Today, the Wildman is in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., watching teams practice for the Big Ten Match Play Championship. I’m a big fan of match play, because I truly believe it creates excitement and puts players on edge to do well under pressure. I thought I would show you how I am filling out my bracket – and hopefully will look like a genius by the end of the week.
However, before I break this down, has anyone noticed how strong this conference truly is? Right now the Big Ten has seven teams ranked in the top 35, with Illinois and Iowa as the only two teams ranked in the top 15.
Illinois is the favorite and No. 1 seed. It would be too easy to just pick the tournament favorite and No. 7 team in the country for my bracket. Besides, this is match play, and anything can happen.
Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa are the only four teams that get a bye to the quarterfinals.
Round 1 has three matches for teams trying to earn a spot into the quarterfinals. Below are the teams and their rankings in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings:
- Purdue (30) vs. Michigan State (177)
- Indiana (27) vs. Wisconsin (168)
- Penn State (60) vs. Minnesota (84)
I don’t see any upsets happening in the first two matches, because I think the two higher-ranked teams have a pretty big advantage in their matches. That said, I have the Golden Gophers upsetting Penn State . . . sorry, Joe Pa fans.
Now, my quarterfinals look as follows:
Illinois (7) vs. Minnesota (84)
Michigan (31) vs. Northwestern (32)
The Ohio State (22) vs. Purdue (30)
Iowa (12) vs. Indiana (27)
First, I have Illinois, led by Luke Guthrie and Scott Langley, getting past Minnesota without a problem. I don’t see Minnesota getting a point by defeating two of the top players on the country, so Illinois only needs two more points to win their match. Guthrie is No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, Langley 22nd. The highest Golden Gopher is Donald Constable, who is ranked 108th. Illinois has two other players ranked in the top 200, whereas Minnesota only has two, and they’ll have their hands full with Langley and Guthrie. After that, Minnesota has zero players ranked inside the top 500!
Next up on the sheet is Northwestern vs. Michigan. This match is intriguing because you have several top players on both sides. Northwestern has the two last Big Ten champions (David Lipsky, 2010; Eric Chun, 2009); however, Michigan has Lion Kim, who won last summer’s U.S. Amateur Public Links. Weather reports say we will be expecting wind, and I have to imagine guys from the windy city can handle that. With that said, I’ll take the ’Cats.
The Ohio State Buckeyes will play Purdue after the Boilermakers won their opening-round match against the Spartans. I think playing the course already will be an advantage for Purdue, and the Boilermakers will carry their momentum from winning earlier in their quarterfinal match against Ohio State. This will be the first major upset, as I have the No. 6 taking down the No. 3 seed. Purdue has four players ranked inside the top 250, compared to Ohio State’s three, and that will be the difference.
During the practice round I stood on the first tee and saw only one Iowa player hit the fairway. The best part of that happening is it was in the practice round! Iowa has three players ranked inside the top 100, and the Hawkeyes winning four tournaments was no fluke. Iowa wins this one to move into the semifinals.
Illinois (7) vs. Northwestern (32)
Iowa (12) vs. Purdue (30).
One upset and one favorite moving on. The top seed has yet to win this event, and I’ll stick with the trend. Northwestern will upset Illinois and move into the finals to play the one team that appears to be unbeatable, Iowa.
Finals: Northwestern vs. Iowa
This will be a fun one to watch. The conference’s past two individual champions (Lipsky and Chun) against Iowa, which knows how to win a tournament. Iowa has won tournaments, but all were stroke play. Earlier in the spring, Iowa was runner-up at the Big Four Match Play, so perhaps it’s stroke play at which the Hawkeyes are good.
Upsets always happen, and my Cinderella this week is Northwestern. Besides, their head coach is a red head. I’ll take Northwestern over Iowa to win the 2011 Big Ten Match Play Championship.