26-4 Overall, 16-2 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Brian Butch (12.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), F Marcus Landry (11.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F Joe Krabbenhoft (7.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Trevon Hughes (11.8 ppg, 2.6 apg), Michael Flowers (9.5 ppg, 1.6 spg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: The tournament goes as planned. While Purdue has had a surprisingly-successful season, Indiana has dynamite offensive weapons, and Michigan State has both depth and experience, Wisconsin has clearly established itself as the team to beat. It starts with defense, but Wisconsin has a balanced offensive attack that can be led by any one of a number of players on any given night.
They'll Stumble If: Someone figures out a way to up to tempo. Led by a pair of All-Big Ten defensive players in Michael Flowers and Joe Krabbenhoft, the Badgers allow only 54.3 points/game and force teams to play their style. The Badgers held Indiana to a season-low 49 points in Madison, and they held Michigan State to 42 three days before the Spartans scored 103 against the Hoosiers. Only three teams scored 70 or more points against Wisconsin – Duke, Marquette and Purdue – and that represented three of UW's four losses.
24-7 Overall, 15-3 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Robbie Hummel (11.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg), F Nemanja Calaan (6.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G E'twaun Moore (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Keaton Grant (10.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg), G Chris Kramer (6.6 ppg, 2.2 spg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: The young guns continue to play like veterans. First-team All-Big Ten choice Robbie Hummel is only a freshman, but he's been one of the most clutch performers in the conference this season. E'twaun Moore, meanwhile, leads the Boilers in scoring and Scott Martin has played much better as of late. They've performed extremely well during the regular season, but time will tell if they handle the one-and-done atmosphere of the Big Ten tourney as well.
They'll Stumble If: They hit a cold spell from the field. The Boilermakers lost in Bloomington because of a woeful shooting night, and Matt Painter's team is shooting only 42.4 percent from the floor overall. If they have a tough night shooting, they could be in trouble. While they'll likely be looking ahead to a potential semifinal match-up against Indiana, they need to watch out for a potential quarterfinal match-up against Illinois. The 10th-seeded Illini figure to be favored over the depleted Penn State squad in the opening round, and Purdue claimed a pair of single-digit wins over the Illini this season.
25-6 Overall, 14-4 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F D.J. White (17.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg), F Lance Stemler (4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), G Eric Gordon (21.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Armon Bassett (11.3 ppg, 3.2 apg), G Jamarcus Ellis (7.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: Someone can figure out a way to get the team to set aside the Kelvin Sampson distraction and return to playing basketball. It's been three weeks since Sampson resigned, but it's obvious it's been a huge distraction. That's believed to be the root cause to Jamarcus Ellis' suspension last week, and it's been obvious the team hasn't played with the some sort of passion and heart that it did earlier in the season. Figuring out a way to do that, though, is easier said than done. Some players clearly haven't moved past Sampson's resignation, and it's very possible that they won't the rest of the way.
They'll Stumble If: They continue to play they way they have for the last three weeks. Indiana is just 3-2 since Sampson's resignation, and they haven't played like an elite Big Ten team or a top-25 squad during that span. That's no fault of Dan Dakich, who has been handed a mess and asked to make the best of it. Ultimately it's on the players to flip the switch, and they've been unable to do it to this point.
#4 Michigan State
24-7 Overall, 13-5 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Raymar Morgan (15.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F Goran Suton (8.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg), C Drew Naymick (4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Drew Neitzel (13.4 ppg 4.1 apg), G Kalin Lucas (9.8 ppg, 3.9 apg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: Kalin Lucas has a breakout performance in the Big Ten tourney. There have been many other Big Ten freshmen who have gotten much more attention, but Lucas is emerging as a special talent for Coach Tom Izzo. He's moved into the starting backcourt alongside Drew Neitzel and gives the Spartans a much better scorer than Travis Walton. He's also able to attack in transition, a style that the Spartans need to play this weekend if they hope to claim postseason title.
They'll Stumble If: If someone manages to get the Spartans to play a halfcourt, grind-it-out game. The Spartans are 17-1 when it scores 70 or more points this season and only 7-6 when it doesn't. Izzo's squad thrives playing up-tempo, and they'll do their best to do that this weekend. Their biggest problem is a potential semifinal match-up with top-seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers limited the Spartans to 42 points in a 57-42 game two weeks ago.
