Big Ten Bracketology

A look at the postseason résumés for Big Ten teams heading into the league's tournament

After what was arguably one the toughest Big Ten seasons in the league's storied history, the 11 teams in the conference had only a short time to rest and prepare for what shapes up as a highly competitive Big Ten Tournament, held Thursday through Sunday in Indianapolis.

Seven Big Ten teams are in good position to receive NCAA Tournament bids when the field of 65 is announced Sunday evening. But even if they are not bubble teams, a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament can improve a team's seed for the Big Dance. And for teams like Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue, the conference tournament provides a last chance to make a run at the postseason.

Leading up to the Big Ten Tournament, here is a look at each team's résumé and their postseason outlook:

No. 1 seed Ohio State (23-4, 12-4 Big Ten)
Good wins RPI 1-25: LSU, Wisconsin, at Michigan, Illinois, at Michigan State, Michigan
Key losses: None
RPI: 4

The Buckeyes, not even picked to finish in the top three of the Big Ten in the preseason, cruised through the conference in claiming their first outright league title since 1992 — and only their second since 1971. The conference championship comes after OSU finished eighth, ninth and sixth in the last three conference years and was hindered by a lingering NCAA investigation involving personnel no longer with the program,

Led by Big Ten Coach of the Year Thad Matta, the Buckeyes have been on a roll since the end of February, winning nine out of their last 10 games, and finishing the regular season on a five-game winning streak. The primary reason for the Buckeyes' success over the course of the season is senior center Terence Dials. Recently named the Big Ten Player of the Year, Dials led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds, with 16.3 and 8.4 per conference game, respectively. In addition to Dials, senior Je'Kel Foster has been the silent thief all season long in the Big Ten, leading the league with 2.13 steals per game.

With no key losses and an unblemished non-conference schedule (11-0), coupled with the recent defeats suffered by Duke and Memphis, the Buckeyes could be looking at a No.1 seed if they can win the Big Ten Tournament title. Even if Ohio State stumbles in the tournament, the Buckeyes should earn a No. 2 seed with as tough as the Big Ten has been this season.

No. 2 Iowa (22-8, 11-5)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Key losses: None
RPI: 13

The Hawkeyes earned their highest seed ever in the conference tournament based on their ability to defend their home court. Iowa was the only team in the Big Ten this season to go undefeated (17-0) at home, beating Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State all at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, along with non-conference foe Kentucky.

The Hawkeyes are led by the formidable trio of seniors Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner and junior Adam Haluska. All three players finished in the conference's top 15 in scoring this past season. Brunner, who was a first-team All-Big Ten choice, led the conference in rebounding, pulling down 9.6 boards per game.

Despite its Big Ten success, Iowa is looking at a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament because of surprising non-conference losses at Northern Iowa and Iowa State in back-to-back games. However, senior leader Horton missed both of those games due to a leg injury. If Iowa remains healthy and makes a run deep into the Big Ten tournament, expect the Hawkeyes to be a lock as a No. 3 seed. They could even challenge for a No. 2

No. 3 Illinois (25-5, 11-5)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Wichita State, at North Carolina, Georgetown, Michigan State, Michigan, at Wisconsin, Iowa, at Michigan State
Key losses RPI 100-200: Penn State
RPI: 8

After losing three stars from last year's squad that finished runner-up in the NCAA Tournament, Illinois was supposed to have a down year in the Big Ten. With seniors Dee Brown and James Augustine leading the way, however, Illinois won its first 15 games to begin the season.

Brown, the 2005 Big Ten Player of the Year and '05-06 preseason player of the year, had another outstanding campaign. He continued to score (15.2 points per game) and led the Big Ten with 5.56 assists per game, along with Michigan State's Drew Neitzel.

Augustine also picked up where he left off last season, continuing to be a force on the boards, leading the Illini with 8.9 rebounds per game.

