The Big Ten tournament will almost certainly play out as a wide-open affair when it gets underway March 8 in Washington, D.C.
One of the reasons for that is this usually powerful conference does not appear to have a dominant team that is capable of going a long way in the NCAA tournament. The Purdue Boilermakers are in first place, and they have clinched the conference title with one game to play at Northwestern to close the season.
The Boilermakers (24-6, 13-4) rank 16th in the nation, and that translates to the last of the No. 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wisconsin Badgers (22-8, 11-6) are the only other Big Ten team in the Top 25 with the No. 22 spot, but head coach Greg Gard's men are not playing well. They were defeated by Iowa at home Wednesday night and have now lost three games in a row.
Normally, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State can be counted on to play ferocious basketball and contend for the Big Ten conference tournament title. The Spartans (18-12, 10-7) are trying to overcome a poor start and have been in better form recently, but they don't resemble the powerhouse that Tom Izzo usually brings to the postseason.
Ohio State (17-13, 7-10) has struggled throughout the conference season, and head coach Thad Matta has been searching for answers and unable to come up with any effective ones.
This has been a solid year for Maryland (23-7, 11-6) and Minnesota (23-7, 11-6), while Northwestern (21-9, 10-7) has enjoyed a remarkable year and appeared to clinch its first NCAA berth with a 67-65 last-second victory over Michigan Tuesday night.
|Big Ten Conference 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|
Purdue is led by sophomore Caleb Swanigan, who has recorded 24 double-doubles this season and is scoring 18.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He has four teammates who are averaging in double figures, including Isaac Haas, who is scoring 13.0 points per game and connecting on 58.6 percent of his shots from the floor.
Maryland should have an excellent chance to put its signature all over the Big Ten tournament since it will be played at the Verizon Center. Not only is this in Maryland's backyard, it represents a completely different environment for the Big Ten.
The conference has played its previous championships in Indianapolis or Chicago, and taking the tournament to the east coast will give it a fresh look.
Melo Trimble, Justin Jackson and Anthony Cowan are the Terrapins' go-to players, and the team will be anxious to bring home a first Big Ten championship.
Minnesota is the hottest team in the conference with eight consecutive wins, and the Gophers are coming off a 88-73 triumph over Nebraska Wednesday night in which guard Nate Mason had a game-high 25 points.
Mason is averaging a team-high 15.4 points per game, while Amir Coffey is second with 12.0 points per night. Jordan Murphy is also playing a huge role for the Gophers, as he is scoring 11.3 ppg and bringing down 8.8 rebounds per night.
Northwestern may be the story of the year in the Big Ten because head coach Chris Collins has gotten this team to believe in itself, and the results have been startling.
The Wildcats got off to a sharp start but had been stumbling down the stretch. However, they took a huge step forward when forward Dererk Pardon hit a layup at the buzzer to beat Michigan Tuesday night.
Collins put the pressure on his team to overcome some recent inconsistent play.
"I came in and I challenged them, and I told them there was pressure for the first time," Collins said after the game, per the Associated Press(h/t ESPN.com). "I said, 'Guys, there is pressure.' Anything good in life involves handling pressure—and succeeding under pressure."
Northwestern may have already clinched its first-ever slot in the NCAA tournament, but don't expect Collins to let his team relax. His players could be ready to make more noise at the Big Ten tournament.
Look for the Purdue Boilermakers to continue to play effective and tenacious basketball in Washington D.C. However, the Badgers may be too inconsistent to make a strong run this time around.
Maryland should flourish in its backyard, and Minnesota has been on a roll and is not likely to slow down.
Both Michigan and Michigan State are capable of getting hot and causing problems, while Northwestern is just too good to overlook.
We see the Boilermakers and the Terps getting to the championship game, and Maryland will do just enough to squeak out the victory and earn the school's first Big Ten title.