United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Record: 25-6, 16-4
The Spartans could be headed for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament if they catch a few breaks, but that’s only if they win this one. Given how deep the Big Ten is, nothing will be easy, even the first Game since Indiana already swept them. That said, it’s hard to see the Hoosiers winning all three meetings and they still have to beat OSU for that matchup to happen. MSU will be favored in the semis over Wisconsin or Maryland, but not by much and while it beat both of those teams, that was when Nick Ward was healthy. They’ve played well without Ward and Joshua LAngford, but injures will bite the Spartans at some point and that could be in this Tournament. It’s also a wonder how much they’ll put into this given the injuries they’ve gone through with the main goal being the Final Four. They’re favored, but Cassius Winston will likely see a minute reduction in this Tournament given the possibility of three Games in three days.
Record: 23-8, 16-4
The Boilermakers were the biggest surprise in the Big Ten, though some of that had to do with Schedule. Still, it’s impressive to share a piece of the title given the make up of the team outside of Carsen Edwards. They haven’t been an easy team to back in any road Game this season and it’s a wonder if it will be a problem on a neutral cOurt. Similar to MSU, Purdue’s first Game will come against a team that already beat them, Minnesota or Penn State. No matter which team it is, that first Game could be closer than some think. This team has defied odds all season so there’s no reason they can’t win the Tournament, but that’s a tall bet for a team that too often relies on Edwards to chuck up threes. Getting past that Michigan defense in the semis could also prove troublesome, though the only time those teams played was Dec. 1, a Wolverine blowout.
Record: 26-5, 15-5
The Wolverines are the 3-seed, but they get a better draw than Purdue with Illinois or Iowa the likely first opponent. The Hawkeyes are in a funk, while Illinois is Illinois. The question is if Charles Matthews will be back for any of these Games because their depth has come into question without him. If Matthews doesn’t play, it could be a long road to winning three Games in three days, but if he does, the path is fairly clear. They should get past their first opponent and if Zavier Simpson can keep Carsen Edwards in check, they’ll be in the Championship. They don’t want to see MSU a third time, but if it’s anyone else, Michigan’s elite defense will push it over the top even if the offense goes through a bad spell or two.
Record: 22-9, 14-6
The Badgers are a solid, no-nonsense team, but they’ve won just one of the last 10 Conference Tournaments even with some really good teams. since most Big Ten teams know how to deal with their style of play at this point in the season, it’s usually not easy to pull off a string of wins, especially with how close some of their Games have been this season. They split with Maryland and lost at home to Michigan State so that’s not a good sign, either. The Badgers can beat anyone in the conference, but they’ll also struggle to Scorein large spurts.
Record: 22-9, 13-7
The Terps are an intriguing team with its front cOurt talent, but they’ve lacked consistency and are another team that had issues on the road. If they get past Wisconsin, the hope is that MSU loses its first Game. Otherwise, MSU is one of the few teams in the Conference that can body up Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith on the boards. There’s a chance they get hot from deep and get an upset or two, but winning the Championship would be surprising for a team that hasn’t won more than two straight since mid-January.
A few teams are still fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, but that doesn’t mean they’ll coast through better teams. Iowa and Ohio State have hit late-season funks and may not win their first Games. Indiana is an intriguing team because it swept MSU, but both of those came somewhat luckily and it’s hard to see them making it a three-Game sweep. Minnesota and Penn State may be most reasonable to make a run because of their spot in the bracket, but getting past Purdue and Michigan on back-to-back days isn’t something either of them have shown they can do this season.
The Wolverines have won the last two Tournaments and have a pretty favorable road considering they are the 3-seed. If the Spartans want to win this Tournament, they have the ability, but as Tom Izzo said, he’d sit this Tournament out if he could, even if it was a joke. Still, the Big Ten Tourney has the makings of a third MSU-Michigan matchup in which anything could happen.