Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament Preview

After wrapping up the regular season title, Wisconsin's vying for a number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Can anyone take down the Badgers?

Big Ten Tournament First Round

March 11, 3:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2
United Center, Chicago

Penn State Preview:

Beginning the season with a school-record 12 non-conference wins (against one loss), Penn State promptly imploded when Big Ten play began. There were six straight losses in open league play, including a pratfall at lowly Rutgers, and that was pretty much that for the season.

All Conference Tourney Previews
The primary issue? PSU has only one reliable scoring weapon in senior guard D.J. Newbill, whose 20.7 points per game are tops in the league. Nobody else on the team is scoring in double figures. The four leading post players are combining to score fewer than 13 points per outing.

So when games got tight — 10 of the 14 conference losses were by single digits — opponents wisely focused on Newbill. More often than not, nobody else stepped up. It added up to a 13th-place finish.

That said, Pat Chambers must be feeling fortunate to draw offensively challenged Nebraska (loser of eight straight) in the opening round. In the lone game between the two teams in the regular season, the Lions held the Cornhuskers to 13 first-half points in an easy 56-43 home victory.

-- Mark Brennan,

Nebraska preview:

After a late run in 2014 and their first NCAA tourney trip in 16 years, Nebraska entered this season with plenty of expectations. Playing with those expectations might be what did them in.

A few early season injuries got Nebraska off to a rough start and things seemed to snowball from there. The Huskers enter the Big Ten tournament losing eight straight contests and have fallen well below contention for a post-season tournament bid of any kind with their record.

Juniors Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are averaging 33.1 points per game combined, but Nebraska’s next three scorers are averaging only 16 points per game. Scoring is a premium for the Huskers, especially outside, where they are one of the nation’s worst three-point shooting teams at 28.3 percent.

-- Josh Harvey,
March 11, 6 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network
United Center, Chicago

Rutgers Preview:

Season one in the Big Ten was not easy for Rutgers, which finished the season on a 14-game losing streak. Voters picked Rutgers last for a reason as second-year coach Eddie Jordan tries to take the program from rock bottom to competitor. The Big Ten can't take Rutgers lightly, as it was one of only two teams to knock off regular-season champion Wisconsin.

If Rutgers wants to make any noise in the Big Ten, senior forward Kadeem Jack needs to be more assertive in the first round against Minnesota. Rutgers could not match Minnesota's pace during the regular season, and need a stronger post presence from its impact forward. The Rutgers offense goes as senior guard Myles Mack. One of the all-time statistical greats in school history, Mack, who is playing through a wrist injury, passed his head coach on the all-time scoring list last week, and becomes the school's all-time steals leader with 13 more.
-- Sam Hellman,

Minnesota preview:

After returning many key pieces from a squad that won 25 games and the NIT last season, expectations were high for the Gophers to use the title as a springboard back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. Minnesota lived up to the hype early, starting 11-2 with its only losses to a ranked Louisville and St. John’s. However, the Gophers never got over the hump in conference play, losing eight times by six points or fewer.

One player the Gophers will need to rely on if they plan on making a run in the Big Ten tournament is senior guard Andre Hollins. The veteran is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.3 points per game, and adds a vital dose of leadership for this club. Over the last five games, however, Hollins is shooting only 33 percent from the field.

If the Gophers have any glimmer of hope to make the dance, they will have to run the gauntlet in the Big Ten tournament, which would require them to go through at least Ohio State and Michigan State and maybe Maryland and Wisconsin. With their NCAA fate mostly diminished, the Gophers are playing for a postseason berth in the NIT, meaning a win against 14th-seed Rutgers is almost necessary.
-- Brice Marich,

Big Ten Tournament Second Round

March 12, 11 a.m. CT, Big Ten Network
United Center, Chicago

Michigan Preview:

The “what if” has cast an ominous shadow around Michigan. What if Mitch McGary hadn’t been suspended for the season and had opted to return to Michigan instead of turning pro? What if the Wolverines’ best player, Caris LeVert, hadn’t lost for the season with a broken foot? What if Derrick Walton hadn’t missed 11 games (so far) with turf toe? Those losses caused Michigan to fall far short of preseason expectations.

Heading into the postseason fighting for a NIT berth, the Wolverines are a team that could make some noise if they can close games. The Wolverines lost six games by five points or less (including five point losses to Villanova and Wisconsin) and were 1-4 in overtime. Those experiences have grizzled a young team forced to play a number of players (including a few walk-ons) much more than planned.

Leading the way for Michigan is sophomore wing Zak Irvin, who has had to adjust to be at the top of the scouting report for other teams by adding a dribble drive component to his proven ability to knock down threes. It’s still a work in progress, but he has gotten better as the season has gone on. Junior point guard Spike Albrecht is the steadying veteran presence for the Wolverines and has gutted through a lower body injury for the entire season to post career bests in minutes, points and assists per game.

