading into the NCAAs isn't bad. This year, we've had plenty of rest so with this group, playing well and having a good run is important."

Has Purdue fully adjusted to the loss of Robbie Hummel, below, and how will that affect the Boilermakers?

After struggling in a loss to Michigan State, coach Matt Painter liked the way his team responded to win games against Indiana and Penn State last week to earn a share of its first Big Ten title since 1996.

"We're still a work in progress, though," he said. "When you lose a guy who plays major minutes like that, somebody who helps you at both ends, it takes time. We're trying to get better each day and embrace the challenge."

Iowa and Michigan will meet for the third straight year and the fifth time in 13 years in the tournament openers for both teams. What's up with that?

The Hawkeyes are 0-4 all-time against the Wolverines in first-game matchups at the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa coach Todd Lickliter finds the frequent matchups intriguing, but isn't interested in history.

"It's incredible isn't it," Lickliter said. "We haven't played well over there the last two years and Michigan has. ... They have a vision for competing in this tournament. The last two years don't have any bearing on this year, but it is unique to think that we're playing the same team for the third straight year."

After consecutive losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin, what is Illinois' mindset heading into the tournament?

Coach Bruce Weber said he hopes to see a sense of urgency from his 18-13 team, which has lost five of its past six games.

"We've put ourselves in a major bind," Weber said. "We have to go to the tournament and do some damage if we're going to have any hope in the postseason."

Ohio State has primarily relied on six players. Will that come back to bite the Buckeyes in a postseason tourney situation?

Indiana coach Tom Crean coached Marquette to a Final Four berth in 2005 using primarily seven players.

"It can be done with a limited rotation, but so much will come down to how games are officiated and how people allow you to play,'' Crean said. "Officials all have different ways of calling basketball games. That's just the way it is.''

Is it a good thing to play the same opponent in back to back games?

Four teams will find out. Thursday's Northwestern-Indiana match-up and Friday's Wisconsin-Illinois game are rematches of games played over the weekend.

"I don't think this is what tournament organizers had in my when they put this together,'' Wisconsin's Ryan said. "Obviously, the scouting report won't change much.''

Preseason talk centered around the depth of the Big Ten this season. Heading into this week, is it a bit surprising that only four teams - tri-champions Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue and fourth-place Wisconsin - are considered locks for NCAA tourney berths?

Illinois and Minnesota probably have as much to gain as anyone this week, needing to wins to help their chances of being selected Sunday.

"I still think Illinois is in there,'' Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "You hear people talking about leagues going 10 deep and I'd put Illinois' record against anyone. Michigan, Minnesota and us, we're probably the three that disappointed the most. I wouldn't want to play Minnesota right now. There are a lot of us going to Indy with a lot to play for.''

What is the most intriguing first-round matchup?

That probably would be the 6-11 game between sixth-seeded Minnesota and 11th-seeded Penn State. The Golden Gophers have won four of their last six and the Nittany Lions are 3-3 in that span, losing only to the three teams that shared the title. Minnesota won the two regular-season games by five and two points.

"We've been a good-shooting team and when the shots have fallen, it energizes us,'' Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "As Penn State showed in its close losses to Michigan State and Purdue last week, they're playing well right now and if we don't play to our potential, we'll lose.''

Are there any potential distractions that could impact teams this week?

Minnesota's Smith is rumored to be a candidate for the expected coaching vacancy at Oregon, while Indiana coach Tom Crean announced Sunday night that assistant coach Roshown McLeod has left the program, a move Crean said he made to move his program forward.

"There's always talk out there about players or coaches leaving. Those distractions are just part of the game,'' Smith said. "You just have play on. We're very happy here.''

 

 

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