After an intense regular season in which the Big Ten destroyed itself, the 12 teams in the conference have gathered in Chicago to decide which school will get the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Indiana won the regular-season conference title for the first time in 20 years thanks to a thrilling victory over Michigan in the final game of the year, setting the stage for the Hoosiers to grab a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.
But hearing about Indiana or Michigan State or Michigan is boring—we know those three teams are locks for the tournament and will likely all be seeded in the top three of their respective brackets.
Instead, since this is March and upsets are the order of the day, we want to look at the underdogs who could make their way through the brutal Big Ten tournament.
No. 4 Seed: Wisconsin, 21-10 (12-6 in Big Ten)
Even though Wisconsin does have a first-round bye, no one is going to be looking at this team to make a dent in the tournament because it would potentially have to go through Michigan in the quarterfinals and Indiana in the semifinals.
But don't sleep on what Bo Ryan's team can do, which feels like something we say every year. The Badgers play a very slow, deliberate style of basketball that isn't fun to watch but gets the job done.
They hold victories over Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan already this season, so we know they can do it. The way teams struggle at slowing their style down to figure out what Wisconsin is doing is a huge point in the Badgers' favor.
No. 8 Seed: Illinois, 22-11 (8-10 in Big Ten)
The Illini got off to a solid start in the Big Ten tournament with a 51-49 victory over Minnesota in the first round on Thursday. Now the real test comes when they take on top-seeded Indiana on Friday afternoon.
Illinois has had a very interesting season, racking up victories outside of conference play to make its tournament resume look a lot more enticing to the selection committee. The victory on Thursday was a huge boost to its chances, but a victory over Indiana would make it academic.
It would not be the first time this season that has happened, as Illinois scored an upset over the Hoosiers on February 7. When you look at the teams Illinois has lost to, six of them have come against teams ranked in the Top 15 at the time.
Oh, by the way, Illinois also holds a victory over No. 1 Gonzaga.
No. 7 Seed: Purdue, 15-16 (8-10 in Big Ten)
A bit of a stretch, admittedly, because the Boilermakers have been blown out by all the heavy hitters in the Big Ten (save for Wisconsin), but now is the time when weird things tend to happen in games.
First, Purdue has essentially been given a bye in its first game against Nebraska on Thursday. Next up would be a game against Ohio State, a team that the Boilermakers did keep within 10 points earlier this season.
What the Boilermakers have that could propel them to victory in this tournament is the ability to rebound the basketball. They aren't a great scoring or shooting team, so they have to find ways to create opportunities. They rank 15th in the nation in total rebounds per game.
Even more impressive is the way everyone gets in on the rebounding. A.J. Hammons leads the way with 6.2 per game, but there are five other players who average at least three rebounds per game and 10 total players with at least two per game.
It will take a lot of things to go right, but the Boilermakers have the necessary tools to put together a four-day run in this tournament.
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