After another wild Big Ten conference season, all 14 teams are getting ready to make one last stand in the league tournament in Washington D.C. this week.
After 2+ months of action, the Big Ten proved to be a very deep and competitive league once again. But some pundits, and rightfully so, would ultimately say it was a rare ‘down year’ for the league due to the parity, particularly at the top.
For some teams, it’s about making one last stand and ending the season on the highest note possible. For others, it’s about improving their case to the NCAA Selection Committee so come this Sunday, their name will be revealed in the field of 68.
Here is our rundown of the action taking place this weekend in the nation’s capital.
1. FAVORITE: PURDUE
Reiterating to the down year in the Big Ten, it becomes apparent that it’s Purdue’s tournament to lose this weekend.
It certainly helps having unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year, first team All-Big Ten selection and double-double machine in Caleb Swanigan on your team. But the Boilermakers (25-6, 14-4 Big Ten) proved to be the most ‘trustworthy’ all season long. Their +13.5 scoring margin ranked tops in the conference and they were only second to Michigan in free throw shooting at 77 percent (Also shot 100+ attempts more than Michigan).
Even with Swanigan and fellow big man Isaac Haas down low, Purdue did a lot of their damage from outside as well. They were the only team in the Big Ten to shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Right now, the Boilermakers are tabbed a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament with a chance to move up even more should they make an impressive run through D.C. this weekend.
2. SLEEPER: IOWA
This is a tough one to pick, as we have run the ‘Big Ten is deep but weak’ mill dry enough already. But we’re going to go with the team that finished the strongest to close out the season.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten) currently have the longest winning streak in the Big Ten at four games, which includes a pair of wins on the road at Maryland and at Wisconsin. One could argue that Fran McCaffery could have been Coach of the Year this season. 11 of his 15 players on the roster are all either freshman or sophomore. Senior Peter Jok led the whole conference in scoring. After Jok for the Hawkeyes, it’s three freshies leading in scoring.
A bit of historical context: Iowa last season, a team flooded with experienced seniors finished their season losing seven of 10 and ultimately finished 22-11 overall, a team once ranked No. 3 in the country during last season. These Hawkeyes have had to learn on the fly (pun intended) this year and now are on a 7-3 run over their last ten heading into the league tournament.
Don’t sleep on the Hawkeyes.
3. WORK LEFT TO DO: ILLINOIS
Hypothetically speaking, one could put Iowa in this category. But we’re going to put Illinois here. In fact, these last two columns could be flip-flopped had the regular season finished up differently.
Illinois (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten) after their win against Michigan State last week had won four of their last five games and appeared to be trending upward, so much so that some ‘experts’ put them in the dance, or on the bubble at the worst. But then they proceeded to back up that win vs. MSU with a loss on the road against cellar-dweller Rutgers, effectively putting them out of the field in a matter of days.
But not all is lost for the Illini. They will enter the Big Ten Tournament with golden opportunities to further cement their standing to the Committee. And it starts on Thursday when they open up again Michigan, who is looking like they will be dancing. Illinois exchanged blowouts with the Wolverines this season, each team winning on their home floor.
Should they beat Michigan, it will set up a date with top-seeded Purdue in the quarterfinal stage. The Boilers housed the Illini in West Lafayette earlier this season so Illinois will surely be looking for a bounce back.
A win over Michigan would look nice. A win over both Michigan and Purdue would look even better.
Below is the full slate of Big Ten Tournament games from Wednesday, March 8 through Sunday, March 12. All games can be seen on Big Ten Network, ESPN and CBS over the course of the event.
— Big Ten Men's Hoops (@B1GMBBall) March 6, 2017