Record: 25-5 (11-5)
Big Ten Seed: 3rd
Probable Starters: James Augustine, F (13.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg); Brian Randle, F (8.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Shaun Pruitt, C (6.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Dee Brown, G (14.7 ppg, 5.6 apg); Rich McBride, G (9.9 ppg, 40.4% 3 pt. shooting)
Postseason Implications: The Illini are obviously safely in the tourney and will earn a top-four seed somewhere. An appearance in the Big Ten title game likely locks up a No. 2 seed, which is no small feat for a team that lost a pair of first-round picks (Deron Williams, Luther Head) from a unit that advanced to the NCAA title game a year ago. An early exit likely earns the Illini a No. 3 seed.
Why They're a Contender: Dee Brown is capable of special things in Indianapolis in his final Big Ten Tournament, and the Illini have three big, athletic frontcourt players that can prove to be matchup problems for most teams. Illinois is equally adept at playing up tempo or in the halfcourt, and defensively they can give teams fits.
Why They're a Pretender: Illinois is different team when Augustine isn't on the floor, and the Illini center has a knack for landing himself in foul trouble. With potential matchups with three legitimate title contenders - Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State – Illinois could be long gone by the time the weekend arrives if Augustine can't stay on the floor.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Big Ten postseason champs. Honestly, I like whomever wins the Illinois-Michigan State game to advance to the Big Ten tourney final and upset Ohio State in the final.
Record: 17-10 (9-7)
Big Ten Seed: 5th
Probable Starters: Robert Vaden, F (13.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.9 apg); Marco Killingsworth, C (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Marshall Strickland, G (12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg); A.J. Ratliff, G (3.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg); Earl Calloway, G (4.9 ppg, 2.1 apg)
Postseason Implications:Four straight wins to close the regular season have the Hoosiers off the bubble and safely into the NCAA field, but Mike Davis' team will have to win a game or two to climb any higher than a No. 8 seed. A first-round loss to Wisconsin could drop Indiana to a No. 10, but the Hoosiers appear safely in the field of 65.
Why They're a Contender: Despite the roller-coaster of a season, this is a squad that has beaten Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan (twice). Four straight wins has restored the team's confidence, and it will have the benefit of playing in front of a partisan IU crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Marshall Strickland is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and Marco Killingsworth remains a load for teams to deal with.
Why They're a Pretender: The team's perimeter shooting remains erratic, and it probably doesn't lock up teams well enough defensively to compensate for a sub-40 percent shooting effort. If Killingsworth gets into foul trouble the Hoosiers lack any semblance of an interior scoring threat, making them terribly one-dimensional on the offensive end.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: A resurgent Indiana team knocks off Wisconsin in a nailbiter in the quarterfinals but falls behind big early to OSU and doesn't recover.
Record: 22-8 (11-5)
Big Ten Seed: 2nd
Probable Starters: Greg Brunner, F (14.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg); Erek Hansen, C (6.9 ppg, 2.7 bpg); Adam Haluska, G (14.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Jeff Horner, G (12.7 ppg, 5.9 apg); Mike Henderson, G (7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Postseason Implications: The Hawkeyes are a good bet to earn a top-four seed if they can advance to the Big Ten Tournament final. If they can win the postseason title, a No. 3 seed is also a possibility. But if they bow out to Michigan in the quarterfinals, they could find themselves slipping to a No. 5
Why They are a Contender: Greg Brunner is probably the best pure post player in the league. He doesn't have the size of Terence Dials or Marco Killingsworth, but he has a slew of ways to score around the basket. Add in Jeff Horner - one of the league's best in late-game situations - and Iowa is a serious contender to win its first Big Ten tourney title since 2001.
Why They are a Pretender: Iowa has been exceptionally good at home this season, but pedestrian away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa was just 5-8 outside the Iowa City limits, and Coach Steve Alford's troops will have to play three legitimate title contenders on their way to a potential championship. Iowa hasn't shot the ball exceptionally well this year (42.9 percent) and an off-shooting day could lead to a quick exit from Indy.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Iowa has one of the best track records in the Big Ten tourney over the years, but I'm expecting a Michigan upset in the quarterfinals.
