NCAA Tournament Previews: Big Ten
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BIG TEN CONFERENCE
United Center, Chicago, Illinois; Mar. 14-17
Record: 26-5, 14-4
Best conference wins: at Michigan State, at Michigan, at Ohio State
Worst conf. losses: vs. Wisconsin, at Illinois, at Minnesota
Non-conf. wins: vs. Georgetown (neutral), vs. UNC
Non-conf. losses: vs. Butler (neutral)
Current run: 3-1 in last four games
NCAA Outlook: 1-seed if they make it to the championship game
Quick note: Even though their title-clinching win at Michigan was a bit lucky, the Hoosiers were the only ones that deserved the Big 10 title. That win gave them a sweep over the state of Michigan and a split with Ohio State. This team is one of the most complete in the country, but they surprisingly lost more games this year at home than last year.
Indiana has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, because anyone on their team can score at any given time. Even Will Sheehey off the bench puts in close to 10 points per game. They can stretch the floor with multiple three-point shooters and can go down low with Cody Zeller. Winning the Big 10 tourney won’t be easy, but they should be a lock for at least the Elite Eight in the Big Dance.
Record: 23-7, 13-5
Best conference wins: at Indiana, vs. UM, vs. MSU
Worst conf. losses: at Illinois, at Wisconsin
Non-conf. wins: Nothing major
Non-conf. losses: at Duke, vs. Kansas
Current run: Five straight wins
NCAA Outlook: 2/3-seed is likely unless they win tournament
Quick note: This is the team you have to watch out for. They have won five straight games, including a road win at Indiana. Since their confusing 22-point loss at Wisconsin, they have suddenly picked it up. Aaron Craft has taken up a bigger role and come through at the most important times. Deshaun Thomas hasn’t scored more than 20 points during this streak, even though he’s averaged 19.7 PPG on the season. That shows just how much the rest of the team is helping out.
If their role players can continue to play well, this is going to be a tough team to beat. The Buckeyes already have a great defense, and if their offense keeps rolling, they won’t be losing many games.
Record: 24-7, 13-5
Best conference wins: at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan, vs. Ohio State
Worst conf. losses: at Minnesota, vs. Indiana
Non-conf. wins: vs. Kansas (neutral), vs. Boise State, vs. Texas
Non-conf. losses: vs. Connecticut (neutral), at Miami (FL)
Current run: Two straight wins, but lost three straight before that
NCAA Outlook: 2-seed is likely unless they lose in quarterfinals
Quick note: The Spartans kind of have things back under control after their three-game losing streak. I say kind of, only because they had trouble at home against Northwestern in their season finale. When everyone on this team plays to their ability, they are one of the best teams in the nation. When Keith Appling and Branden Dawson become ghosts on the offensive end, this team is still solid, but not great.
It’s been said many times in the last few weeks, but Adreian Payne is an NBA-level player. He’s going to be a problem for anyone to prepare for in the NCAA Tournament. If Appling can hit some of his shots and Dawson can get more involved, expect good things from Michigan State.
Record: 21-10, 12-6
Best conference wins: at Indiana, vs. Michigan, vs. Ohio State
Worst conf. losses: at Iowa, vs. Purdue
Non-conf. wins: vs. California, vs. Arkansas (neutral)
Non-conf. losses: at Florida, vs. Creighton (neutral), vs. Virginia, at Marquette
Current run: Lost two of last three
NCAA Outlook: 5-seed if they lose in the quarters, 4-seed otherwise
Quick note: Everything was going well for the Badgers until they forgot how to play basketball. They were riding a three-game winning streak, with all wins by more than 20 points until just over a week ago, when they lost at home to Purdue. They completely fell apart in the second half and haven’t looked the same since. Their next game at Michigan State was ugly, as they only scored 43 points. They needed a buzzer beater to win at Penn State in their last game.
If this poor play continues, Wisconsin could easily be one-and-done in the Big 10 tourney because they’ll likely face Michigan in their first game. Without a great offense, this is a team that relies on a slow-down pace and defense. If they lose to the Wolverines, Wisconsin could end up being a popular upset pick in the 5/12 matchup.
