First-team All-Big Ten choice Jared Sullinger might be out for vengeance after being snubbed the Big Ten player of the year in likely his only season in college basketball, although he did say that he was ‘shocked' to be named the conference's freshman of the year. After losing two of three after a 24-0 start, the Buckeyes have won four straight by at least 29 points including setting NCAA Division I records by making 14 of 15 3-pointers (93.3 percent) and hitting 14 in a row - after missing the first Sunday against Wisconsin.
Best-case scenario in Indy: The Buckeyes win all three games by double digits (including a 33-point thumping over Wisconsin in the final to match Jon Diebler's jersey number), snag the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAAs thanks to a slew of upsets around the rest of the country, and most importantly, OSU fans wake up to realize Jim Tressel's Geargate was just a nasty nightmare and never happened.
2) Purdue (25-6, 14-4)
Robbie Hummel appears to be returning to Purdue after medically redshirting this year. But the Boilermakers have become so used to playing without him, is that a bad thing? Well, not at all, since Big Ten POY JaJuan Johnson and fellow all-conference first-teamer E'Twaun Moore are seniors are on their way out. These trying times have shown that Matt Painter should be regarded as one of the best coaches around, and his peers agreed after giving him the conference's top coaching honor for a second straight year.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Another licking of rival Michigan State in the quarters, a gritty win over Wisconsin in the semis, and a confidence-boosting knock-off of Ohio State in the finals force the bracketology gods to seriously consider placing the Boilermakers on the top line before awarding Purdue a cushy 2-seed. Johnson plays sensationally in his final games in his hometown.
3) Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5)
Got a nickname suggestion for Jordan Taylor: "The Only Child." Not because he's small in stature or significance - dude's a stud. But UW fans are at the point of crying injustice for any possible Taylor-related snub - you know, the same way parents scream and rant anytime their child is downgraded. Jordan wasn't a Cousy finalist??? Taylor isn't National Player of the Month??? Jordan didn't get unanimous first-team all-Big Ten votes??? Taylor isn't a lottery pick lock??? Badgers fans, heed this advice: keep Jordan as your own little secret. For now. And if and when Mr. Taylor busts out a 24-8-7 average through the first four rounds, enjoy the silent satisfaction of knowing you got to enjoy him to yourselves before 56 different networks, magazines and web sites run in-depth profiles on the guy.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Wisconsin grits through a tougher-than-expected late-night challenge from Penn State, before settling in and dismissing Purdue and Ohio State behind big-time performances from Taylor and Jon Leuer. Taylor becomes top Naismith contender. Taylor cures cancer and achieves world peace. Badgers jump to a 3 seed.
4) Michigan (19-12, 9-9)
In what bizarro world does Michigan suffer through puzzling mediocrity with Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims around, then somehow mold into a decent Big Ten contender? John Beilein, took you long enough, but the Wolverines finally seem to have things going. Darius Morris looks like a keeper, when he's not bricking 3s, and Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to be a stud.
Best-case scenario in Indy: The Wolverines put Illinois out of its misery, shock Ohio State behind the student section's rowdy and insistent "Where is Tres-sel?" chants, and cap a respectable showing with a decent loss to the Purdue-Wisconsin winner. Wolverines pick up a 7 seed, making its prospective 2-seed opponent get a little nervous.
5) Illinois (19-12, 9-9)
When is the Demetri McCamey-Bruce Weber soap opera DVD hitting stores near you? One must suspect even Weber will be happy to see McCamey move on from the Illini. Illinois has not won consecutive games since the first week of January, when they beat visiting Wisconsin, which never wins on the road, and Northwestern, which never wins on the road. Oh, and starting that 3-game streak, it was Iowa, which never wins. Since that stretch, Illinois is 6-9, and 0-6 following victories. Bad news: the Illini won its last game, against Indiana.
Best-case scenario in Indy: The Illini get their act together against Michigan before a close loss to Ohio State sells the bracket-makers on gifting UI a 7-seed. You know, to avoid a second-round blowout against a Duke or Kansas.
6) Penn State (16-13, 9-9)
Finally, the year that Talor Battle's fantastic play paid off in the form of some team success. A record barely teetering over the .500 mark is hardly reason to celebrate for most teams, but that's progress for the Nittany Lions. State College is where top 20 teams went to perish - Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin couldn't handle DeChellis and crew on PSU's home court.
Best-case scenario in Indy: An easy first-round coaster over Indiana and a repeat triumph over Wisconsin ekes the Lions into the NCAA draw. An unlikely proposal, but never count out Battle.
7) Michigan State (17-13, 9-9)
Things in East Lansing are so bad, Byron Scott is calling Tom Izzo to offer his sympathies. It's hard to believe that Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green could let this happen, but Sparty is hanging by a thread to avoid becoming last year's UNC: an NIT-bound power that's above the NIT.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Izzo's esteemed reputation of having his teams ready for March continues. The Spartans tear through the field and take the decision out of the NCAA's hands by winning the whole darn Big Ten Tournament.
