The Big Ten has been one of the strongest conferences in the country this college basketball season, but it hasn’t been easy for the conference’s elite teams.
Between Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State, the Big Ten has cannibalized itself in the regular season, constantly pitting top-25 squads against one another with the loser taking a hit in the standings.
Four teams are currently tied for second place with an 11-5 conference mark. Of those teams, only one (Wisconsin) has lost more than seven games all season.
The Big Ten should send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament, though there’s a legitimate possibility of a seventh and eighth sneaking in. That’s where the Big Ten Tournament comes in.
Conference tournaments are opportunities for teams to make a push at the end of the year in an attempt to secure better positioning for the Big Dance. A few wins prior to the NCAA Tournament can go a long way toward earning a bid—or a higher seed in the case of the Big Ten’s top teams.
Let’s take a look at the Big Ten teams primed for a deep run in the conference tournament and a shot at a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers have been enigmatic at times this season. They have looked like the best team in the country for stretches, but have stumbled against some lesser competition. The Big Ten Tournament will be a big test.
Indiana will have a first-round bye in the tournament, meaning it will have one less game to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee. It may not make much of a difference, though, as the Hoosiers are primed for a championship run in the conference bracket.
With the second-highest scoring average in the nation (81.9 points) and a defense that routinely holds opponents to under 60 points, as long as the Hoosiers can get hot early, there’s no reason to believe any team in the conference will present much of a challenge short of the conference final.
Indiana’s biggest strength this year has been its ability to play well in both the transition game and in the half court. There isn’t a team in the conference that matches up well with the Hoosiers.
Four losses in their last eight games are troubling, and a regular season finale against Indiana won’t be an easy matchup. Still, if the Wolverines can somehow pull out a tough victory at home on March 10, they will have a lot of momentum heading into the conference tournament.
The final week of the season will determine where the Big Ten’s top teams are seeded, but it looks like Michigan has the best chance of eluding the fifth seed and earning a first-round bye.
The No. 7 Wolverines have one of the best backcourts in the nation, and of all the teams in the conference, they match up best against Indiana. With a first-round bye and a potentially easy matchup in the second round, there will be very little stopping Michigan from a deep run and a shot at the title against Indiana.
If Wisconsin can avoid the fourth or fifth seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, the path to the championship game will be much, much easier.
Neither of the final top-five seed are enviable positions, as those two teams will likely square off in the second round of play. If Wisconsin ends up facing Ohio State or Michigan in the second, all bets are off. The Badgers need to win out and hope to earn the third spot in the tournament.
With the No. 3 seed, Wisconsin would earn a first-round bye and a potential matchup with either the No. 6 or No. 11 seed in the second round. There is a big gap between third and fourth.
As important as seeding is, there’s always the possibility of Wisconsin catching fire and rolling through the tournament regardless of positioning.
The Badgers are one of the most balanced teams in the conference this year. They rebound well, play good defense and rarely fail to show up against good competition (see Michigan and Indiana). While still closer to good than great, Wisconsin isn’t a team I would sleep on in the conference tournament.