This has been a strange year for Big Ten men's basketball, because the league does not appear to have an elite team this year.
Purdue sits in first place in the league standings, but the 24-6 Boilermakers rank 16th in the nation. That ranking is not going to go up very much before the end of the regular season Sunday, and that basically translates to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It's unusual when the Big Ten does not have a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but no team has stepped up to look like it could make a memorable and deep run in the tournament.
That doesn't mean it won't happen, and a Big Ten team could start revving its motor during the upcoming conference tournament.
Normally played in Indianapolis or Chicago, the Big Ten tournament goes east this year and will be played at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The tournament begins March 8, and the championship will be handed out March 12.
The tournament will be televised by a combination of BTN, ESPN, ESPN2 and CBS.
|Big Ten Tournament Schedule|
|Opening Round||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|No. 13 vs. No. 12||March 8||4:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|No. 14 vs. No. 11||March 8||7 p.m.||BTN|
|No. 9 vs. No. 8||March 9||12 noon||BTN|
|12-13 winner vs. No. 5||March 9||2:45 p.m. (appx.)||BTN|
|No. 10 vs No. 7||March 9||6:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|11-14 winner vs. No. 6||March 9||9:15 p.m. (appx.)||ESPN2|
|8-9 winner vs. No. 1||March 10||12 noon||ESPN|
|TBD vs. No. 4 seed||March 10||2:45 p.m. (appx.)||ESPN|
|7-10 winner vs. No. 2||March 10||6:30 p.m.||BTN|
|TBD vs. No. 3||March 10||9:15 p.m. (appx.)||BTN|
|TBD vs. TBD||March 11||1 p.m.||CBS|
|TBD vs. TBD||March 11||3:30 p.m.||CBS|
|TBD vs. TBD||March 12||3 p.m.||CBS|
|Big Ten Conference|
The Boilermakers (13-4 in the conference) have a powerful team that is capable of building off their strong regular season and asserting themselves in the postseason. Purdue picked up an 86-75 victory over Indiana Tuesday night, and it was led once again by Caleb Swanigan, who picked up his 24th double-double of the season.
Swanigan, a 6'9" sophomore, is averaging 18.6 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. He is also connecting on 54.7 percent of his shots from the floor, and he is capable of taking over at any time and carrying Purdue on his shoulders.
However, the Boilers are quite balanced, as Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards and Carsen Edwards are all averaging in double figures.
Wisconsin (22-7, 11-5) has been one of the Big Ten standard-bearers in recent years, and the Badgers have been good enough to rise to second place in the conference. However, this year's team will have to show significant improvement if it is going to be a powerful factor in the NCAA tournament later this month.
The Badgers have a trio of players they rely on for offensive production. Ethan Happ, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are all averaging in double figures for head coach Greg Gard, and this team can compete for 40 minutes with any conference opponent.
Third-place Maryland (23-7, 11-6) could be the team that emerges in this tournament since it will be playing close to their home in College Park. The Terrapins have adjusted well since moving to the Big Ten in 2014.
The Terps ended a three-game losing streak with their 79-59 victory over struggling Rutgers Tuesday night, and that should allow head coach Mark Turgeon to breathe just a bit easier.
Melo Trimble is the Terps' go-to player, as he is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 44.0 percent from the field. Justin Jackson and Anthony Cowan are both averaging in double figures, and when all three are going at the same time, the Terps are tough to beat.
Michigan State (18-11, 10-6) has not had the kind of season that Spartans fans and head coach Tom Izzo are used to seeing.
As usual, the Spartans played an especially tough schedule before the start of conference competition, and that's usually the way Izzo steels his team for this most competitive part of the year. However, this year's team lacks the the talent, depth and experience of some previous Sparty teams.
Freshman guard Miles Bridges may not have gotten off to a dominant start for the Spartans, but he has learned throughout the season and is the team's leading scorer (16.3 ppg) while shooting an impressive 49.6 percent from the floor.
Freshman forward Nick Ward follows with 13.4 points per game, and he is connecting on 59.7 percent of his shots.
The Big Ten tournament could be crucial for Northwestern (20-9, 9-7). The Wildcats have never earned an appearance in the NCAA tournament, but they have had a solid year and appear to be on track to get their tickets punched for the first time.
However, head coach Chris Collins' team has stalled a bit at the end of the season, and their final two regular-season games against Michigan (19-10, 9-7) and Purdue could be crucial. If they fail in those games, the Wildcats may have to make a statement at the Verizon Center.
While the Big Ten does not appear to have a team that seems likely to make a run to the Final Four this year, the conference has excellent depth. Teams like Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland are capable of asserting themselves at the Verizon Center, and the conference's middle-tier teams (Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa) are all capable of beating the top teams.
We like the Boilermakers, Terrapins, Spartans and Wolverines to play their best basketball here. Look for Purdue and Maryland to meet in the championship round, with the Terps getting the edge because they are playing in their own backyard.
Maryland will win the 2017 Big Ten conference tournament.