This year's men's tennis Big Ten championships has a clear favorite, an underdog, and a very fine line between the two.\n"The tournament is really wide open this year," Senior Ian Arons said. "Illinois and Ohio State are the obvious favorites, but each match will be tough. Everyone is going to be out there working hard for the same thing, and they will be fighting for it."\nIllinois enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed and the clear favorite. After wrapping up its fifth consecutive Big Ten title and finishing with a 10-0 conference record this season, Illinois might seem untouchable. \nHighlighting its undefeated conference season was a win against IU that gave it the longest winning streak in Big Ten play, 55 consecutive conference wins. Despite all of the peak moments during Big Ten play, the Fighting Illini did struggle before in conference play. With a young team, the Illini opened the spring season 6-4 and watched themselves drop from the top 10 to as low as No. 17. Since then, Illinois has won 12 consecutive matches and moved back to the No. 10 spot in the most recent polls. But the inexperience that plagued them early in the season might be a concern for tournament play.\nClose behind Illinois is Ohio State, which finished the Big Ten season with an 8-2 record, with losses coming at the hands of Illinois and Michigan. A second-place finish in the conference wrapped up what has been a record season for the Buckeyes as they finished overall play at 21-3. It was one of the school's best showings since the early 1940s. \nDespite their record, the Buckeyes have climbed no higher than No. 25 in the rankings because of a pre-conference schedule with questionable strength. \nFinishing in a three-way tie for third were Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan. Standing at 6-4 in conference play, the three teams will join Illinois and Ohio State with first round byes in the tournament. \nNorthwestern holds the No. 3 seed and rolls into the championships having won four of its last five matches. The Wildcats have been encouraged by the play of their doubles teams, which have been crucial. \nMinnesota enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed, looking to bounce back from a late season when it lost four of its final six matches. The Gophers have suffered from injuries throughout the season, but a healthy lineup is set for the championships. The team finished second in last year's tournament and have finished in the top five for 23 consecutive years. Sophomore and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Harsh Mankad will lead the Gophers into battle. \nMichigan is perhaps the hottest team in the Big Ten with the exception of Illinois. Having won six of its last seven conference matches, the No. 5 seeded Wolverines make a good case for a dark horse. Minnesota will be the Wolverines' first obstacle in the quarterfinals.\nEntering the tournament with the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds are Purdue, Wisconsin and IU, respectively. All three finished conference play at 5-5. \nRounding out the field for the tournament are No. 9 seed Iowa, No. 10 seed Michigan State and No. 11 seed Penn State. Iowa claimed three conference victories this year but could have been 6-4, as it dropped three final set matches. Michigan State and Penn State enter the tournament in the cellar, with the Spartan's lone conference win against the Nittany Lions the only one between the two teams.\nIU will open the tournament facing the Hawkeyes in the first round of the conference play 10 a.m. Thursday. The Hoosiers edged out the Hawkeyes earlier with a 4-3 win and are looking to do the same in today's opening round. \n"Iowa was a tough match for us earlier, and it will be a battle this time too," coach Ken Hydinger said. "There are better draws to be had, but this is a tournament. You have to win everything to come out on top, and that's the bottom line."\nThe Hoosiers will face tough obstacles. The winner of the first round matchup will face conference champion Illinois in the quarterfinals. \n"It won't be an easy road, but our goal is to win a championship," senior Paul Jacobson said. "There are a lot of tough teams in the field, but we feel that we have the ability to beat them, and that is the mind-set we will carry into each match"