The nation's top basketball conference should provide college basketball fans with a terrific tournament. It will be a solid warm-up event for the NCAA tournament, which will feature Selection Sunday on the same day as the Big Ten championship game.
Although most of the conference's top teams have already locked up spots in the Big Dance, the tourney still holds plenty of importance. In a tangible sense, teams need to solidify their seeding. Then there are the intangibles of confidence and momentum that come from a strong showing.
The top four teams from the regular season get a bye to the quarterfinals. The other eight squads begin play on Thursday and will need four wins to claim the conference's postseason crown, which will be a tough task given the amount of depth.
Here's all the key information for the Big Ten tournament, followed by a complete schedule and a look at the top contenders.
Where: United Center in Chicago
When: Thursday, March 14 – Sunday, March 17
Watch: Big Ten Network, ESPN, ESPN2 and CBS
|1||Minnesota vs. Illinois||Thursday||12 p.m.||BTN|
|2||Penn State vs. Michigan||Thursday||2:30 p.m.||BTN|
|3||Nebraska vs. Purdue||Thursday||6:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|4||Northwestern vs. Iowa||Thursday||9 p.m.||ESPN2|
|5||Game 1 Winner vs. Indiana||Friday||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|6||Game 2 Winner vs. Wisconsin||Friday||2:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|7||Game 3 Winner vs. Ohio State||Friday||6:30 p.m.||BTN|
|8||Game 4 Winner vs. Michigan State||Friday||9 p.m.||BTN|
|9||Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner||Saturday||1:40 p.m.||CBS|
|10||Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner||Saturday||4 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Championship Game||Sunday||3:30 p.m.||CBS|
Indiana didn't finish the regular season in particularly impressive fashion, with two losses over its final four games. The Hoosiers did knock off Michigan on the road in their finale. They also dropped just one game against teams outside the top 50.
It all starts with Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, who are a major reason why Indiana features one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Zeller is averaging 17 points while shooting 57 percent from the field, and Oladipo checks in at 14 points and 61 percent.
Having two reliable scorers that provide great across-the-board production gives them the needed star power and the depth that sets the Hoosiers apart. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls lead an extremely strong group of secondary producers, making Indiana the Big Ten tourney favorite.
Ohio State enters the tournament on quite a roll. The Buckeyes won five straight to close out the regular season, including marquee victories over Michigan State and Indiana. The run helped them lock up a bye in the opening round.
Deshaun Thomas has led the way. He tallied a double-digit point total in all 30 games during the regular season, posting a crucial run of consistency given Ohio State's lack of scoring depth. Only two other players average more than eight points on the team.
Then there's Aaron Craft, the do-it-all guard who excels on the defensive end. His ability to slow down the opponent's top perimeter scoring threat is vital. If the Buckeyes can get a big tournament from one other player, they should at least reach the final.
Missing out on a bye is a big deal for Michigan. Not only does it mean the Wolverines must win an extra game, but it sets up a first-round matchup with Penn State. They went 1-1 against the Nittany Lions in the regular season, with the win coming by just eight points.
That said, they are still a top contender based on talent. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. give the Wolverines a potentially unstoppable scoring duo, which could be enough to carry them to the title if they are both clicking on all cylinders.
The other key player will be Glenn Robinson III. The freshman forward must take some pressure off Burke and Hardaway on the offensive end and clear the glass on the defensive end. It's a lot for a first-year player to take on, but he's handled it well all season, making Michigan a threat.