Record: 25-6, 12-6
Best conference wins: vs. Ohio State, vs. Michigan State
Worst conf. losses: at Penn State
Non-conf. wins: vs. Pittsburgh (neutral), vs. Kansas State (neutral), vs. NC State
Non-conf. losses: none
Current run: 2-2 in last four
NCAA Outlook: 2-seed is likely
Quick note: It was a long time ago that Michigan was 16-0 and destroying opponents every night. That team is long gone, as they haven’t really had an easy game since January. It’s understandable to lose to good teams like Indiana, but they recently lost at Penn State and had trouble with them at home, and almost lost at Purdue. The Wolverines have a great offense led by Trey Burke, but the problem for them lies in the frontcourt.
Their big guys have their moments, but it’s really hard to trust any of them. Jordan Morgan could’ve had a game-winning tip-in against Indiana in their last game, but he failed to capitalize. If those guys can step up on the defensive end and Tim Hardaway Jr. can play to his potential, Michigan can be a top team. Those are two things that haven’t really happened consistently this season.
Record: 20-11, 9-9
Best conference wins: vs. Wisconsin, vs. Minnesota
Worst conf. losses: at Nebraska, at Purdue
Non-conf. wins: vs. Iowa State, vs. Northern Iowa (neutral)
Non-conf. losses: vs. Wichita State (neutral), at Virginia Tech
Current run: Two straight wins
NCAA Outlook: Currently first four out, would need win over MSU to guarantee spot
Quick note: The Hawkeyes are currently in the first four out and they will likely need to beat the Spartans in the quarterfinals to advance to the Tourney. Their only loss in the past four games was at Indiana, so you can tell they are pushing. Iowa almost beat Michigan State in their only matchup this year, but they came up short at home by three points. It should be noted that their leading scorer, Roy Devyn Marble, did not play in that game. He might be that extra spark the Hawkeyes need to make a run in the conference tournament.
Record: 21-11, 8-10
Best conference wins: vs. Indiana, at Minnesota, vs. Ohio State
Worst conf. losses: vs. Northwestern, at Purdue
Non-conf. wins: vs. Butler (neutral), at Gonzaga
Non-conf. losses: vs. Missouri (neutral)
Current run: Have lost three of last four
NCAA Outlook: 8/9-seed
Quick note: The next two teams have the same conference record as Purdue, yet they are likely going to be eight or nine seeds in the big tournament. That’s what happens when you win big out-of-conference games. The Illini beat Minnesota on a buzzer beater in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament. Brandon Paul went for 25 of the Illini’s 51 points in the first game. Paul and D.J. Richardson are in their senior seasons, so don’t expect either of them to step off the pedal. But they lost to Indiana today.
Record: 20-11, 8-10
Best conference wins: vs. Indiana, vs. MSU, at Illinois
Worst conf. losses: at Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Purdue
Non-conf. wins: vs. Memphis (neutral), at Florida State, vs. South Dakota State
Non-conf. losses: vs. Duke (neutral)
Current run: Two straight losses (at Nebraska, at Purdue)
NCAA Outlook: 9-seed, but 10 is possible
Quick note: The Gophers were in the same exact position as the Illini, and they gave up a late lead to lose their first game. That is now Minnesota’s third straight loss with the previous two coming against Nebraska and Purdue. That’s not how you want to be playing entering the Tourney. If Minnesota can pull their offense together, they can beat a lot of teams (Indiana being example No. 1), but their offense remains largely inconsistent. Even with a top defense, it just doesn’t matter when you can’t score regularly.
The others: Purdue has the same conference record as Illinois and Minnesota, but they’re not making the NCAA tournament as their overall record is just 15-17. That’s what you get when you lose to Eastern Michigan in non-conference play.
Prediction: Everyone knows Indiana probably has the best team from top to bottom, but that usually doesn’t matter come tournament time. Who wants it more and who’s playing the best? That title goes to Ohio State right now. They could be set up for a classic battle in the semifinals with Michigan State. In the sportsbooks, the Hoosiers are slight favorites above the rest. They should win it, but the team that should win, usually doesn’t.
Conference tournaments are in full force, make sure to check back for ACC and A10 previews later this week.