Could a loaded Big Ten Tournament produce a dark horse champ?
March Madness is just getting started as the college basketball season shifts to the conference tournaments. Titles will be won, NCAA Tournament spots will be clinched or lost all over the country. Here’s what to watch in the Big Ten.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Final: Sunday in Chicago (CBS)
First-round games (All Thursday):
No. 8 Illinois vs. No. 9 Minnesota
No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 12 Penn State
No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Nebraska
No. 6 Iowa vs. No. 11 Northwestern
Byes to the quarterfinals
No. 1. Indiana
No. 2 Ohio State
No. 3 Michigan State
No. 4 Wisconsin
Full Bracket: (.pdf)
Other conference tournament previews:
ACC | Atlantic 10 | Big 12 | Big East | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC
THE FAVORITE: Indiana
The Hoosiers captured the outright Big Ten title in thrilling fashion, rallying to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor on the final day of the regular season. Indiana spent most of the season as the most efficient offensive team in the country. The Hoosiers still lead the nation with 1.15 points per possession, but they’ve struggled late in the season. Indiana shot less than 40 percent against Iowa and Ohio State and needed time to wake up in a 72-71 win over Michigan. The Hoosiers are averaging less than a point per possession in the last three games.
DARK HORSE: Illinois
Illinois is capable of making a surprising run to the Big Ten title if it shoots the ball well from the perimeter. Illinois won the Maui Invitational to start the season, defeating Butler in the final after cruising past USC and Chaminade. Tournament time worked well for first-year Illini coach John Groce, who won two MAC Tourneys in four years at Ohio.
ATHLON’S PICK: Michigan State
There are so many good teams in this league. All things being equal, you can never go wrong picking a Tom Izzo-coached team to win in March. The Big Ten could have a Final-Four caliber field, and a neutral court could be a great equalizer among the league's top five. If Keith Appling is playing at a high level, Michigan State will win plenty of postseason games.
Related: Top Buzzer Beaters for 2012-13 (so far)
NCAA TOURNAMENT LOCKS:
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin
The Gophers faded down the stretch after defeating Indiana on Feb. 26. Minnesota lost at Nebraska and at Purdue to fall to the ninth seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That may end up being a blessing. By drawing No. 8 seed Illinois, Minnesota won’t have a bad loss to diminish their Tournament hopes. With a top-25 RPI, Minnesota would have one of the highest ratings to be left out of the NCAA Tournament, but how much would you trust a team that lost three in a row before the Tourney? That is, if Minnesota loses to Illinois. The Gophers split the season series against Illinois and potential second-round opponent Indiana this season.
With a strength of schedule ranked outside of the top 100 and an RPI outside of the top 75, Iowa doesn’t have an NCAA resume despite being the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten. Defeating Michigan State in the quarters and Ohio State in the semis might set up a compelling case for the Hawkeyes.