Badger Nation's Big Ten Tournament Preview

With the Big Ten Conference kicking off its 12th Big Ten tournament Thursday through Sunday in Indianapolis, Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull breaks down the field and how each team measures up against the rest of the country.

The top eight teams in the conference posting at least 18 wins; the conference ranked second in the RPI; 51 conference games decided by 10 points or fewer and 28 conference games decided by five points or fewer.

11 teams. Four days. One survivor.

The 2009 edition of the Big Ten Conference Tournament promises to have its fair share of intense battles and excitement, as the teams of the conference have never been more competitive.

While Michigan State looks to follow in the Badgers footsteps and register a clean sweep of the conference titles, teams like Purdue and Illinois will look to validate its season with some conference hardware while Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan look to seal up its at large bids.

Here now is an in-depth look at all 11 teams portfolios and the post season outlook each team holds heading to Indianapolis.

Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS) ranked out of 343 teams and updated through Wednesday morning

No.1 Michigan State (25-5, 15-3)

RPI: 6

SS: 6

vs. Top 25: 4-1 (Oklahoma State (N), Kansas (H), Illinois (H) (A))

vs. Top 100: 15-5

Postseason Projection: NCAA Two Seed

One year after the Spartans forgot how to win on the road (going 3-6 in the 07-08 conference season), Michigan State went 8-1 away from the Breslin Center, a big reason MSU won its first conference title since sharing it with the Illini in 2001.

The Spartans looked solid in the non-conference season, winning a neutral site game against Texas and a home game over Kansas, but looked particularly bad against North Carolina in Ford Field, site of this year's Final Four. MSU seems like a long shot to get a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, even if the Spartans win the BTT title. As we found out with Wisconsin last season, a solid non-conference record and two conference titles only gets you a three seed.

If MSU gets to the BTT finals, the Spartans will benefit from more quality wins than Wisconsin had a year ago and will win in a conference that was more competitive than it was a year ago, which equals a two seed.

No.2 Illinois (23-8, 11-7)

RPI: 20

SS: 26

vs. Top 25: 1-3 (N)

vs. Top 100: 11-8

Postseason Projection: NCAA Five Seed

On year after setting a program record for most losses in a season, Bruce Weber has led a comeback. Registering his sixth 20-win season at Illinois, Weber was able to do it by playing a so-so non-conference schedule that instilled winning his players. The result was Illinois winning 13 out its first 14 games and pulling off the first of many conference upsets by winning in overtime at Purdue.

Illinois' losses are a mixed bag, as the Fighting Illini have let some games slip away, including losing their last two games at home against the Spartans and blowing a 10-point lead at Penn State, and looked awful in others, including scoring only 33 points at home against the Nittany Lions.

Illinois is a tough matchup with four players averaging over 10 points a game. Beyond that, however, there isn't a lot of substance, as the bench has been a weak point in some games this season. The Illini are going dancing, but a win or two or three in the BTT would help tenfold with their seed.

No.3 Purdue (22-9, 11-7)

RPI: 32

SS: 35

vs. Top 25: 1-5 (Michigan State (H))

vs. Top 100: 10-9

Postseason Projection: NCAA Five Seed

Oh what could have been for the Boilermakers? Picked as the preseason favorite to win the conference crown, Purdue was its own worst enemy, as the Boilermakers were stricken with injuries, including a back injury to conference preseason player of the year Robbie Hummel, who missed five games because of the injury and has struggled in conference play.

Even without Hummel, the Boilers have done all right for themselves, as junior guard Chris Kramer has provided the hard-nosed defense and sophomore JuJuan Johnson is much improved on the offensive side of the spectrum.

Purdue never got on the right track in the conference, especially after losing its first two games at home to Illinois and at Penn State. The Boilers did themselves no favors at the end of the conference run either, losing three of their final four games and skated by on more than their fair share of games.

Purdue is a lock for the NCAA Tournament, probably in the five seed if they win their BTT opener and a six if they lose, but more than likely won't be dancing for long.

