BIG TEN CONFERENCE
Madison Square Garden, New York
Feb. 28 – March 4
Record: 28-3, 16-2
The Spartans are the favorite to win and for good reason. They have size, depth and top guard play, which are all keys to advancing in Tournaments. The problem could come in the semis if Michigan can meet them because the Wolverines already won in East LAnsing this season and are playing great. But as it stands, Cassius Winston is on an elite level, Jaren Jackson is a force on both ends, and guys like Miles Bridges and Nick Ward have almost been afterthoughts in recent Games. There are still plenty of reasons to go against this team, mainly that it didn’t beat any of the top five Big Ten teams on the road and struggled to put away everyone else. The talent is there, but MSU still isn’t a guarantee to beat a squad like Michigan or Ohio State just yet.
Record: 24-7, 15-3
The Buckeyes unquestionably have had the most impressive season in the Big Ten after projected to finish near the bottom of the standings. The bad news is that they could be set to face Penn State for a third time, a team that has already beaten them twice. That already makes the Bucks a tough pick even if they have a slight edge on Purdue after winning on the road against them. Keita Bates-Diop may be the conference’s Player of the Year and that’s why they’re an intriguing pick for this Tournament. However, a lack of depth could be problematic with zero easy Games in a three-day span.
Record: 26-5, 15-3
After a hot start, the Boilers have lost some luster and come in with a few questions. The best thing is that they looked back to normal in the finale against Minnesota as Vincent Edwards returned and played 25 minutes. With a full roster, this team will be hard to stop even after losing three straight a couple weeks ago. Carsen Edwards just dropped 40 points, while no one in the Conference can stop Isaac Haas. The problem for the Boilermakers is that they couldn’t close out Games against tougher competition (MSU, OSU). That’s their only issue going into the Tourney and it’s not a good one.
Record: 24-7, 13-5
Similar to last year when they won the Tourney, the Wolverines are cruising and have won five straight with the last two coming on the road against Penn State and Maryland. They lost by 20 to Nebraska earlier in the season, but that came on the road so it’s hard to see that happening again. However, it happened and Nebraska is playing for its NCAA Tournament life. If Michigan can win that one, it will have to turnaround to try and sweep in-state rival Michigan State. The road is long for the Wolverines (as a 5-seed) to win back-to-back Tournaments, but there’s no doubt they’re playing well as a team.
Record: 22-9, 13-5
To make the NCAA Tournament, the Cornhuskers probably have to beat Michigan and then Michigan State on back-to-back days. Simply put, the odds are against them. The Huskers haven’t been the same team on the road this season and there’s no reason that will change on a neutral cOurt out east. If you count the Illinois loss as a fluke, Nebraska’s only Conference losses came against MSU, Purdue, PSU and OSU on the road. If you’re bold, this could be the team to upset its way into the final. But while they have a solid roster, expecting them to get past the Spartans is definitely a stretch.
Record: 19-12, 9-9
The Nittany Lions were a trendy bubble team after sweeping Ohio State, but suddenly have fallen in their last three. While all of those were Tournament teams, it only showed that they can’t compete consistently with the best teams in the conference. To get to the semis, they have to beat the Buckeyes for a third time and then likely get Purdue. As a 7-seed, the grueling Four-day Schedule is not kind for Penn State, which is desperate to make a run.
OUtside of those top teams, it’s hard to see anyone else having a chance. The best teams in the Conference have frequently dominated the rest of the competition. The Wolverines could be a popular upset pick, but as a 5-seed they have to win Four Games in Four days, although they conveniently did that a year ago. The Spartans are the best team from head-to-toe, but betting on any of the other teams makes sense. Penn State has Ohio State’s number and Ohio State won at Purdue. Michigan State dominated Nebraska in its only meeting and Michigan won in East LAnsing. It’s anybody’s Tournament at this point.