Record: 18-9 (8-8)
Big Ten Seed: 7th
Probable Starters: Ron Coleman, F (5.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Graham Brown, F (5.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Courtney Sims, C (12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Daniel Horton, G (17.0 ppg, 5.4 apg); Dion Harris, G (11.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Postseason Implications: If there's one team that could use a win in Indy to feel better about its NCAA standing it's Michigan. The Wolverines lost six out of eight to finish the season, and they are counting on the selection committee taking seven teams from the Big Ten to get in. A first-round win over Minnesota likely guarantees an at-large berth.
Why They're a Contender: Daniel Horton has had two 30-plus point games in the last two weeks. The senior lit up Indiana for 34 on Sunday, and a week earlier scored 39 in a win over Illinois. If Horton has a Big Ten Tourney MVP caliber effort, Michigan is dangerous. He's been attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line, where he simply doesn't miss. He's capable of being the talk of the town this weekend.
Why They're a Pretender: Where's the killer instinct? Michigan had Indiana dead to rites in both halves Sunday and let it back into the game each time. The Wolverines are struggling despite Horton's solid play, and center Courtney Sims hasn't been the offensive presence that he was in non-conference play.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Watch for the Wolverines to advance to the Big Ten semis before bowing out. Daniel Horton will lead Michigan past Minnesota and Iowa before bowing out to Illinois.
Record: 20-10 (8-8)
Big Ten Seed: 6th
Probable Starters: Matt Trannon, F (4.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Paul Davis, C (18.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg); Maurice Ager, G (19.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Shannon Brown, G (18.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Drew Neitzel, G (8.7 ppg, 5.6 apg)
Postseason Implications: The Spartans need to remove that anvil that's attached to their NCAA Tournament seed. Michigan State started the year as a Final Four contender, but has since seen its stock drop dramatically. No team's NCAA seed could fluctuate more in Indianapolis. If MSU runs the table – which is a possibility – a top-four seed is still possible. A first round loss to Purdue would be MSU's sixth loss in eight games and could result in a double-digit NCAA seed.
Why They're a Contender: With Ager, Brown and Davis, Michigan State is still one of the most explosive offensive teams in the conference. If they step up their effort on the defensive end, they're more than capable of winning four games in four days. Add in the fact forward Matt Trannon (broken jaw) is "50/50" to play this weekend, and Coach Tom Izzo might be adding his toughest player back to the playing rotation just in time for the postseason.
Why They're a Pretender: The Spartans are like a broken down BMW. They sure look good until you try to start the engine. Maurice Ager played like an All-American in the non-conference but has been more miss than hit since conference play opened, and Paul Davis still gives Tom Izzo headaches with his often spectacular, occasionally lackadaisical play. Shannon Brown has been the most consistent of the three.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: They'll smash Purdue and then drop a tight one to Illinois. It's tempting to pick the Spartans to reverse their fortunes and run the table, but they lost twice to Illinois in the regular season and I don't see that changing in Indianapolis.
Record: 14-13 (5-11)
Big Ten Seed: 10th
Probable Starters: Zach Puchtel, F (2.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Vincent Grier, F (15.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg); J'son Stamper, F (6.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Jamal Abu-Shamla, G (4.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Adam Boone, G (10.3 ppg, 4.8 apg)
Postseason Implications: The Gophers' only chance at an NCAA berth is via the automatic route. A solid 5-5 finish to conference play wasn't enough to overcome a dismal 0-6 start, and a team that looked better on paper than last year's NCAA at-large team looks poised to return to the NIT.
Why They're a Contender: They're not. There's a distinct line separating the top seven teams in the Big Ten this season and the bottom four. While the league's bottom four have been dangerous at home, they were a combined 6-26 on the road in conference play. That includes Minnesota's 1-7 mark away from Williams' Arena, a venue that they'll likely return to for a first-round NIT matchup.
