The Big Ten is widely regarded as the best conference in college basketball this season.
In college basketball, upsets have abounded this season, especially in the Big Ten, where it seems that each team has been on a roller coaster ride of wins and losses all season. With all the top teams in Chicago for the annual Big Ten tournament, the team that enters the event as the champion (Indiana) probably won't leave town with the honor in its sole possession.
So goes college basketball this season—and the Big Ten has been the most unpredictable conference of them all.
As Tom Oates notes on Twitter, Michigan's place in the conference seeding should be all you need to know about how tough this face off is really going to be in Chicago.
The sixth-ranked basketball team in the nation, Michigan, is the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Enough said.— Tom Oates (@TomOatesWSJ) March 11, 2013
Five teams currently sit in the Top 25 of the AP poll, headlined by conference leader Indiana and followed by NCAA Tournament high-seeds-to-be Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The Big Ten tournament bracket was released on Monday (via BigTen.org), and it looks like the matchups that will present themselves in the second-round and beyond could be the kind of games that lead to big surprises with regards to a tournament champ.
In the first round, the high-quality matchups include Illinois and Minnesota, the winner of which would face Indiana in the second round. Top-seeded Indiana already has a history with both teams this season, losing to each by two and four points, respectively, in February road games.
Other areas of the bracket provide similar intrigue and are a true toss-up for who is going to move on.
Which team has the best chance at the Big Ten Tournament title?
Michigan State and Ohio State could renew their thrilling game from February in the semifinals, but Purdue and Iowa are both teams that have provided us with games that prove neither is a slouch. If the Spartans and Buckeyes do get there, who are you picking in a neutral site game in Illinois?
After the last two matchups, it's anything but a sure thing for either.
Three-point shooting could be the difference for a team like Wisconsin, while Minnesota will look to be very physical against teams without an inside presence. Penn State and Illinois might be near the bottom of the conference standings, but neither will go away quietly in Chicago.
Player battles could also end up deciding a winner—and not just the player battles from the top-ranked schools.
We all know about Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and DeShaun Thomas—all three candidates for the Wooden Award as the nation's best player—but what about guys like Michigan State freshman Gary Harris or Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, two guys that can take over a game with their skills.
Want drama that might come into play late? Check out Indiana's Tom Crean after his team's win over Michigan to close out the regular season.
You think Michigan is going to forget that exchange?
Simply put, this tournament has a chance to be one of the all-time great moments in college basketball history. No, it won't be make-or-break for the NCAA Tournament, but each of these Big Ten titans will look to establish momentum early and carry it into March Madness—making the winner hard to predict with five teams already on the national tipping scale.
Lucky for Hoosiers fans everywhere, Indiana will enter as the regular season champion, and will earn a share of the Big Ten crown for the first time since 2002—regardless of what happens at the United Center starting on Thursday.
There's a good chance that "regardless" will come into play at the conclusion of what has already been an epic regular season in college hoops.