Big Ten Tournament: February 28-March 4, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
The Big Ten will host their men’s basketball conference tournament in the “Mecca” for the first time in its history. The Tourney will feature four teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid. The first three rounds will be televised on the Big Ten Network, while the semifinals and finals will be viewable on CBS.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Michigan
Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan each have a legitimate chance for bragging rights within the conference as they compete for a postseason conference title.
Michigan State has battled through a brutal end to their season off the court, but rattled off 12 straight victories after losing to Michigan on January 13. First-Team All-Big Ten performer, Miles Bridges, is in the All-American conversation, averaging 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and Cassius Winston has been brilliant down the stretch. The sophomore guard is averaging 12.5 points, 6.9 assists, and is shooting 56.5% from three. After clinching the Regular Season Big Ten crown, the Spartans will look to follow that up with another trophy in Garden and a one-way ticket to a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans will open Friday at noon against the winner of nine seed Wisconsin and the eight seed Maryland.
Ohio State is one of the best surprises in college basketball, let alone the Big Ten, this season. The Buckeyes are the two seed in this year’s conference tournament and are poised to make a run in New York and in the “Big Dance.” Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year, Chris Holtmann, and Big Ten Player of the Year and potential All-American, Keita Bates-Diop (averaging 19.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game), Ohio State has already beaten both Michigan State and Purdue as part of their 15-3 mark in conference. A Big Ten Tournament title would be a nice addition to the trophy case. The Buckeyes will open Friday at 6:30pm against the winner of seven seed Penn State and ten seed Northwestern.
Purdue was perfect in conference play before they lost three straight to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. As the three seed, the Boilermakers will look to make their case for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing at MSG. The balanced attack, led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer Carsen Edwards (averaging 18.2 points per game), will have a chance for revenge against both the Buckeyes and the Spartans in the semifinals and the finals if chalk holds in hopes of attaining the title of Big Ten Champion. Purdue will open at 9pm on Friday against the winner of #14 Rutgers/#11 Minnesota vs. the six seed Indiana.
Michigan is my sleeper pick in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines will look to defend their conference tournament title. Michigan is the five seed and will have to play an extra game in the “Big Apple” as Nebraska controlled the tie breaker to claim the four seed. The Wolverines are riding a five game win streak into the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan is outscoring its opponents 77.6-63.4 over that stretch. Look for Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Addur-Rahkman, who combine to average 26.7 points per game, to lead the Wolverines to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament Championships. Michigan will open at 2:30pm on Thursday against the winner of twelve seed Iowa and thirteen seed Illinois.
On the Bubble: Nebraska, Penn State
Nebraska is 13-5 in conference play. Normally, that record in a major conference means your ticket to the NCAA Tournament is already punched prior to your conference tournament, but a weak nonconference schedule, combined with a lackluster bottom of the Big Ten this year has Nebraska on the outside of the bubble looking in. The Cornhuskers will likely need two wins at the Garden to feel good about their chances at an at-large bid. If chalk holds, wins over Michigan and Michigan State would put them in a good position. Although Nebraska’s highlights have mainly come from the reactions of their bench, the Cornhuskers are led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer, James Palmer Jr.—the junior guard averaging 17.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. With the Big Ten Tournament a week earlier than the rest of the major conference tournaments, an early exit could mean for a long, anxious week for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will open Friday at 2:30pm against the winner of #13 Illinois/#12 Iowa vs. the five seed Michigan.
Penn State is further off the bubble than Nebraska is. At 19-12 overall, 9-9 in conference play, the Nittany Lions will likely need to cut down the nets in NYC to get to the Dance. Penn State is the seven seed after losing the tie-breaker for the six seed to Indiana. The Nittany Lions are led by First-Team All-Big Ten performer Tony Carr, who is averaging 19.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. The journey to the automatic bid begins Thursday at 6:30pm against the ten seed Northwestern.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Big Ten Tournament Bracket: