With plenty of parity in the league, expect a wild Big Ten Tournament.
It has been a roller coaster of a 2016-2017 season in the Big Ten Conference and it has deservedly not received as much attention as it typically does. There have been pleasant surprises (Minnesota and Northwestern), late bloomers (Illinois and Iowa), and a couple teams that are limping into the postseason (Wisconsin and Michigan State).
With parity across the board in the Big Ten, an exciting conference tournament should be in store for us, so let’s break down each team and what their chances look like going into this week.
#1 Purdue Boilermakers (25-6, 14-4) – In case you have been living under a rock, these aren’t your father’s Purdue Boilermakers. They were able to pull off the outright regular season title and pick up a win against every member of the conference not named Minnesota. The Boilers are led by double-digit machine and National Player of the Year candidate Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan, who is averaging 18.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Purdue can also stroke it from behind the arc, shooting an incredible 41.1% from three as a team.
With a title in 2009 and a championship appearance last year, Head Coach Matt Painter has proven he can succeed in the conference tournament. On the other hand, they are a turnover-prone group and can be beat with constant ball pressure.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
#2 Wisconsin Badgers (23-8, 12-6) – Having lost five of their last seven, the Badgers are trying to hang tough, but a lack of options offensively seems to be their kryptonite. Some recent struggles for their big men and a nagging injury to lead guard Bronson Koenig have contributed to their woes, but don’t count this team out. Koenig (14.1 PPG) and forward Nigel Hayes have a plethora of experience and could get hot at any moment. Center Ethan Happ has also been beastly for most of the year, averaging 14 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. And how could one ever forget about head coach Greg Gard, the silent assassin?
#3 Maryland Terrapins (24-7, 12-6) – The Terps started out the season with an impressive record, but competition was questionable. They’ve proven they can beat some quality teams (Minnesota, Northwestern, and Oklahoma State) but have been struggling a bit lately, losing five of their last nine. They are led by point guard Melo Trimble, who has seemingly been at that school for a decade despite being only a junior. He averages 16.9 points and 3.7 assists.
#4 Minnesota Golden Gophers (23-8, 12-6) – After winning only eight total games a season ago and just two in conference, Minnesota is the biggest delight for Big Ten fans. They’ve responded incredibly well after a five-game losing streak earlier in the year, winning eight straight before losing to Wisconsin in their final regular season game. Junior Nate Mason leads the Gophers in points (15.4 per game) and assists (5.3).
Coach Richard Pitino has turned an 8-23 team into a 23-8 powerhouse (Brad Rempel - USA TODAY Sports).
#6 Northwestern Wildcats (21-10, 10-8) – Yes, for the first time in school history, the Wildcats will be dancing in March. You probably don’t have a soul if you aren’t happy for them, but criticism of their recent play is fair game. Having faced a tough slate of opponents down the stretch, the ‘Cats have lost six of nine heading into the postseason. They are led by point guard Bryant McIntosh (14.2 points, 5.4 assists per game) and junior guard Scottie Lindsey (14.2 PPG).
Middle of the Pack
#5 Michigan State Spartans (18-13, 10-8) – After an absolutely brutal non-conference schedule, Sparty started to play better early in conference play. However, losses in three of their past five games put them near the bubble of the national tournament. They may need to get a win this week to secure a spot on the dance floor. As always, don’t ever count out Tom Izzo in March, and if do-it-all forward Miles Bridges (16.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG) can get hot, look out!
#7 Iowa Hawkeyes (18-13, 10-8) – One of the conference’s hotter teams, the Hawkeyes ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak, including impressive wins over Maryland and Wisconsin. Rough play in non-conference could keep them out of the NCAA Tournament, but they might just sneak in if they can fight their way to a win or two this week. Peter Jok, one of the nation’s best scorers, leads the team in points (20.1) and rebounds (5.8).
#8 Michigan Wolverines (20-11, 10-8) – It’s been an up-and-down season for the maize and blue, but with quality conference wins against Purdue and Wisconsin, they should find themselves dancing. Despite not really finding a groove this season, teams should always be wary of the hot shooting potential from the Wolverines, as four members of the team shoot over 41% from behind the arc. Senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. is the team’s most reliable and consistent player, leading them in points (14.4 per game) and assists (4.1).
#9 Illinois Fighting Illini (18-13, 8-10) – A deflating loss to Rutgers in their final conference game likely burst the bubble that the Illini found themselves on. They’re likely kicking themselves for losing eight of their first 11 conference games, which is why they will need one heck of a run in the conference tournament to have any chance at making the national tournament. Don’t be shocked if Malcolm Hill, one of the league’s best scorers, gets hot and leads them to a couple wins this week. The senior averages a team-high 17.2 points and 3.1 assists, while also grabbing 5.4 rebounds a game.
#10 Indiana Hoosiers (17-14, 7-11) – It was quite a disappointing season for the Hoosiers, who seemed poised for a great year after a highly impressive season-opening win over Kansas in November. However, a couple close losses and a season-ending knee injury to OG Anunoby in mid-January really did them in. Despite a win in their final regular season game over Ohio State, the crimson and cream have lost eight of their last 11 heading into postseason play. But hey, their fast-paced offense and incredible facial expressions from head coach Tom Crean (see below) always make for some fun entertainment. Sharpshooting junior James Blackmon leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game, while shooting 41.2% behind the arc.
#11 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-14, 7-11) – The Buckeyes are like the kid who just can’t find a date to prom. Eight losses by six points or less have sadly wiped away their chances (barring a conference tournament championship, of course) at going dancing later this month. What’s worse is that those losses came against a mix of talent and, if a few of them had gone the Buckeyes’ way, we’d be hearing their name announced on “Selection Sunday.” Junior Jae’Sean Tate (14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG) and senior Marc Loving (12.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) could get hot in the B1G tournament, but the Bucks would need some more help elsewhere in order to make a deep run.
#12 Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-18, 6-12) – Ah, the spoilers of the Big Ten. Despite their record, this squad has impressive wins against Indiana (pre-injury), Maryland, and Purdue. They also lost a heartbreaker against Wisconsin in early February, which means that some of the top-tier teams are likely keeping a close eye on how they do in their first game this week. My guess is that nobody wants to deal with the potential that “Nebrasketball” offers. They are led by dynamic guards Tai Webster (17.5 PPG, 4 APG) and Glynn Watson Jr. (13.4 PPG).
#13 Penn State Nittany Lions (14-17, 6-12) – As a team that starts three freshmen, two of which are their leading scorers, the Nittany Lions are one of the more intriguing programs in the conference. Head Coach Pat Chambers’ success in recruiting has led to some quality wins against Minnesota and Maryland and, although they struggle on the defensive end, don’t be too surprised if they win a game or two this week. Tony Carr (13.4 PPG, 4 APG) and Lamar Stevens (12.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG) are the promising freshmen that lead the charge.
The future is bright for head coach Pat Chambers’ squad (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
#14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-17, 3-15) – It wasn’t quite the season that first-year head coach Steve Pikiell had hoped for, but the Scarlet Knights did finish off conference play with a pretty impressive win over a hot Illinois team. If you’re pulling for Rutgers this week, I probably don’t need to tell you that they’re not likely to win many games, if any at all. They are led by sophomore guard Corey Sanders, who averages 13 points per game. Junior forward DeShawn Freeman is also a significant player, averaging 11.3 points and grabbing a team high 7.9 rebounds per game.
My pick – Purdue
Dancing in March – Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State
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- Michigan State