Big Ten Tournament 2020: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2020

Big Ten Tournament 2020: Preview and Predictions for Every Team

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    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    With the regular-season schedule wrapped up, the Big Ten tournament begins Wednesday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

    Last year, then-No. 1 seed Michigan State beat No. 3 seed Michigan 65-60 in the finals, and those two were eventually joined by Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    This year, the Big Ten has been arguably the best conference in men's college basketball.

    According to the latest bracketology update from Joe Lunardi of ESPN, 10 teams are projected for the tournament this time around, with Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Rutgers and Indiana included among the 68-team field.

    However, that could change in the next week.

    Ahead you'll find a full team-by-team preview of the Big Ten tournament, complete with predictions on how far each of the 14 squads will advance.

14. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Cam Mack
    Cam MackMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    First opponent: No. 11 Indiana (Wednesday, 8:25 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    While head coach Fred Hoiberg inherited a Nebraska team that won 19 games last year, the Cornhuskers lost their top four scorers in James Palmer (19.7 PPG), Isaac Copeland (14.0 PPG), Glynn Watson Jr. (13.6 PPG) and Isaiah Roby (11.8 PPG).

    The result was a brutal 7-24 finish that included just two conference wins.

    Those home victories against Purdue (Dec. 15) and Iowa (Jan. 7) are both distant memories at this point, and they enter the Big Ten tournament riding a 16-game losing streak.

    They played Indiana tough twice this year, taking the Hoosiers to overtime back on Dec. 13, but the complete lack of momentum makes it hard to pick the upset.

13. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Miller Kopp
    Miller KoppJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 12 Minnesota (Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    After a 1-16 start to conference play, Northwestern closed out the regular season with two wins in its final three games, beating Nebraska on the road (81-76) and Penn State at home (80-69).

    Sophomore Miller Kopp scored a team-high 21 points in both of those wins, and the former 4-star recruit has tallied 13.2 points per game during the conference slate.

    That said, the Wildcats were simply overmatched by Minnesota when the two teams last met on Feb. 23. All-American candidate Daniel Oturu had 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for the Golden Gophers in that game, and he compiled 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks back on Jan. 5 when the two teams squared off for the first time.

    Another lopsided loss could be forthcoming for the Wildcats.

12. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Daniel Oturu
    Daniel OturuDylan Buell/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 13 Northwestern (Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins two games, loses to No. 4 Illinois

    How far can Daniel Oturu carry the Golden Gophers?

    The sophomore star has averaged 20.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks this season, and he should help Minnesota cruise to victory in its first-round game against Northwestern.

    That would set up a clash with Luka Garza and Iowa in the second round, pitting two of the best centers in men's college basketball against one another for the third time this season. 

    After the Hawkeyes walloped the Golden Gophers by 20 points back on Dec. 9, things were considerably more interesting in their second meeting on Feb. 16 when Minnesota took Iowa to the limit in a three-point loss. Fellow sophomores Gabe Kalscheur (12 points) and Marcus Carr (10 points) both provided solid support to Oturu in that game, and that will be the key to success in Round 3.

    After stumbling to a 1-3 record down the stretch, the Hawkeyes look ripe for an upset.

11. Indiana Hoosiers

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    Trayce Jackson-Davis
    Trayce Jackson-DavisJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 14 Nebraska (Wednesday, 8:25 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins two games, loses to No. 3 Maryland

    After a 15-4 start to the season, the wheels fell off for Indiana during a four-game losing streak at the end of January and the beginning of February, and it finished with a 9-11 record in conference play.

    That said, this team is capable of shaking things up.

    The Hoosiers beat Michigan State (Jan. 23), Iowa (Feb. 13) and Penn State (Feb. 23) at home during conference play, and they also have a terrific win over Florida State (Dec. 3) on their resume. Senior guard Devonte Green had big games against the Seminoles (30 points) and Hawkeyes (27 points), so he is a clear X-factor during the team's Big Ten tournament run.

    A first-round victory over Nebraska would set up a second-round clash with Penn State, which stumbled to a 1-5 record to close out the regular season.

    The Hoosiers already beat the Nittany Lions once in a 68-60 victory last month, and while Maryland will likely pose too tough a task in the quarterfinals, two wins in the Big Ten tournament could secure Indiana's spot in the NCAA tournament.

10. Purdue Boilermakers

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    Trevion Williams
    Trevion WilliamsDylan Buell/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 7 Ohio State (Thursday, 6:30 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses in their first game

    Despite suffering an overtime loss to Rutgers in its regular-season finale, Purdue avoided playing on Wednesday with wins over Indiana (Feb. 27) and Iowa (March 3) down the stretch.

    Unfortunately, that matches it up against an Ohio State team with something to prove.

    The Boilermakers lost by 16 when the two teams squared off on Feb. 15, shooting 35.2 percent from the field while connecting on just four of their 20 looks from beyond the arc.

    With a 2-5 record in its last seven games, Purdue has stumbled of late.

    The lack of a go-to scorer to lean on during the grind of a conference tournament limits the Boilermakers' upside, and an early exit against a Buckeyes team that is better than its No. 7 seed indicates seems likely.

9. Michigan Wolverines

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    Franz Wagner
    Franz WagnerAaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 8 Rutgers (Thursday, 12 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins two games, loses to No. 4 Illinois

    The recent strong play of Franz Wagner gives Michigan some intriguing upside heading into the Big Ten tournament.