No.4 Wisconsin (19-11, 10-8 Big Ten)

RPI: 38

SS: 11

vs. Top 25: 1-3 (Illinois (H))

vs. Top 100: 9-10

Postseason Projection: NCAA Seven Seed

One year removed from showing that losing the experience of Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker didn't matter, Wisconsin did show that losing one of the best defenders and one of the best big men in school history did matter, as UW failed to win 20 regular season games for only the third time under Bo Ryan.

Wisconsin failed to register a signature non-conference win, something Ryan's teams usually are a shoe in to do. UW has certainly had its chance this season to copy last year's results, but losing eight times in games where they've had the lead in the second half screams lack of leadership.

Even so, Wisconsin has won at least 19 games in each of Ryan's first seven seasons (UW had just four 19-win seasons in the previous 103 years). The 2-9 record against the top 41 isn't impressive, but the Badgers have swept bubble rivals Michigan and Penn State and have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games.

Wisconsin should be fine for the tournament, but besting Ohio State in the BTT quarterfinals should certainly punch its ticket.

No.5 Ohio State (20-9, 10-7)

RPI: 36

SS: 31

vs. Top 25: 1-4 (Butler (H))

vs. Top 100: 9-9

Postseason Projection: NCAA 10 Seed

The Buckeyes certainly haven't made things easy on themselves down the stretch. Losers of four of its last seven, things could have been much worse has the Buckeyes not sneaked by Iowa and Northwestern in the final week of the season, winning both games by a combined seven points.

Evan Turner is the straw that stirs the drink for OSU, as he leads the team in points (16.8), rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.9) per contest. Actually, the drink is more like a Shirley Temple, as the Buckeyes have no seniors on their roster and depend heavily on production from their sophomores (Jon Diebler) and freshmen (B.J. Mullens).

This team really misses junior David Lighty, who could be back this season, but is still week to week with the broken bone in his left foot that has kept him out of the lineup since December 20.

Still, 20 wins is 20 wins in the Big Ten, so the Buckeyes should be in, but their .500 conference finish and probable BTT lost to Wisconsin will make OSU sweat on Sunday.

No.6 Penn State (21-10, 10-8)

RPI: 63

SS: 82

vs. Top 25: 3-1 (Michigan State (A), Illinois (H) (A))

vs. Top 100: 8-9

Postseason Projection: NCAA 11 Seed

Ed DeChellis received my vote for Coach of the Year and deservingly so. The Lions were my dark horse this season in my preseason conference picks and made me look good after registering road wins over the Fighting Illini and Spartans.

PSU has one of the best two guards in the conference with sophomore Talor Battle (the conference leader in scoring at 17.3 ppg) and senior Stanley Pringle (12.9 ppg) and find themselves amidst the bubble discussion.

Still, there are plenty of things going against the Nittany Lions. There non-conference schedule was ranked 314th nationally (Come on Ed!) and Penn State squandered its only two chances to win a good non-conference game, losing by five in a neutral site game at Rhode Island and at home to Temple.

Penn State lost a big chance to clinch the number two seed in the conference tournament and finish with 11 league wins after losing in double-overtime to Iowa in the finale, not the greatest impression to leave on the committee. Penn State must win against Indiana in the opener and give Purdue a good showing. Those two things should make the Nittany Lions dancing.

No.7 Michigan (18-12, 9-9)

RPI: 42

SS: 10

vs. Top 25: 2-4 (Duke (H), Illinois (H))

vs. Top 100: 10-11

Postseason Projection: NCAA 10 Seed

There's a reason the conference's RPI is so high and that's because of Michigan. The Wolverines certainly tested themselves this season, playing 21 games against the top 100 (more than any other conference team) and registered some of the best top-end wins for the conference, beating Duke and UCLA on a neutral court and barely losing to No.1 Connecticut on the road.

The Wolverines were swept by Wisconsin and Ohio State and are 2-8 in road games, including a couple of stinkers at Iowa and Penn State. However, Michigan's biggest victory came on the road last Saturday, beating Minnesota in the barn and putting a damper on the Gophers at large hopes.