Why They're a Pretender: Vincent Grier has dropped off significantly from where he was a year ago, Maurice Hargrow didn't return as a difference maker this season, and Dan Monson doesn't have a low post threat. The Gophers are small and slow up front, and they open against a big, athletic Michigan team that has waves of big men to throw at the Gophers. It's one-and-done for the Gophers.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Michigan needs a win to feel good about its NCAA chances, and Minnesota will be its victim in a contest that won't be close.
Record: 14-14 (6-10)
Big Ten Seed: 9th
Probable Starters: Vedran Vukusic, F (19.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Bernard Cote, F (4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Tim Doyle, G (8.1 ppg, 4.0 apg); Mohamed Hachad, G (11.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Craig Moore, G (6.7 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Postseason Implications: There's no .500-or-above requirement any more for teams to be eligible for the NIT, but Northwestern likely needs to win at least one game to get serious consideration for any additional postseason play. Unlike other teams in the conference, Northwestern doesn't lure many fans to Welsh-Ryan Arena, so they're hardly an enticing pick to the NIT folks. But a .500 record in the nation's top-ranked conference could land the Wildcats in the postseason.
Why They're a Contender: Northwestern actually doesn't have a bad draw because both No. 8 Penn State and No. 1 Ohio State use guard-heavy lineups that won't be able to exploit the Wildcats' lack of size as badly as some other teams would. Northwestern's slow-it-down approach can also give teams fits, particularly if the opponent isn't knocking down shots from the perimeter. But…four game in four days? That's fantasy land.
Why They're a Pretender: Northwestern struggles with athletic teams, and they don't rebound the basketball - guard Mohamed Hachad is actually the team's leading rebounder at 5.0/game. The Wildcats aren't deep, either, which will make it a big challenge to go four days in a row.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Their matchup with Penn State will probably be Thursday's best contest, and I'll take Northwestern because it has the game's best player Vedran Vukusic. They're no match for Ohio State in round two, though.
Record: 24-4 (12-4)
Big Ten Seed: 1st
Probable Starters: J.J. Sullinger, F (9.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Matt Sylvester, F (7.8 ppg, 2.9 apg); Terence Dials, C (15.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg); Je'Kel Foster, G (13.5 ppg, 3.1 apg); Jamar Butler, G (9.9 ppg, 4.6 apg)
Postseason Implications: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is very much in the Buckeyes' crosshairs. While Duke, Villanova and UConn appear to be sure-fire No. 1 seeds, Ohio State has a legitimate shot at the fourth No. 1 seed along with Texas and Memphis. If the Buckeyes back up their regular season title with a postseason crown, one has to believe they'll be on the top line in one of the brackets, regardless of what Memphis or Texas does in their postseason tourneys.
Why They're a Contender: Terence Dials is playing better than any big man in the conference, and Coach Thad Matta has a plethora of perimeter marksmen who can score points in a hurry. Honestly, they run a very similar attack to what Indiana does, they've just done it a little bit better. In addition, OSU has a pair of the league's top defenders in J.J. Sullinger and Je'Kel Foster. They've proven they can win in hostile environments as well, winning at Michigan State and Illinois this season.
Why They're a Pretender: The Buckeyes are always only five Terence Dials' fouls away from Matt Terwilliger. Actually, Terwilliger is a serviceable back-up to Dials, but his 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game doesn't cause the same sort of trepidation that the Big Ten MVP does.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: I think the Buckeyes cruise into the Big Ten final, but get a little payback from the Illini. A year ago it was OSU that kept the Illini from going undefeated during the regular season, and this year it will be the Illini that keep the Buckeyes from sweeping the conference championships.
Record: 14-13 (6-10)
Big Ten Seed: 8th
Probable Starters: Geary Claxton, F (15.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg); Travis Parker, F (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Jamelle Cornley, C (11.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Ben Luber, G (7.3 ppg, 4.3 apg); David Jackson, G (7.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Postseason Implications: The Nittany Lions are likely headed to the NIT thanks to a .500 or above overall record. Any chance at an NCAA berth, though, is contingent on a Big Ten postseason championship, and that's a pipe dream.
