The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in college basketball once again this year, and there are several players that will have to step up in the Big Ten tournament this year if their teams want a shot at making the Big Dance.
Several teams, including the Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State Spartans, are already essentially a lock to make the NCAA tournament. However, given the talent in the conference, there could be somewhere around six teams coming out of the Big Ten to make it in.
With that being said, let's take a look at the key players for some of the bubbles teams that will need to step up this week.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana Hoosiers
Let's be honest, the odds of the Indiana Hoosiers making it to the NCAA tournament are very small. However, if they can make a deep run in the Big Ten tourney and somehow make it to the finals or win the whole thing, they'll be in.
In order for the Hoosiers to keep up with the rest of the teams in the Big Ten, they're going to have to rely upon sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell. After a promising freshman season alongside players like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Ferrell has emerged as a star on the team along with freshman Noah Vonleh, averaging 17.4 points per game while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.
While Yogi will have to put up big scoring numbers, his defense and ball-handling will be more important factors. The Big Ten is filled with talented guards, and the Hoosiers would have to take on one in Nik Stauskas if they make it out of the first round, as they would play the Wolverines next.
When the Hoosiers beat Michigan, Yogi helped hold Stauskas to just six points on 1-of-6 shooting, but he dropped 21 in their other meeting. Stauskas isn't the only threatening guard the Hoosiers will have to worry about if they make a deep run either, so Ferrell will have to stay focused on playing solid defense and limiting turnovers to keep Indiana in the tourney.
Terran Petteway, Nebraska Cornhuskers
If you lead the Big Ten in scoring, chances are that you're a pretty special player.
While few people may have known about him before the season began, sophomore swingman Terran Petteway has made a name for himself while at Nebraska, helping lead them to a strong 19-11 record. This season, Petteway has averaged 18.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting a solid 43 percent.
It seems that Petteway is almost always able to step up when the team needs him to, putting up big numbers against some truly tough opponents.
In Nebraska's final regular-season game against No. 9 Wisconsin, Petteway dropped 26 points and 10 rebounds, helping the Cornhuskers get a big 77-68 win. In six games against ranked opponents this year, Petteway has scored at least 15 points in all but one contest.
Petteway will likely have to keep that trend going once the tournament begins. Even though Nebraska has a first-round bye and the No. 4 seed, they will likely have to play Ohio State in the second round. If they lose that game, the Cornhuskers will be a little more nervous heading into Selection Sunday.
Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Of all of the teams in the Big Ten, there's arguably no one with more pressure on them entering this tournament than the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
With a 19-12 overall record and just an 8-10 record in the Big Ten, Minnesota is the definition of a team on the bubble right now. According to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, Minnesota is currently one of the first four teams out of the tournament, but they could probably slide into the Big Dance with a couple of wins this week.
Which of these players is most important to their respective team's success?
While only 5'9'' and 165 pounds, junior guard Deandre Mathieu is going to be a big factor in whether or not the Golden Gophers grab a spot in the NCAA tournament. While playing 30.1 minutes per game, the offenses almost always goes through Mathieu, as he's averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting an impressive 50.8 percent and 45.5 percent from behind the arc.
The Gophers will start the tournament with a rematch from the regular-season finale against Penn State, then the winner will have a tough second-round matchup against Wisconsin.
Mathieu didn't struggle in his two games against the Nittany Lions this year, scoring 16 points in each contest. Minnesota was able to beat Wisconsin back in January when Mathieu dropped 18 points, but lost the second meeting 78-70 when he had just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
Back in February, Jace Frederick from the Minnesota Daily had this to say about how important Mathieu is to his team:
But one thing does appear to be consistent: when junior point guard DeAndre Mathieu plays well, so do the Gophers.
Here's a little evidence to that point:
In the Gophers seven conference losses, Mathieu is averaging 4.9 turnovers per game -- that number shrinks to 1.6 turnovers per game in their five conference wins. Minnesota is 5-2 when Mathieu scores in double-digits in the Big Ten -- they're 0-5 when he doesn't.
But Mathieu isn't only important to the Gophers on the offensive end. Minnesota's high-pressure defense needs its 5-feet-9-inch point guard wreaking havoc on the defensive end. Mathieu is averaging 1.8 steals per game in the Gophers five conference victories, and just 0.7 in their seven Big Ten losses.
This is a big week for the Gophers, and if Mathieu can't step up, they may risk missing the NCAA tournament.