Big Ten Tournament 2014: Biggest Storylines Heading into Conference Showdown

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVMarch 2, 2014

Iowa guard Roy Devyn Marble (4) is double-teamed by Purdue guard Rapheal Davis, right, and guard Ronnie Johnson, behind Marble, during the first half of a Big Ten NCAA college basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jim Slosiarek)
JIM SLOSIAREK/Associated Press

With the college basketball regular season winding down and the postseason looming, the Big Ten Tournament will be the only thing standing between some of the nation's best teams and the Big Dance.

The Big Ten is traditionally one of the powerhouses of college basketball, and while teams like Indiana and Ohio State have had relatively down years, there is no shortage of exciting action upcoming at the conference tourney.

As some of the region's best schools get ready to flock toward Chicago's United Center for the spectacle, let's break down some of the marquee storylines to follow.


Can Anyone Stop Michigan?

Tony Ding/Associated Press

It was a different story before conference play began, but ever since the Big Ten teams started facing each other, Michigan has been unstoppable. 

And it's hard to imagine that changing before the Wolverines head to Chicago, as they will enter with at least a share of the Big Ten title, per the team's official Twitter:

Coming off an NCAA Tournament championship game loss to Louisville last season, John Beilein lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but has shown absolutely no signs of drop-off. Thanks to Nick Stauskas quickly emerging as one of the nation's best players and a supporting cast of stars, Michigan has rallied to a 13-3 conference record.

Even after losing preseason All-American Mitch McGary due to a back problem, Michigan hasn't missed a beat.

With just two games left separating them from the tournament, Michigan looks all but certain to lock up the No. 1 seed. The Wolverines have a two-game lead over Wisconsin and Michigan State with two games to play, and it's tough to think of a scenario where they would be beaten in Chicago. 


Will Minnesota, Nebraska Improve Bubble Status?

Heather Coit/Associated Press

There are always bubble teams to watch for in every conference tournament. For the Big Ten, it's Minnesota and Nebraska.

Minnesota currently is listed as one of the "last four in" according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, while he has Nebraska on the outside looking in with some work still to do.

The Cornhuskers still have a shot to get a huge win before tournament play, as they finish the season at home against No. 14 Wisconsin. Winning there would be huge, but they will still have a shot to make some noise in Chicago. 

Given the strength of the Big Ten, both of these teams will have ample opportunities to knock off a highly ranked opponent as long as they make it past the early stages of the tournament. However, that's easier said than done when playing conference foes. 


Will Anyone Emerge as a Cinderella?

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - MARCH 02:  D.J. Newbill #2 of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts with teammate Ross Travis #43 after a made basket and foul call against the Wisconsin Badgers during the second half at the Bryce Jordan Center on March 2, 2014 in Uni
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Even in a conference such as the Big Ten, where a handful of teams are seen as national contenders and a few others are generally forgotten about, March Madness can crop up and cause some unpredictable moments.

The only question is, which teams could end up shocking the field?

Penn State isn't a bad pick. In fact, the Nittany Lions are no strangers to mounting the upset in Big Ten play this season—they have beaten a ranked Ohio State team twice. 

Northwestern is also an option, as it beat Wisconsin earlier this season. Plus, with the Wildcats nursing a six-game losing streak, some of the more talented teams in the conference could happen to overlook them.

Of course, there are plenty of other schools capable of pulling the upset. But with those two teams tied for last in the conference at 5-11, that just shows you how capable an unheralded upset could be.