Why They're a Contender: I guess if the Nittany Lion football team can go from 4-7 in 2004 to within a whisker of winning a national championship this year, anything's possible. Coach Ed DeChellis does have a handful of solid young players who could have the Lions contending for an NCAA berth in the near future, and they did hand Illinois a stunning setback in Champaign earlier this season. With that said, a weekend appearance this season would be a real shock to the system.
Why They're a Pretender: After a first-round meeting with Northwestern, the Nittany Lions would have to play top-seeded Ohio State. That's the same Ohio State team that dropped 104 points on DeChellis' team in a 35-point OSU win in January, the biggest offensive outburst of the conference season. Penn State doesn't have any big bodies to defend Dials, and they're not athletic enough in the backcourt to match-up with Foster, Butler and sixth-man Ron Lewis.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: The spotlight will be too bright in Indianapolis as the Lions fall in round one.
Record: 9-18 (3-13)
Big Ten Seed: 11th
Probable Starters: Gary Ware, F (6.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Matt Kiefer, F (12.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg); Chris Lutz, G (9.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Bryant Dillon, G (6.6 ppg, 3.2 apg); Marcus Green, G (5.8 ppg, 2.5 apg)
Postseason Implications: Purdue is the only team on the Big Ten bracket that has no postseason hopes whatsoever. At 9-18 it's going to take the conference's postseason crown for the Boilers to continue playing beyond this weekend. Purdue won only three games in nine weeks of Big Ten regular season play, and now it has to win four games in four days to keep its season going. Anyone who thinks that's going to happen has lost touch with reality.
Why They're a Contender: They're not.
Why They're a Pretender: Does anyone honestly think there's a Purdue fan that booked an overnight stay in Indianapolis this weekend? The 11th-seeded Boilermakers failed to win double-digit games for a second year in a row, and now they have to play a Michigan State team that is a year removed from the Final Four. Once the Boilers are unceremoniously bounced by the Spartans, Purdue's faithful can retreat to the team's Big Ten-designated bar, which is fittingly the "Rock Bottom."
HoosierNation.com's Pick: Purdue's reward for finishing last in the conference? A match-up in round one with the conference's preseason favorite. Purdue's backcourt isn't athletic, which is a good match-up with the ultra-explosive Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager. MSU wins this one by 20-plus.
Record: 19-10 (9-7)
Big Ten Seed: 4th
Probable Starters: Alando Tucker, F (19.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Jason Chappell, F (4.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Brian Butch, C (10.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Kammron Taylor, G (14.8 ppg, 2.4 apg); Ryan Nixon, G (6.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Postseason Implications: Losers of three out of its last four, Wisconsin has seen its NCAA seed slip to a No. 7 in the latest ESPN Bracketology. A win over Indiana would likely keep the Badgers from slipping into the dreaded 8/9 game, and another win over Ohio State could vault them to a No. 5 or No. 6. A Friday afternoon loss, though, likely drops the Badgers behind IU when it comes time to start slotting Big Ten teams.
Why They're a Contender: If all goes according to seeding, Wisconsin plays an Indiana team in the quarterfinals that it beat by 18 earlier this season, a top-seeded Ohio State team it beat in Madison by five three weeks ago and a second-seeded Iowa team it split with this season. With a very good tandem of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor leading the way, Coach Bo Ryan's team has the goods to beat anyone it might run into.
Why They're a Pretender: Tucker and Taylor are the second-highest scoring tandem in the Big Ten, but when one struggles the team is in a world of hurt. Brian Butch and Ray Nixon are nice complementary players, but they don't often emerge as primary scoring threats. In fact, in Wisconsin's 29 games this season, Tucker led the team in scoring 19 times, Taylor eight times, and the rest of the team a combined twice. That's not a recipe for success in Indiananpolis.
HoosierNation.com's Pick: The Badgers and Hoosiers are a coin flip, but the Hoosiers get the nod with the game being in Indianapolis.
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