It’s been a bizarre year for Big Ten basketball, which should add plenty of intrigue when the conference tournament commences Wednesday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The season began with Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the top 12 of the national polls and Minnesota not expected by most pundits to finish in the top 10 of the conference. The Golden Gophers, Northwestern, and Caleb Swanigan have been the best stories in the Big Ten this season, but disappointing regular seasons for most of the traditional powers have been a dominant storyline.
Beyond Purdue, the rest of the top teams in the Big Ten have slumped, raising significant questions. Consider …
- Maryland lost five of seven games during the second half of conference play
- Wisconsin lost five of six before the final game of the regular season
- Minnesota lost five straight and started 3-6 in conference play
- Northwestern lost six of nine conference games to end the season
- Michigan State lost four of five conference games early and the last two
- Iowa twice lost three conference games in a row
Those are the other teams seeded in the top half of the bracket. That, plus the talent on the rosters of some of the teams in the bottom half of the bracket, could make for a wacky week in Washington.
Oh yeah, this is the first time the Big Ten Tournament is not being played in Chicago or Indianapolis, so that’s another oddity about the coming week.
If fans have felt exasperated by inconsistent teams in the Big Ten, another quirk — variance from the top ratings systems, the RPI and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings — should confirm those feelings.
- Minnesota is No. 19 in the RPI and No. 33 in KenPom
- Maryland is No. 25 in the RPI and No. 38 in KenPom
- Wisconsin is No. 37 in the RPI and No. 22 in KenPom
- Michigan is No. 46 in the RPI and No. 25 in KenPom
- Northwestern is No. 51 in the RPI and No. 35 in KenPom
- Indiana is No. 80 in the RPI and No. 46 in KenPom
The Ratings Percentage Index and KenPom are in a pretty significant disagreement about the quality of nearly half the teams in the conference. Is Wisconsin worthy of a No. 5-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament or destined for a No. 10 seed? Is Northwestern headed for an 8-9 game or the First Four in Dayton?
Maybe the conference tournament will provide some clarity.
No. 3 Maryland (24-7, 12-6 Big Ten)
Purdue has been the most consistent team in the league and will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed. But there are two big reasons to like the Terps:
This tournament will be a series of home games for Maryland, assuming the Terps get to play three at Verizon Center.
2. Frontcourt defense
Damonte Dodd and Ivan Bender might, again might, be able to do enough against “Biggie” Swanigan to knock off Purdue. Swanigan did have 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 73-72 win against Maryland during the regular season, but fellow big man Issac Haas struggled. Dodd and Michal Cecovsky combined for 10 blocked shots in that game, but the Terps made only 4 of 19 3-pointers. Cecovsky is out for the season, but Bender has been solid.
No. 1 Purdue (25-6, 14-4)
The Boilermakers won a topsy-turvy league by two games, and have one of the five best players in the nation. Those are two pretty good reasons to pick Purdue.
No. 2 Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6)
The Badgers were ranked in the top 10 of the national polls just a couple weeks ago, but a late-season free fall has left them in limbo for NCAA seeding purposes. This was supposed to be the most talented team in the league, and it still might be. Sometimes having the most talent is enough in a short tournament.
Watch out for …
No. 8 Michigan (20-11, 10-8)
The Wolverines have one of the best offenses in the country (No. 6 in KenPom’s rankings) in a league where teams struggle to score. Michigan recently beat Purdue, its quarterfinal opponent if it beats Illinois, by 12 points.
No. 5 Michigan State (18-13, 10-8)
Tom Izzo has won this tournament five times, including three of the past five. Miles Bridges is one of the best players in the league, and while he’s been inconsistent at times he could carry the Spartans to a deep run.
No. 10 Indiana (17-14, 7-11)
This season has been a frustrating one on many levels for Hoosiers fans. Indiana has lost nine games by seven points or fewer, including once to Iowa (first-round opponent) and twice to Wisconsin (potential quarterfinal opponent). The Hoosiers might not have OG Anunoby, but they still have two of the best players in the league and could get hot for a couple of games.