Finishing in a tie with Iowa for second in the conference, the Fighting Illini carry a strong résumé into the postseason, which includes three road victories against top 25 teams. No matter how the Illini fare in the Big Ten Tournament, they should earn a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, which many thought was improbable before the season began.

No. 4 Wisconsin (19-10, 9-7)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Marquette, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State
Key losses RPI 100-200: at Wake Forest, RPI 201+ North Dakota State
RPI: 17

One of the big surprises this past season in the Big Ten was Wisconsin's success. The Badgers lost five seniors from last year's team that went to the Elite Eight and many expected a middle-of-the-pack finish as a result. After opening the season 14-2, including four wins to begin the conference season, the Badgers looked poised to make a run at the conference championship. However, Wisconsin lost five of its next six games after freshman Marcus Landry and sophomore Greg Stiemsma were ruled academically ineligible.

Wisconsin bounced back to win three straight, but then lost three of its last four, finishing in a tie for fourth in the Big Ten.

The Badgers are led by the one-two punch of juniors Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. Tucker led the Big Ten in scoring (20.0 points per game), despite drawing constant double teams from opponents. Taylor has fit in nicely in his first season as a full-time starter and has developed a knack for clutch shooting, hitting a 3-pointer against Eastern Kentucky to send the game into double overtime and hitting a 3 at the buzzer to beat UNC Wilmington. He has played through some recent struggles, however, as teams have been paying him closer attention defensively.

Despite their rough stretch in late January and their shocking home loss to North Dakota State, the Badgers should earn a No. 7 or No. 6 seed because of their strong RPI and their difficult schedule. That could all change if the Badgers can win a couple games in the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin could feasibly earn a No. 5 seed if they make it to the championship game.

No. 5 Indiana (17-10, 9-7)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Ohio State, Illinois, at Michigan State
Key losses: at Indiana State, at Penn State
RPI: 30

Picked to finish third in the preseason, the Hoosiers have experienced a whirlwind season filled with distractions and injuries. After the Hoosiers lost seven of eight games in late January and into February, head coach Mike Davis resigned, effective at the end of the season. This concluded months of speculation and anger from Indiana fans demanding that Davis be fired from the Hoosier sidelines. Since Davis' announcement, however, the Hoosiers have been on a tear, winning their last four games and propelling themselves from NIT hopeful to NCAA lock.

The backbone for the Hoosiers has been Marco Killingworth, who has been Indiana's go-to guy since D.J. White went down with a foot injury. Killingworth currently leads Indiana in points (16.5), rebounding (7.9) and blocked shots going into the postseason.

During their recent winning streak, no game was more important for the Hoosiers than winning at Michigan, which gave them a key road victory their résumé was lacking. With two of Indiana's losses coming to the No.1 ranked team in the country at the time, Duke and Connecticut, the Hoosiers will be dancing come tournament time. A No. 8 or 9 seed seems likely.

No. 6 Michigan State (20-10, 8-8)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Wichita State, at Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin
Key losses: None
RPI: 16

Picked as they preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, Michigan State faced a daunting non-conference schedule, playing three top 10 teams in two weeks. Coupled with playing three of their first four Big Ten games on the road, the Spartans were put behind the proverbial ‘eight-ball' early in the season.

The success of Michigan State was coupled with the success of their ‘Big Three,' seniors Maurice Ager and Paul Davis and junior Shannon Brown. All three players have managed to rank in the top six in scoring in the Big Ten. What really has helped the Spartans this season is their shooting accuracy and their poise from the free-throw line. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in field goal (46.9 percent) and free throw percentage (78.1 percent).

The Spartans have struggled coming down the stretch, as they have lost five of seven games. The Spartans will still receive a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament by virtue of five wins over the top 25, and a strong RPI, but a loss against Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament would not be helpful.

No. 7 Michigan (18-9, 8-8)
Good wins RPI- 1-25: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois
Key losses RPI 101-200: at Purdue
RPI: 36

The Wolverines have had one of their best seasons under head coach Tommy Amaker, even though they have done it without much fanfare. The Wolverines have won the games they should have and are poised to reach the Big Dance.