Michigan and Illinois split its two regular season meetings with each team winning on its home floor in overtime. If the Wolverines want to advance, they’ll need to be tighter defense, keep their turnovers close to their 9.7 per game average and avoid the long scoring droughts that have plagued them.
-- Sam Webb,

Illinois preview:

Playing just a few hours from its campus, Illinois will need all the fan support and help it can get to hear its name be called on Selection Sunday. The Illini have some good victories on their resume (No.10 Maryland and at No.14 Baylor) and their 9-9 league record gives them their most conference victories since 2011. Even so, Illinois enters the tournament with a 5-11 record against the RPI top 100 and loss Saturday, 63-58, to fellow bubble team Purdue.

If the Illini are going to make a run toward the 68-team field, which starts Thursday morning against No.9-seed Michigan, Illinois will need senior guard Rayvonte Rice to continue being the impact player he has been of late. After missing nine games due to injury and suspension, Rice is averaging 16.6 points per game, including 21.8 the last four games.

In order to distance itself from the three-game losing skid in February to projected NCAA tournament teams, the Illini need to avoid a bad loss to Michigan and then try to knock off Wisconsin in the quarterfinals. Easier said than done.
-- Benjamin Worgull,
March 12, 2:30 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network
United Center, Chicago

Iowa preview:

Iowa's been solid - if unspectacular - all season. Even if they lose their first round game against Penn State or Nebraska (they're 3-0 against them, though they needed overtime to beat Penn State), Iowa should be locked into an NCAA Tourney bid. Losing that first game could mean an 8 or 9 seed, though, which would translate to playing Kentucky or one of the other 1-seeds in the third round. Iowa will want to avoid that, of course, and winning a couple games in the B1G Tournament is the best way to improve their stock. If they can get through their first round game, they'll play a Purdue team that just slipped past the Hawkeyes, 67-63, in Indiana. If Iowa can win that one, they should lock up a solid 6 or 7 seed, meaning they'll be on the opposite side of the bracket and have a manageable path to the Sweet 16. From there, anything can happen - just look at UConn from last season.

-- Matthew McCreary,

March 12, 5:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2
United Center, Chicago

Northwestern Preview:

After scoring just 44 points in a 24-point home loss to Michigan State Feb.10, Northwestern appeared to be in for another lowly season with few signs of excitement on the horizon. A month later, with the Wildcats having won five of its last seven, Northwestern has gone from a team everyone wanted to play to the team no one wants to see.

The Wildcats have been right there in a lot of games this season, losing by seven in overtime to the Spartans on the road, by two to Ohio State, by one at Maryland and a handful of other nail biters that slipped away. That changed with a five-point overtime home win over Iowa, the beginning of a four-game winning streak that saw the Wildcats snag wins at Minnesota, beat Penn State by 21 and Indiana by 7.

Senior Tre Demps has been a big factor in the late season push, scoring in double figures in six of seven games and having a flair for the dramatics. In Northwestern’s 82-78 double overtime win over Michigan, Demps hit the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation and the first overtime to set up the win.

Northwestern will have a distinct home court advantage in the United Center, as the buzz is starting to generate in Chris Collins’ second season. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats give the Hoosiers a pretty good fight Thursday.
-- Benjamin Worgull,

Indiana preview:

Six games into the Big Ten season, Indiana was 5-1 and had just beaten Maryland by 19 at home. With a 15-4 record, the Hoosiers looked like a team that was a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Twelve games later it’s a different story. The Hoosiers have gone 4-8 and lost their last three, including the last two at home, to put them squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Led by Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr., Indiana needs at least one win to feel better about its postseason chances. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats defeated Indiana by seven in Evanston, Ill. The Hoosiers were without starting forward Collin Hartman in that game and he is expected to play this time. IU has been a team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. The Hoosiers have four players who have made at least 48 3-pointers and have 290 made 3-point field goals as a team this season. IU is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range as a team.

Indiana should fare better in a neutral court setting against Northwestern to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals against No.2 seed Maryland. Not only did Indiana beat Maryland at home, they lost by only two on the road. Bold prediction: Indiana will beat Maryland before falling in the tournament semifinals on Saturday to Michigan State. That should be enough to give head coach Tom Crean his third NCAA appearance in seven years at Indiana.
-- Terry Hutchens,

March 12, 8 p.m. CT, ESPN2
United Center, Chicago

Ohio State preview:

Ohio State had an inconsistent season that concluded with an embarrassing 24-point home loss to Wisconsin, closing the season 3-3 in its final six games and dropping them from the top four double-bye seeds. The Buckeyes will have to put that disappointment in the rearview quickly if they are to have success in the conference tournament and the seniors need to step up after going a combined 6-for-24 against the Badgers.

While the seniors, specifically second-leading scorer Sam Thompson, will have to improve for Ohio State to have any success in March, the Buckeyes go as D’Angelo Russell goes. The star freshman is capable of carrying Ohio State over a four-day stretch if he gets hot. He will be the best player on the court in every game Ohio State plays in Chicago, save a potential rematch with Wisconsin in the finals.