#5 Ohio State
19-12 Overall, 10-8 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Othello Hunter (9.6 ppg,6.2 rpg), F Kosta Koufos 13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), G Jamar Butler (14.6 ppg, 6.0 apg), G David Lighty (8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), G Evan Turner (8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: They can beat Michigan State for the second time in a week. While the top four teams in the league all have their sights set on winning the postseason crown, Ohio State's focus is getting its third straight win over a top-25 foe. After losing nine out of 14 during the second half of the season and seemingly playing their way out of the NCAA tourney, the Buckeyes rebounded with wins over Purdue and Ohio State to end the regular season. Another win over MSU – which would be their 20th of the season – would surely get Thad Matta's team into the Big Dance.
They'll Stumble If: They don't get a big effort out of senior Jamar Butler. Butler has scored 43 points in his last three halves of basketball, keying the Buckeyes in back-to-back wins over Purdue and Michigan State. If Butler is on Coach Thad Matta's team will a difficult out. But he's also struggled on occasion this year, and when that happens the Buckeyes have a hard time scoring points. He needs to have a Big Ten tourney MVP-type of effort for Ohio State to have a chance to be playing Sunday.
19-12 Overall, 8-10 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Dan Coleman (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), F Spencer Tollackson (9.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Lawrence McKenzie (12.1 ppg, 2.9 apg), G Lawrence Westbrook (8.5 ppg, 2.5 apg), G Jamal Abu-Shamala (3.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: They hope to keep Tubby Smith's NCAA tourney streak alive. Smith has been to 14 consecutive tournaments, but that streak is in serious jeopardy. While the Gophers' 18-12 record has been a pleasant surprise to most in Minneapolis, it's not enough to get Minnesota into the Big Dance. With a losing conference record and a lack of quality wins, Minnesota will have to advance to the Big Ten tourney final to have any sort of shot at an NCAA at-large bid, and it might need to win the tournament. Thursday's struggle against woeful Northwestern wasn't a positive sign.
They'll Stumble If: They can't force turnovers in bunches with their harassing defense. Minnesota has forced its foes into 526 turnovers, 82 more than it has committed. Smith's team does it with the sort of ball pressure that made his Kentucky teams very difficult to play against. He's brought that with him to Minnesota, and has a couple of the league leaders in steals in Damian Johnson (1.6/game) and Al Nolen (2.0/game). Smith needs his defense to produce some easy opportunities for the offense if they hope to be around this weekend.
10-21 Overall, 5-13 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F DeShawn Sims (12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), C Ekpe Udoh (6.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9 bpg), G Manny Harris (16.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg), G Kelvin Grady (5.7 ppg, 2.8 apg), G Anthony Wright (4.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: They can figure out a way to make shots. The Wolverines are shooting just 40 percent from the floor this season, easily the worst in the league. No starter shoots better than 45 percent from the floor, and leading scorers Manny Harris and DeShawun Sims shoot 39 and 40 percent, respectively. Their shooting woes extend beyond the 3-point arc as well, where they knock down a league-worst 31.4 percent of their attempts. For Michigan to hang around with Wisconsin, it will need to be making 50 percent of its attempts are better.
They'll Stumble If: They get a great…or good…or even a mediocre effort from any of their upcoming foes. With a second-round match-up against Big Ten champion Wisconsin coming up, the Wolverines will be closing the books on their 2007-08 season this afternoon. Coach John Beilein can be expected to do some very good things in Ann Arbor, just not this year. He has a couple of talented youngsters such as Manny Harris, but the Wolverines are a long way away from competing with any of the elite teams in the conference.
14-18 Overall, 5-13 Big Ten
Probable Starters: F Brian Randle (9.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), C Shaun Pruitt (12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Trent Meachum (10.8 ppg, 2.5 apg), G Demetri McCamey (7.8 ppg, 3.2 apg), G Chester Frazier (5.0 ppg, 3.4 apg)
They'll Rise to the Top If: Lucas Johnson, Sergio McClain and Cory Bradford run out of the tunnel donning the Illini uniform. Unfortunately for Illini Coach Bruce Weber this isn't 1999, the season when the 11th seeded Illini stunned Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio State on their way to the Big Ten title game. Based on Thursday's one-point win over a depleted Penn State team the Illini don't appear poised to make a similar March journey.
They'll Stumble If: They continue to do what they've done all season – miss shots. Illinois' 31.5 percent 3-point shoot ranks 10th in the Big Ten, and they don't have much of an interior threat to make up for that. The end result is easily the most disappointing season for Illini fans since Bruce Weber took over, and it's why the Illini figure to be headed home for the summer Friday night.
Who Will Still be Standing on Sunday?
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