Big Ten Tournament 2019: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2019

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 16:   Ignas Brazdeikis #13 of the Michigan Wolverines drives around Darryl Morsell #11 of the Maryland Terrapins during the first period at Crisler Arena on February 16, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Big Ten tournament should be one of the most competitive conference tournaments during Championship Week. 

Even the league's top programs have plenty to play for at the United Center in Chicago, as they're all trying to improve their seeding for the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament. 

The Big Ten is also in possession of a few bubble teams in need of victories to improve their respective resumes ahead of Selection Sunday. 

Michigan is the two-time defending champion of the Big Ten tournament, which is being played in the fourth different location in four years. 



Going into Chicago, the Big Ten can be broken down into a few distinct tiers. 

The top tier with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue features three of the best programs in the nation, all of whom are 15-4 in the Big Ten entering the weekend. 

The Boilermakers, Spartans and Wolverines will be the top three seeds in Chicago, but that order is yet to be determined, and Purdue's loss to Minnesota threw a wrench in the plans for Matt Painter's team to be the No. 1 seed. 

Michigan could be seen as the favorite by many since its won the last two Big Ten tournament finals and reached the Final Four a year ago.

Purdue hasn't won the Big Ten tournament since 2009, but it's made the final in two of the last three years, while Michigan State's last conference-tournament title came in 2016. 

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Carsen Edwards #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers drives to the basket during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Mackey Arena on February 27, 2019 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The second tier is comprised of Wisconsin and Maryland, two solid teams who can't be counted out in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. 

Both the Badgers and Terrapins possess terrific big men in Ethan Happ and Bruno Fernando, respectively, who are expected to do battle in the quarterfinal round in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup. 

Then there's the four teams hoping to solidify their NCAA tournament resumes, starting with Iowa, who has lost four of its last five games to put its March Madness hopes on thin ice. 

Minnesota helped itself out with a win over Purdue, and a victory over Maryland to close the regular season would be a perfect result.

Ohio State is free falling at a pace similar to Iowa, while Indiana's late-season surge has made it one of the most interesting bubble teams. 

All four of those teams need to win one or two games in Chicago, depending on their bubble status, to feel comfortable with their overall body of work. 

The bottom tier of teams is just looking to spring an upset in Chicago, and Rutgers, Penn State, Illinois, Nebraska and Northwestern are more than capable of doing so. 


Players to Watch

Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan 

Michigan's leading scorer has had one of the best freshman seasons of anyone in college basketball. 

Ignas Brazdeikis is averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and he is coming off back-to-back 20-point games against Nebraska and Maryland. 

In four of Michigan's five games against ranked foes in Big Ten play, Brazdeikis has reached double digits. 

COLLEGE PARK, MD - MARCH 03:  Ignas Brazdeikis #13 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a shot in the second half during a college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at the XFinity Center on March 3, 2019 in College Park, Maryland.  (Photo by
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Brazdeikis is the perfect complement to the pieces that were already on the Wolverines roster, as he is able to drive to the hole and shoot from beyond the arc on occasion. 

The freshman, who was born in Lithuania and went to high school in Canada, will attract plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but they can't double team him much with the bevy of scorers on the floor for the Wolverines. 

While Brazdeikis receives most of the attention, Michigan has five other players capable of stepping up and scoring key baskets. 

The scoring depth is one of the reasons why the Wolverines should be able to make another deep run into March. 


Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Ethan Happ is one of the best frontcourt players in the nation, and he'll have to take over games in Chicago for Wisconsin to win the Big Ten tournament. 

Happ does a bit of everything for the Badgers, as he averages 17.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. 

Happ has 20 double-doubles to his name this season, with 10 of them coming in Big Ten play for the Badgers. 

MADISON, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 18:  Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers dribbles the ball while being guarded by Aaron Jordan #23 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second half at the Kohl Center on February 18, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo b
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In order to advance the Badgers deep into the Big Ten tournament, Happ is going to have to win plenty of tough individual battles, including the expected clash with Fernando and Maryland in the quarterfinals. 

It won't get easier for Happ if form holds, as Michigan's Jon Teske and Purdue's Matt Haarms could await in the semifinals and final. 

Although his numbers are strong in most categories, Happ needs to improve on his 46.9 free-throw percentage. 

If he isn't able to convert from the charity stripe in the postseason, opponents will try to take advantage of his weakness and send him there as much as possible. 



Michigan over Purdue 

It's hard to pick against John Beilein's Wolverines given the team's postseason success over the last two years.

Michigan has one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, even with Charles Matthews out injured, and it knows how to win in March. 

Purdue will pose a tough test in the Big Ten tournament final, but Michigan's scoring depth will be tough for the Boilermakers to handle. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90