The Big Ten was full of surprises this season, and the Conference tournament could include even more.
No one expected the Ohio State Buckeyes to play as well as they did under a new head coach. Nebraska took full advantage of a softer unbalanced Big Ten schedule and finished 13-5 and in 4th place in the conference. Four other teams finished with five losses or less. Two teams finished at 9-9, and the bottom seven teams all finished with double digits in the loss column. Only three games separated the teams that finished 1st to 5th. Teams that were highly picked and nationally ranked to start the season (Northwestern and Minnesota) finished in the bottom half of the league and struggled with injuries. The Big Ten Tournament this week will take place at Madison Square Garden and may be full of more surprises.
Here’s a run-down of the seven teams on the top half of the bracket:
#1 – Michigan State #4 – Nebraska #5 – Michigan #8 – Maryland
#9 – Wisconsin #12 – Iowa #13 – Illinois
Favorite to make the final from the top of the bracket: #1 Michigan State Spartans
The Michigan State Spartans have won 16 games in a row and are ranked 2nd in the country heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Tom Izzo’s team has a likely number one seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line this week if they can take home the title and continue their winning form. Michigan State has lost just three games all season, and all of these losses were to teams either ranked at the time of playing them or are currently ranked (Duke, Ohio State, Michigan). The Spartans have also overcome double digit halftime deficits twice on the road this season, including a 13 point halftime deficit at Maryland and a 27 point comeback win at Northwestern. Sophomore Miles Bridges, a unanimous first team selection, and freshman and defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr., will lead the Spartans when they tip-off Friday at noon in their first game against either Maryland or Wisconsin.
Threat to Make the Final: #5 Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines enter this year’s tournament as winners of seven of their last eight games. Michigan is a dangerous team in tournament time because of their ability to light it up from deep. On the season, Michigan averages just over roughly nine made three-pointers a game and shoot 37% as a team from beyond the arc. Junior Moritz Wagner was a second team Big Ten selection and senior Duncan Robinson took home the honors as the conference’s sixth man of the year. Michigan finished the season with a record of 24-7, and will look to repeat as Big Ten Tournament champions after defeating Wisconsin 71-56 in last season’s final.
Cinderella: #8 Maryland Terrapins
Maryland has not had the season they would have hoped. Injuries to Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender ended their seasons prematurely, centers Bruno Fernando and Michal Cekovsky have battled minor injuries throughout the year, and guard Dion Wiley missed a few games with a concussion. Only four players have played in every game this season for the Terps. However, Maryland for the most part has competed hard regardless of the lack of depth all season long. Coach Mark Turgeon said after his team’s 24 point loss to Michigan at home on senior day last weekend that his team “woke up”. We will see if the Terrapins have awaken in time to salvage any last hopes of making the NCAA Tournament with a title run in MSG this week. Guard Anthony Cowan was selected for the all-defensive team and forward Fernando was honored on the all-freshman team. If Maryland shoots the ball well, can keep their big men out of foul trouble, and minimize turnovers they have a chance to upset anyone they play. Guards Kevin Huerter and Jared Nickens shoot a hair above 42% from deep and the Terps as a team shoot about 38% from beyond the arc. Maryland lost their first game in last year’s tournament to Northwestern and will look to avoid bowing out this year in their first game again.
Here’s a run-down of the seven teams on the bottom half of the bracket:
#2 – Ohio State #3 Purdue #6 – Indiana #7 – Penn State
#10 – Northwestern #11 Minnesota #14 Rutgers
Favorite to make the final from the bottom of the bracket: #3 Purdue Boilermakers
The Boilermakers once held the nation’s longest winning streak earlier this season at 19 games, but finished their final six games going 3-3. Purdue has the experienced roster, balanced scoring, and efficient offense and defense to make a deep run not only just in in the conference tournament, but also the NCAA Tournament. Four of Purdue’s five starters are seniors, and four of their five starters average double figures in points per game. The one non-senior starter for the Boilermakers, sophomore Carsen Edwards took home first team all-conference honors. Senior Vincent Edwards was recognized as a second team selection. Senior Dakota Mathias was selected to the all-defensive team and shoots an impressive 47% from beyond the arc. If Purdue wants a shot at a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, they will likely need to cut down the nets at MSG and take home the title this week.
Threat to Make the Final: #2 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State has been one of the biggest surprises this season under new head coach Chris Holtmann who was selected as the conference’s coach of the year. The Buckeyes are led by junior Keita Bates-Diop who was a unanimous first team selection and honored as the player of the year in the Big Ten. Ohio State has conference wins over the other four teams that finished in the top five. Four Buckeyes average double figures per game, and as a team Ohio State shoots 49% from inside the arc and 35% from outside. The Buckeyes won the only meeting against Purdue this season by one point, and are on a collision course to meet the Boilermakers in the semi-finals.
Cinderella: #7 Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions are currently on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament and a couple wins in the conference tournament could go a long way toward Penn State punching their ticket. Sophomore Tony Carr leads the Nittany Lions and was recognized as a first team all-conference selection and averaged just under 20 points per game this season. Junior Josh Reaves and sophomore Mike Watkins were both selected to the all-defensive team. Penn State is balanced offensively as five players average double figure points per game. The Nittany Lions have lost three games entering the tournament, but split their two match-ups with their first round opponent Northwestern. A potential quarter-final matchup against Ohio State should not strike fear into the Nittany Lions as they beat the Buckeyes in both regular season meetings.