While advancing to Sunday seems unlikely for an Ohio State team that just got run off its home court, the Buckeyes have been unpredictable this season. They should be able to win in their first game and are certainly capable of topping Michigan State. This is also the same Ohio State team that blew out Maryland, so while the Buckeyes could fall flat in the tournament, they shouldn’t be afraid of anyone they face.
-- Blake Williams,

Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals

March 13, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN
United Center, Chicago

Wisconsin preview:

Winning the program’s first outright conference title for the first time since 2008, there was little debate that Wisconsin was the class of the league. The Badgers won 12 conference games by double digits, went undefeated at home in the league and, curiously, went 0-2 against the league’s newest members and 16-0 against everyone else.

The unquestioned conference player of the year, senior Frank Kaminsky somehow got better as the season went on, scoring 76 points in his final three games to help the Badgers win the title. Sam Dekker averaging 16 points in conference road games, Josh Gasser continues to be one of the league’s best defenders and Nigel Hayes has gone from the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year to a legitimate post threat.

The biggest surprise has to be the emergence of Bronson Koenig, who started the final 15 games of the season after senior Traevon Jackson went down with a foot injury. The sophomore guard has flourished in the role, showing confidence with his jump shot and his court vision, having a 2.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Wisconsin is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament title. If the seeds hold, however, the matchup with Purdue will be a grind. The Boilermakers have matched up very well with Wisconsin in recent history, and the Badgers clawed out a nine-point home win in the two team’s only meeting.
-- Benjamin Worgull,
March 13, 1:30 p.m. CT, ESPN
United Center, Chicago

Purdue preview:

Picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten, Purdue’s turnaround this year is one of the league’s biggest surprises, especially after how the nonconference season went. Going 8-5 before tournament play, which included ugly resume losses to Gardner-Webb, Kansas State, North Florida and Vanderbilt, the Boilermakers have played their way into NCAA tournament consideration by finishing in a three-way for third in the league.

Purdue is 9-3 since Jan.24, having swept Indiana, registered wins over Iowa and Ohio State and avoid any more damaging losses. It’s a credit to Matt Painter, who finally got his young team to embrace an identity: playing physical, solid, tough defense and getting the ball into the post.

One of only three upperclassmen among Purdue’s rotation, junior center A.J. Hammons has been fairly consistent all season (averaging 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) but now he’s starting to get some help. In Purdue’s critical win over Illinois Saturday, junior Raphael Davis scored 18 points and senior Jon Octeus added 11. When the Boilermakers get some offense to go with a defense that has allowed opponents to score over 70 three times since Dec.22, they become a tough matchup.

Entering the Big Ten tournament, @ScoutBrackets projects the Boilermakers as a No.10 seed, so they are still not completely safe should they suffer a loss in the quarterfinals. Assuming they get past Iowa, the Boilermakers could pull an upset against Wisconsin. Purdue is 7-6 in the last 13 games against the Badgers.
-- Benjamin Worgull,
March 13, 5:30 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network
United Center, Chicago

Maryland preview:

It's been a remarkable turnaround season for Mark Turgeon and his Terps, who will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, which is sacrosanct to say the least around College Park.

After a tumultuous off-season that saw five players leave prematurely, mostly an "addition by subtraction" bloodletting of some bad locker room guys, not to mention the expulsion of four-star center signee Trayvon Redd mid-summer for theft, Turgeon led Maryland to 26 regular season wins, a new school record.

The Terps have been tremendous this season, led by freshman point guard Melo Trimble and warrior and senior wing Dez Wells. These team still has flaws: they lack a true inside presence, are not terribly athletic, do not defend the perimeter well and junior Jake Layman has tended to disappear in some of the biggest games.

But they have won seven straight, may be peaking at just the right time (see double-digit wins in two of their final three league games, something they hadn't been able to do all season), and they are finding ways to win despite some of their shortcomings. The other good news is that 7-1 freshman center Michael Cekovsky, who injured his knee in warmups before the Michigan game last week, is back in the lineup and will be needed badly as the Terps forge ahead into the postseason. Though he is young and still developing, he is Maryland's best bet in the post.

The Terps have at least a No. 3 NCAA seed likely locked up and could possibly get a No.2 if they advance to the Big Ten title game. As they say, one player can turnaround a program, and that has been Trimble this year, while the senior Wells has carried the team on his back for the last two weeks, elevating himself to probable 2-3rd team All American.
-- Keith Cavanaugh,
March 13, 9 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network
United Center, Chicago

Michigan State preview:

Michigan State wrapped up the season winning six of eight and eight of 11, delivering a strong end to what was an up-and-down conference season. Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State is going to need Branden Dawson back on the court. He has missed basically the past two games with an injury sustained against Purdue. If he is healthy, MSU has a nice bracket with a possible matchup with Ohio State, which it beat in the lone meeting earlier this year. If the Spartans win that, it would have to overcome Maryland to make a run to the final against Wisconsin.
-- Mike WIlson,

Big Ten Tournament Semifinals

March 14th, 12 p.m., CBS 
United Center, Chicago
March 14th, 2:30 p.m., CBS 
United Center, Chicago

Big Ten Tournament Final

March 15th, 2:30 p.m., CBS 
United Center, Chicago

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