This has not been the most celebrated team in the league, but it does possess one of the conference's most talented players in first team All-Big Ten guard Daniel Horton, who has been the main source of offense for the Wolverines. Averaging 19.8 points per game, Horton has had some career games this year, including a 39-point performance against Illinois.

Despite their 8-8 finish and struggles against the RPI Top 50 (3-8), the Wolverines succeeded against the 51-100 RPI teams, going a perfect 7-0. In order for Michigan to get a bid, they likely need to avoid a first-round loss in the Big Ten tourney. With a win over Minnesota, the Wolverines are looking at a No. 8 or No. 9 seed come selection Sunday.

No. 8 Penn State (14-13, 6-10)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Illinois
Key losses: none
RPI: 112

At a school not known for the basketball program, head coach Ed DeChellis has his team playing some inspired basketball over the Big Ten season, including a shocking road win in Champaign that gave Illinois its first home loss since Jan. 14, 2004.

Without question, the Nittany Lions' star is sophomore Geary Claxton. Claxton ranks in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and steals, the only Penn State player to do so in three major categories.

Despite their upset win against Illinois, Penn State's record, coupled with their weak RPI, show that the Nittany Lions only hope of making the NCAA tournament is earning the conference's automatic bid. However, if the Lions can win two games in Indianapolis, they can earn an NIT birth, which would mark their first postseason appearance since making it to the Sweet 16 in 2001.

No. 9 Northwestern (14-14, 6-10)
Good wins RPI 1-25: Wisconsin, Iowa
Key losses RPI 101-200: Penn State, at Penn State, Illinois-Chicago RPI: 85

Although they started off 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time this decade, the Wildcats' wheels fell off afterwards, losing six of seven conference games. The Wildcats could never recover, posting their 38th straight season failing to finish above .500 in conference play.

Senior Vedran Vukusic, who has been one of the lone bright spots for head coach Bill Carmody's team this past season, leads the Wildcats in points (18.3 per game). Senior Mohamed Hachad has tried to help take the load off of Vukusic, leading the team in rebounds (5.2) and steals (1.36) per game.

The Wildcats, much like the Nittany Lions, have the ability to make it to the NIT if they can win a couple of games in the Big Ten Tournament. Northwestern, though, has to get past Penn State, which beat them twice during the regular season.

No. 10 Minnesota (14-13, 5-11)
Good wins: Michigan State, Iowa
Key losses: Gardner-Webb, at Purdue
RPI: 83

The Big Ten season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers has been an odd one to say the least. Led by senior Vincent Grier (13.9 points per game), the Gophers lost their first six conference games before pummeling the Hoosiers at home in late January. Although the Gophers have been inconsistent this year, they have played teams tough, losing two games to Wisconsin by a combined eight points and losing a triple-overtime thriller at Iowa.

Minnesota is in a must-win situation in the Big Ten Tournament, as it will need to win the tournament and earn the automatic bid in order to reach the NCAAs. However, with Minnesota going 1-3 in the regular season against its first two opponents, Michigan and Iowa, a run to Sunday's title game appears unlikely.

No.11 Purdue (9-18, 3-13)
Good wins: Wisconsin
Key losses: at Evansville, at Loyola-Chicago, Penn State
RPI: 177

It has been a difficult season under first-year head coach Matt Painter, as the Boilermakers have only won three games in conference play. To make matters worse for Purdue, its best player, Carl Landry, suffered and knee injury and has missed the entire season.

Landry's absence has paved the way for senior Matt Kiefer to take control of the offense. Kiefer has experience a solid senior season for the Boilermakers, averaging more than 13 points and eight rebounds for Purdue in conference games this season.

Being the only conference team with a sub-.500 overall record this season, Purdue's hopes do not look promising for making the postseason. The Boilermakers face Michigan State in the first round and Illinois if they advance. Purdue has beaten Wisconsin this season, so it is capable of pulling an upset and playing spoiler in Indianapolis this weekend.

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