The Big Ten Men's Basketball tournament is set to begin March 8th, where as many as seven teams from the conference look to get into the big dance. Five of those teams are ranked in the top 25, while Northwestern and Purdue look for strong showings to squeeze their way in.
This year has given us the resurgence of Indiana and Michigan as legitimate contenders in the Big Ten, while Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin have continued their consistent program efforts over the past few seasons.
The tournament should boast some of the most exciting NBA talent of any major conference, and also give us some insight to the seeding we will see when the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced on Sunday. Here's some of those exciting players, and what to look for in their tournament games.
G Trey Burke, Michigan
The freshman standout, along with fellow newcomer Tim Hardaway, Jr., has led the resurgence of the Wolverines' program. Averging 14.6 points and playing close to 36 minutes per contest, Burke has fully and admirably replaced Darius Morris—who is now in a Los Angeles Laker uniform.
After leading Michigan to a share of their first Big Ten title since 1986, he will continue to log heavy minutes and have to carry his team from the three-point line if they want to continue their success in this tournament and on into March Madness.
F Draymond Green, Michigan State
The Big Ten player of the year and four-year standout for coach Tom Izzo is key to the Spartans' chances of making a Final Four appearance. He is also a borderline NBA prospect, and scouts will likely use this tournament to make additional notes on his ability to turn pro.
Averaging 16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, Green is the epitome of a stat-stuffer and team player. He is also one of only three Michigan players to accumulate 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a Spartan career.
C Cody Zeller, Indiana
Zeller split Big Ten freshman of the year honors with Burke, after the coaches voted Zeller while the media selected Burke. Averaging over 15 points per contest during his rookie campaign, he solidified himself as a quality prospect and the leader of a surging Indiana squad.
He even drew comparisons to his brother Tyler, of North Carolina, with some even suggesting he has a higher upside than his older sibling. If Indiana wants to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State to compete for the automatic bid, Zeller will have to play a big role.
F Robbie Hummel, Purdue
Hummel was at one time a top NBA prospect. Consecutive seasons of bad-luck knee injuries have left him significantly less attractive to NBA scouts than he once was, but he is still the best player the Boilermakers have.
Averaging 16.8 points and 7.0 rebounds, Hummel is proving he still has what it takes to lead a tournament team, even with repaired knees and a lesser supporting cast.
It would be a fitting story to watch Hummel make a deep run in this tournament, and in March. Purdue is on the cusp of getting into the tournament, and Hummel will be at the center of that movement. My money is on a series of big games for the fifth-year senior, whose last shot at glory should motivate him to be one of the best players in the Big Ten.
F Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Sullinger has been remarkably consistent over the course of his two-year stint at Ohio State. He's as Al Jefferson-esque as there is in college basketball right now, and if he decides to make the jump to the NBA, he will undoubtedly be a lottery pick.
The Buckeyes still have an outside shot at getting a No. 1 overall seed, so Sullinger, Aaron Craft, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas will have to bring their "A" game to win the tournament. Sullinger alone makes Ohio State a different team, and his presence should either push them over the top, or be a reason why they take an early exit.
G Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
The first-team all Big Ten selection has had two consecutive above average seasons for the Badgers. Playing at a remarkably slow pace compared to the rest of the country, he runs the tempo and limits turnovers in a possession-controlled offense.
While his numbers are down across the board, he is still the unquestioned leader and heart and soul of this Wisconsin squad. Taylor lost a playmaker in Jon Leuer to the NBA after last season, so he has had to carry more weight on offense.
He's as exciting a player in late-game situations as they come, and there won't be many that bet against him with the game on the line and the ball in his hands.
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