8) Northwestern (17-12, 7-11)
Most college basketball fans have to feel for Northwestern at this point. Enough talent to scrape together one freaking NCAA bid, and yet the Wildcats again appear on the outside looking in. Don't pity NU students too much. They'll tell you that you'll be working for them someday.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Surviving the opener against Minnesota ... and then exiting the Ohio State game in good health. Don't want to waste any brain cells or otherwise intelligence trying to beat a clearly superior ball squad. Talk about David against Goliath in Round 2 if the Wildcats to get past...
9) Minnesota (17-13, 6-12)
If Michigan State is a train wreck this year, Minnesota is the entire wrath of destruction. Believe it or not, the Golden Gophers played and beat North Carolina - ranked eighth at the time - this season. They did! Look it up. They also beat West Virginia and Purdue. Yes, yes they did! Not making any of this up. Another cold, hard fact: Minnesota has lost 9 of 10 since Al Nolan hit the sidelines. Not easy to do when teams like Indiana, Northwestern and downtrodden Michigan State dot the schedule.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Wisconsin loses its first game. Seems like that's the only hope for Minnesota fans these days in any sport: root against the Badgers.
10) Iowa (11-19, 4-14)
That Purdue win came out of absolutely nowhere. Iowa has a few small reasons to believe in Fran McCaffery turning this ship in the right direction, but 2010-11 results are not one of them. Melsahn Basabe could be a really good player in a few years, but the Hawkeyes are nothing but doormats right now.
Best-case scenario in Indy: The Hawkeyes find a completely disinterested MSU team on the other bench, handing Iowa the chance to say it finished off Michigan State. Then a rematch with the Boilermakers, with the Hawkeyes riding confidence to a tie game in the final eight minutes before Purdue pulls away and Iowa fans feel better about the McCaffery era going forward.
11) Indiana (12-19, 3-15)
Rich Rodriguez coached Michigan football for three years, compiling a 15-22 record. That's 41 percent success. Tom Crean has been at the helm of Indiana University basketball three years. He has a 28-65 record. That's 30 percent success. Granted, Rodriguez arrived with a program in better shape than Crean. But it's shocking that IU is showing this much patience in Crean.
Best-case scenario in Indy: Ummmm ... the Hoosiers catch a fun piano bar?
Laying it out to play it out
Northwestern vs. Minnesota, 1:30 p.m. (all times CST), ESPN2: Northwestern knows time is running out for one last shot at the Dance. Brenner picks: Wildcats
Michigan State vs. Iowa, approx. 4 p.m., ESPN2: Don't be surprised if MSU completely throws in the towel, but the Hawkeyes simply don't match up talent-wise. Brenner picks: Spartans
Penn State vs. Indiana, 6:30 p.m., BTN: Shouldn't be a close one. Everybody gets an early start on the Indy night scene Thursday. Brenner picks: Nittany Lions
Ohio State vs. Northwestern, 11 a.m., ESPN: David vs. Goliath. And when Goliath's David (Lighty) is that team's third or fourth best player, you know OSU's got a right to feel like it shouldn't lose again until Houston, if even then. Brenner picks: Buckeyes
Michigan vs. Illinois, approx. 1:30 p.m., ESPN: The confident overachiever against the enigmatic underachiever. Sounds like a recipe for a great game, but go with experience. Brenner picks: Illinois
Purdue vs. Michigan State, 5:30 p.m., BTN: Throw out the records with these two rivals, but don't throw out the Boilermakers' ability to play big against hated opponents. Brenner picks: Boilermakers
Wisconsin vs. Penn State, approx. 8 p.m., BTN: My pick for best pre-semifinal game of the tournament. Definitely can see the Nittany Lions hanging with UW, before Taylor and Leuer make just a few more big plays than Battle. Brenner picks: Badgers
Saturday's semifinals (all on CBS)
Ohio State vs. Illinois, 12:40 p.m.: If the Fighting Illini put all their pieces in the right place, they can certainly be a dangerous team. And if they want to position themselves favorably for the NCAAs, reeling in Ohio State would be a huge statement. Look for a momentary lack of focus from the Buckeyes. Upset special! Brenner picks: Fighting Illini
Purdue vs. Wisconsin, approx. 3:15 p.m.: The game everyone wants to see on that bottom half of the bracket, turns into a good old-fashioned defensive grudge match. Just as it was Leuer and Taylor making a few more plays in the Badgers' opener, go with Johnson and Moore with a dash of Jackson to do the same to UW. Brenner picks: Boilermakers
Illinois vs. Purdue, 2:30 p.m., CBS: Not that Conseco Fieldhouse counts as a home game for Purdue, but the Boilermakers have not lost in the state of Indiana this season. If we see this matchup, expect a raucous crowd with two close-proximity finalists. Purdue should be able to make some corrections after the Iowa loss and solidify itself as a top contender come the latter half of March. Brenner picks: Boilermakers