No. 7 Iowa (18-13, 10-8)
Sorry, Badgers. Whoever plays Wisconsin on Friday is going to be dangerous. The Hawkeyes are the one team in this bracket that could clearly play its way into the NCAA Tournament in Washington.
If seven teams (Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan) are varying degrees of safely in the big dance, the Hawkeyes are the best bet to make it eight. Beat Indiana. Beat Wisconsin. Don’t get drilled by Maryland or Northwestern. That might be enough.
Players to watch
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
He’s the most exciting player in the conference. Bridges might do two or three things in a game that wow everyone watching. He also might take three straight bad shots and get chewed out by Tom Izzo. He is rarely not entertaining.
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Maybe the best closer in college basketball, Maryland’s magic man in the final minutes could lead the Terps to a Big Ten tourney title.
Josh Reaves, Penn State
Hometown kid alert! Reaves is from Fairfax, Va. He also just poured in a season-best 25 points against Iowa in the regular-season finale. Known more for his defense, don’t be surprised if the announcers get way too excited when the hometown kid starts making a few buckets. Another great game or two from Reaves could make Penn State dangerous.
Coaches who should not go 0-1 this week
Tim Miles, Nebraska
At one point Nebraska was 3-0 in the conference and had a nonconference win against Dayton and things were looking pretty nice. Then the Cornhuskers lost 12 of 15. They’ve gone 17-37 in league play the past three years. That’s not great, and an ugly loss to Penn State on Wednesday would not help Miles at all.
John Groce, Illinois
Groce has spent the season as a fixture on everyone’s hot seat list. The Illini were just clawing their way back into NCAA Tournament bid contention with a strong finishing kick … and then they lost to Rutgers. If they lose to Michigan on Thursday, they’re heading to the NIT, and now it might take a win against Purdue as well to even have a shot on Selection Sunday.
Tom Crean, Indiana
Crean has won the Big Ten (regular season) twice and been to three Sweet 16s in five years. Hoosiers fans are crazy and have never been real crazy about Crean, so every time his team disappoints (see 2013-14 — 17-15, 7-11 in Big Ten play — right after this first Big Ten title) the fan base is ready to look for someone else.
Indiana won the Big Ten last season and lost its best pro prospect to a season-ending injury. That said, if Indiana loses Thursday to Iowa, the Hoosiers will finish … 17-15 after going 7-11 in Big Ten play. That’s not the type of symmetry Crean needs.
2017 Big Ten basketball tournament bracket
Click here for a printable version of the bracket.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 6, 2017
2017 Big Ten basketball tournament schedule
Wednesday, March 8 (first round)
Game 1: No. 12 seed Nebraska vs. No. 13 seed Penn State | 4:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 2: No. 11 seed Ohio State vs. No. 14 seed Rutgers | 7 p.m. | BTN
Thursday, March 9 (second round)
Game 3: No. 8 seed Michigan vs. No. 9 seed Illinois | 12 p.m. | BTN
Game 4: No. 5 seed Michigan State vs. Game 1 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | BTN
Game 5: No. 7 seed Iowa vs. No. 10 seed Indiana | 6:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 6: No. 6 seed Northwestern vs. Game 2 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | ESPN2
Friday, March 10 (quarterfinals)
Game 7: No. 1 seed Purdue vs. Game 3 winner | 12 p.m. | ESPN
Game 8: No. 4 seed Minnesota vs. Game 4 winner | 25 minutes after game 7 | ESPN
Game 9: No. 2 seed Wisconsin vs. Game 5 winner | 6:30 p.m. | BTN
Game 10: No. 3 seed Maryland vs. Game 6 winner | 25 minutes after game 9 | BTN
Saturday, March 11 (semifinals)
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner | 1 p.m. | CBS
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner | 3:30 p.m. | CBS
Sunday, March 12 (championship game)
Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner | 3 p.m. | CBS