[tps_header]Traditionally, the Big Ten is always among the best conferences in college basketball and this year is no exception. With as many as eight possible teams earning tournament bids, the conference is as deep as it has been in years.
But before we can think about the Big Dance, Big Ten teams have to show they can move their feet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 9th.
Can the Hoosiers ride their regular season title and hometown backing into an automatic bid? Will either of the Big Ten’s bubble teams play themselves in or out of a bid to the tourney? Can Northwestern shock the world and make their first tournament appearance ever by being crowned conference tournament champions when it’s all said and done March 13th?[/tps_header]
WORK LEFT TO DO
The Big Ten has five schools that could realistically end up earning a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, including the possible No. 1 overall seed.
The Indiana Hoosiers won the regular season conference title but most people aren’t buying them as the best team in the Big Ten. That distinction belongs to the Michigan State Spartans who find themselves No. 2 in the national rankings, and have potential Wooden Award winner in senior guard/Swiss army knife Denzel Valentine who guaranteed to deliver a national championship to Spartan faithful.
The Spartans are also led by head coach Tom Izzo whose seven final four appearances have earned him the distinction of being ‘pretty good’ in March.
The Iowa Hawkeyes and Maryland Terrapins looked like world beaters early in the season but have since leveled off a bit. The Hawkeyes have the bragging rights of blowing Michigan State out twice this season, proving that when they’re on they can beat anybody in the country. Maryland, Purdue, and Iowa remarkably rank No.14-16 in the national polls respectively so they’ll be licking their chops at a chance to play each other one more time before the NCAA tournament and vault themselves into a potential top-4 seed.
Another team fighting for seeding is the just-missed-the-top-25 Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers aren’t the most talented team in the conference, but they did make it to the championship game last year, and the team plays hard for interim coach Greg Gard, who took over after former coach Bo Ryan abruptly retired back in December.
Then there’s the rival schools – the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes.
Both are on the bubble and have underachieved this season. Ohio State has the head-to-head win over Michigan this season but the Buckeyes remain more on the bubble than the ‘team up north’. This is due to the fact that Ohio State has lost to three teams outside the top 100 RPI and Michigan has no such losses.
The Wolverines aren’t completely safe though. They only have two wins against ranked teams, have lost four of the last five, and are without star guard Caris LeVert the rest of the season. A win in the conference tournament could give each team the boost they need to be invited to the dance, and a loss could be the stake in the heart that leaves them on the outside looking in come tournament time.
Welcome to March Madness!