Big Ten Basketball: Big Ten's Best Bets for a March Madness Title
The Big Ten has appeared to be the best conference in America so far this season.
In Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology, he has seven Big Ten teams making it to the tourney. I could even see a possible eight, but that depends if Illinois can stop the bleeding and Iowa can finally defeat someone from the top of the conference.
The big question is can a team from the Big Ten Conference win it all this year?
The last time a Big Ten team cut down the nets was in 2000 with Michigan State. But, is this the year that the Big Ten can do it again?
I believe it is because of the conference depth.
Here are my best bets for a March Madness title.
Michigan State Spartans
Although this doesn't look like head coach Tom Izzo's best team in recent years, you can never count out the Spartans in the tourney, as MSU has been in the Final Four two of the last four years.
Michigan State is starting to come into their mid-season form with winning their last five games. However, their next two games are against Wisconsin and Indiana on the road, which aren't easy places to win.
Two things need to happen if the Spartans are going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. One, no more fights between teammates, which USA Today reported a few days ago. Next, consistency on offense from guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris for the rest of the season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith has got a talented squad that could make it to the championship game.
The Golden Gophers are led by point guard Andre Hollins and forward Rodney Williams with 14 and 12 points per game, respectively.
But the X-factor this season has been Trevor Mbakwe and his ability to rebound the ball. Mbakwe averages 8.2 rebounds per game, which is tied for the best in the Big Ten.
Mbakwe and Williams have turned Minnesota into one of the nation's top offensive rebounding teams in the country, which leads to lots of second-chance points.
Rebounding well in the tournament will be crucial for Minnesota's success.
Big Ten teams around the conference know that you can never underestimate Wisconsin.
Head coach Bo Ryan does a great job of preparing his team for each and every game.
Although they are not the most talented squad, they play their slow style to their advantage.
That style helped them control the game against Indiana. The Hoosiers average over 80 points per game, but were only able to record 59 points in their home loss to the Badgers.
UW will need to bring their pace and low-scoring style to the tournament.
The only thing that concerns me is that the Badgers have not made it past the Elite Eight under Ryan.
Many tournament pickers had Indiana as their preseason favorites for winning it all.
They brought back pretty much everyone from last years Sweet 16 run and added some talented freshmen to the roster.
The Hoosiers looked good through their first 15 games, but haven't shown their full potential in the last three games.
The last three games have shown two major inconsistencies with this team. One, IU's lack of bench scoring in the Minnesota and Northwestern games. Second, the Hoosiers were not playing their fast run-and-gun style against Wisconsin.
Both of those will be crucial factors for this team and could effect their tourney run.
Michigan is the top team of the Big Ten Conference and probably the best team in the nation.
The Wolverines are stacked with talent from top to bottom.
Guard Trey Burke has been a great points producer and floor general for this squad through the first half of the year, and when guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is feeling it, then it's tough for any team to stop him because of his range.
The only thing that could play to Michigan's downfall in the NCAA tournament is their youth. They don't have many upperclassmen that consistently get a lot of minutes, which could hurt their chances of going deep in the tourney.
But the depth will certainly play to their advantage in cutting down the nets in April.