Michigan's Manny Harris has been solid all season for the Wolverines, averaging 17.1 points, and DeShawn Sims has been a solid No.2 man, chipping in 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Michigan won four of its last six games and, if they can get by an improved Iowa team, should be dancing for the first time since 1998 (the second longest drought in the conference).

No.8 Minnesota (21-9, 9-9 Big Ten)

RPI: 41

SS: 40

vs. Top 25: 2-3 (Louisville (N), Illinois (H))

vs. Top 100: 8-9

Postseason Projection: NIT

The Gophers and Tubby Smith were the toast of Minneapolis after winning their first 12 games of the season, including a neutral court win over Louisville in Arizona. After dropping the conference opener at home to the Spartans, Minnesota continued its winning ways, winning its next four conference games, including stealing an overtime win at Wisconsin.

The Gophers win this year with balance, as Minnesota goes deep into its bench and has eight players averaging five points or more. The lack of a dominant scorer also has gotten Minnesota into trouble down the stretch.

The Gophers have lost six of their past nine games with the only impressive win during that stretch being a home win over Wisconsin. Minnesota should be kicking themselves, as they blew a 12-point lead in the final 13 minutes to lose to fellow bubble team Michigan, a loss that quite possibly could destroy U-M's NCAA hopes.

Minnesota is (5-6) against the RPI top-50 and (8-8) against the top 100, solid resume numbers, but a .500 conference record and poor record down the stretch doesn't reflect well on the selection committee. After Minnesota loses the conference opener to Northwestern, it looks like another NIT trip, a shock considering where U-M started.

No.9 Northwestern (17-12, 8-10)

RPI: 70

SS: 46

vs. Top 25: 2-3 (Florida State (H), Michigan State (A))

vs. Top 100: 6-10

Postseason Projection: NIT

Entering the season, the Wildcats hadn't beaten a ranked team since 2006. This year, the Wildcats knocked off three of them – No.18 Minnesota and No.19 Purdue at home and winning at No.7 Michigan State, snapping MSU's 28-game home winning streak.

Northwestern has had one of the best seasons in the program's history. One could only guess where the Wildcats would be had they not blown big leads at home against Illinois and Purdue, got swept by Michigan, lost at Iowa and narrowly lost at Butler.

Northwestern would have had a legitimate chance at the NCAAs if they could have pulled out a victory at Columbus in the finale. That would have given NU a .500 conference record, a 5-1 end to the regular season and a boost to the RPI. It looks like the Wildcats will have to win three or four in the BTT to make the dance. It probably won't happen, but what a great season down in Evanston.

No.10 Iowa (15-16, 5-13)

RPI: 112

SS: 50

vs. Top 25: 0-3

vs. Top 100: 6-14

Postseason Projection: None

Not much to write home about for the Hawkeyes this year, who struggled during the conference season without freshman guard Anthony Tucker (ineligible the second semester because of academics and missing 13 games) and senior Cyrus Tate (who missed nine games because of a high-ankle sprain).

Iowa has played better down the stretch, beating Penn State at home in double overtime in its home finale and narrowly took down the Buckeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Sophomore Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson along with freshman Matt Gatens are going to be key ingredients for the Hawkeyes in the coming years, but Iowa went 2-12 in road and neutral court games and were responsible for Indiana's only conference win.

It looks to be a quick stay in Indianapolis for Iowa.

No.11 Indiana (6-24, 1-17)

RPI: 210

SS: 5

vs. Top 25: 0-4

vs. Top 100: 0-21

Postseason Projection: None

There isn't much to say about the Hoosiers except that their nightmare season is about to come to a close. Playing the toughest schedule in the conference, Indiana has been competitive in spots (first half against Wisconsin, against Michigan State) but never really turned in a complete performance, losing by 10 points or less eight times during the conference slate (including in two of the last three games).

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but with a solid freshman class coming in next season and Tom Crean's young starting lineup getting plenty of experience, the Hoosiers should start to see an improvement.

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