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Who's going to take home this year's Big Ten Tournament title?

Ranking the B1G tournament contenders, most intriguing players to watch in spring practice and more

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Today is Tuesday, March 7, and this is what’s for breakfast.


Anyone’s tournament

No conference has been maligned on a national level more this year than the Big Ten, and rightfully so for certain reasons, chief among them being there isn’t a single great team in the conference. But there is an abundance of above-average-to-good teams, and that should make for a fun and completely unpredictable conference tournament in Washington this week. Still, we’re going to try to rank the contenders, including Wisconsin as the No. 2 seed.

1) Purdue (No. 1 seed)

The regular-season champion, Purdue boasts the best player in Caleb Swanigan and has lost just one game since the start of February. Add in fellow forward Vince Edwards and a solid backcourt, including 3-point specialist and key defender Dakota Mathias, and the Boilermakers are the favorites for us and the sports books out in Las Vegas.

2) Maryland (No. 3 seed)

The Terrapins weren’t overly impressive in February, but they finished with a pair of wins and still have first-team All-Big Ten pick Melo Trimble running their offense. Combine that with the fact the games will be played about 10 miles from their College Park campus and you’re looking at a team with a significant advantage and a solid chance to win the whole thing.

3) Michigan (No. 8 seed)

Yeah, they are the No. 8 seed, but the Wolverines’ only two losses since early February came at Minnesota in overtime and on the basketball version of a Hail Mary against Northwestern. Other than that, they’ve been red hot, including an absolute whooping they put on Nebraska in the season finale. Admittedly, Michigan is the ultimate boom or bust pick in these projections.

4) Wisconsin (No. 2 seed)

The Badgers are feeling confident after the way they ended the season with a 17-point win over what was the hottest team in the Big Ten in Minnesota, but concerns remain, including the inability to consistently finish around the rim and make free throws. Still, no team has more big-game experience than Wisconsin’s senior-laden lineup, and guard Bronson Koenig looks to be heating up at the right time.

5) Minnesota (No. 4 seed)

The Gophers’ hot streak was bound to end and they came up against a desperate Wisconsin team on Sunday. But coach Richard Pitino has his guys playing well, and if they can stay out of foul trouble — something they didn’t do against the Badgers — they could give Purdue all kinds of fits on that side of the bracket with their strong interior defense led by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Reggie Lynch.

6) Iowa (No. 7 seed)

The young Hawkeyes are playing older than they are, and it’s showing with four straight wins, including at Maryland and at Wisconsin. Senior Peter Jok is obviously the star, but freshmen Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl are playing their best basketball of the season.

7) Michigan State (No. 5 seed)

Another young team, Michigan State has just two wins away from home this season and none since Feb. 2. They do boast the best freshman in the conference in Malcom Bridges, and coach Tom Izzo usually does his best work in the postseason. Still, it’s tough to see them making a run to the title.

The rest:
8) Northwestern (No. 6 seed)
9) Indiana (No. 10 seed)
10) Illinois (No. 9 seed)
11) Ohio State (No. 11 seed)
12) Penn State (No. 13 seed)
13) Nebraska (No. 12 seed)
14) Rutgers (No. 14 seed)

Most intriguing players

Wisconsin will open spring practice in a week, giving onlookers their first glimpse at coach Paul Chryst’s third team in Madison.

In the lead-up to the first of 15 practices, we’ve been going through some of the bigger questions facing the Badgers, and that continues with a breakdown of the most intriguing players we’ll be keeping an eye on over the next two months.

Who are the five most intriguing players to watch during spring practice?

1) Quarterback Alex Hornibrook

Hornibrook, like Joel Stave two springs ago, has a chance to grab the offense, make it his own and claim the starting job. If he’s able to do it — by showing improved pocket presence and more zip on his throws — it’ll be a huge boost to an offense that has a chance to be pretty good. If he can’t, it allows redshirt freshman Kare Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan more time to mount a challenge and take the competition into the fall.

2) Running back Chris James

It’s a big spring for sophomore Bradrick Shaw as the presumed incumbent in the Badgers backfield, but it’s tantalizing to see what James can bring to the equation. The Pitt transfer certainly looked the part last fall and in bowl practice, so it’ll be interesting to see what the junior can do in Wisconsin’s offense.

3) Tackle David Edwards

It’s not flashy, but Edwards’ move from right tackle to left tackle is among the bigger questions facing Wisconsin. How will the former high school quarterback-turned-tight end (then offensive tackle) respond to a permanent move to the left side after starting on the right last year. The sophomore’s development over the 15 practices could set up the Badgers for great things along the line or leave open the question of who will replace All-American Ryan Ramczyk.

4) Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel

The rare junior college recruit at Wisconsin, Van Ginkel is being brought in to play right away. How will he do after playing mainly defensive end in previous stops at South Dakota and Iowa Western CC? And will he simply be a pass rusher or can Wisconsin count on him for more? He’s got the size and speed that Joe Schobert, Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt used at the spot the last three years, so his ability to transfer that to the field will be fascinating.

5) Cornerback Nick Nelson

You don’t transfer — like Nelson did — from Hawaii to Wisconsin without a healthy expectation that you can play at this level. After sitting out last year, the junior gets to throw his name into the battle to be Sojourn Shelton’s replacement. A bigger guy than Shelton or senior Derrick Tindal, Nelson’s size and speed could be just what the Badgers need at the spot.

Loud crowd wanted

The Wisconsin hockey team will close out its regular season this weekend against Ohio State at the Kohl Center. In addition to the games, the school will welcome back the 1977 national title team and hold a Celebration of Life for former coach Jeff Sauer. It’s a huge few days for the program, bringing together the past, present and future — all while sitting just three points back of Minnesota in the Big Ten standings.

“I would really hope we get a ton of fans at these two games this weekend to kind of celebrate how this year has gone,” coach Tony Granato said Monday. “This group of players has worked to position themselves to potentially win a Big Ten (title), to potentially get a bye in the first round of the Big Ten (tournament) and to potentially get an NCAA bid.

“It’s the last time we’re going to be playing in this building this year. So I would really hope we get an energized building here that will (help us) and get us to that next step of where we want to be.”

The celebration of the season is worthwhile no matter what happens this weekend. This is a program that won 12 games combined the last two years and had fallen on hard times. Now, in his first year, Granato has the Badgers tantalizingly close to the postseason.

Catching up

  • Five Wisconsin basketball players earned All-Big Ten recognition on Monday, including sophomore Ethan Happ being named to the first team.
  • 2017 combine: Vince Biegel keeps his eye — and his hair — on a business track.
  • The Wisconsin women’s hockey team sold out its NCAA quarterfinal game in record time.
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