    The freshman guard is averaging 15.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while connecting on 38.2 percent of his three-point attempts over his last seven games. He gives the team a second go-to option alongside leading scorer Zavier Simpson, who is capable of going off, as evidenced by his 32-point game against Wisconsin on Feb. 27.

    That said, the Wolverines have gone just 1-3 in their last four outings after a five-game winning streak had them up to No. 19 in the AP poll.

    They beat Rutgers twice already this year, and a third victory would set up a meeting with No. 1 seed Wisconsin.

    When they played on Feb. 27, the Badgers won by seven behind a 28-point outburst from D'Mitrik Trice, who is averaging just 9.8 points on the year. If the Wolverines can keep him in check this time around, an upset is possible before they run out of steam against an upstart Illinois team.

8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Ron Harper Jr.
    Ron Harper Jr.Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 9 Michigan (Thursday, 12 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses their first game

    At No. 32 in the NET rankings with four Quadrant 1 wins and a 15-2 record in games below Quadrant 1, Rutgers has all but clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament field for the first time since 1991.

    It stands to reason that the Scarlet Knights might be looking ahead to the Big Dance.

    Even a slight peek ahead would be enough to open the door for Michigan to send them packing in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines have already beat them twice this year with narrow victories on Feb. 1 (69-63) and Feb. 19 (60-52).

    Don't expect the third time to be a charm for Rutgers.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Kaleb Wesson
    Kaleb WessonJustin Casterline/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 10 Purdue (Thursday, 6 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins first game, loses to No. 2 Michigan State

    Ohio State ranks in the top 20 for both adjusted offensive efficiency (14th) and adjusted defensive efficiency (20th), according to KenPom.com.

    On the strength of that balance, the Buckeyes were once ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll, but a 2-7 start to Big Ten play sent them tumbling down the rankings.

    They have since righted the ship with a 9-3 record over their last 12 games.

    However, the regular season ended on a sour note with Michigan State handing them an 80-69 loss, and an opening-game victory over Purdue would set them up for a rematch with the Spartans.

    Kaleb Wesson (eight points, 1-of-8 shooting), Ohio State's leading scorer, was shut down by Xavier Tillman in that game. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate would no doubt cause similar problems in a rematch, leaving the Spartans as the clear favorites to walk away with a victory once again.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Lamar Stevens
    Lamar StevensQuinn Harris/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 11 Indiana (projected, Thursday, 8:55 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses their first game

    Penn State climbed as high as No. 9 in the AP poll with an eight-game winning streak that included road victories over Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, as well as a home victory over Ohio State.

    However, a loss to Illinois on Feb. 18 kicked off a 1-5 stretch to close out the regular season.

    Lamer Stevens (17.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG) is the kind of superstar talent who can put a team on his back during the conference tournament. That said, his 29 points on 11-of-27 shooting against Indiana on Feb. 23 were not enough to lead the Nittany Lions to a victory, and they are on a collision course with that same Hoosiers team.

    Their recent struggles make them an easy pick for an early exit.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Luka Garza
    Luka GarzaRey Del Rio/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 12 Minnesota (projected, Thursday, 2:25 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses their first game

    At least one low-seeded team always seems to make a run in the Big Ten tournament.

    • 2015: No. 13 Penn State wins two games
    • 2016: No. 11 Nebraska and No. 12 Illinois win two games
    • 2017: No. 8 Michigan wins tournament
    • 2018: No. 14 Rutgers wins two games
    • 2019: No. 13 Nebraska wins two games

    Predicting No. 12 Minnesota to win two games and upset No. 5 Iowa would not be entering uncharted territory.

    The Hawkeyes have lost three of their last four games despite continued brilliance from Luka Garza, who has now scored at least 20 points in 16 straight outings.

    All it will take is for both Daniel Oturu (20.0 PPG) and Marcus Carr (15.5 PPG) to have big games for the Golden Gophers, and the Hawkeyes will have a few extra days to rest up for the NCAA tournament.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Kofi Cockburn
    Kofi CockburnMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 12 Minnesota (projected, Friday, 2:25 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins two games, loses to No. 2 Michigan State in finals

    A six-year NCAA tournament drought for the Fighting Illini will come to an end this year thanks to the standout duo of Ayo Dosunmu (16.6 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Kofi Cockburn (13.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG).

    A 78-76 victory over Iowa in the regular-season finale on Sunday moved them up to the No. 6 seed line in the latest bracketology update from Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, and they could climb even higher with a solid run during the Big Ten tournament.

    Their first game will be against Iowa, Minnesota or Northwestern, and they went a combined 4-1 against those teams during the regular season. They also beat Michigan twice and Wisconsin once on their way to a 13-7 record in conference play, and one of those teams is their most likely semifinals opponent.

    With strong guard play, solid outside shooting and the presence Cockburn provides in the post, Illinois is capable of beating anyone when it plays up to its potential.

    However, the run will end against a red-hot Michigan State team that handed the Illini a one-point loss earlier this year. Still, a pair of wins in the Big Ten tournament might be enough to move Illinois up to a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

3. Maryland Terrapins

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    Jalen Smith
    Jalen SmithRich Schultz/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 11 Indiana (projected, Friday, 8:55 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins one game, loses to No. 2 Michigan State

    After a 3-3 start to conference play, Maryland ripped off a nine-game winning streak and looked like the team to beat in the Big Ten during the middle of February. However, it is just 2-3 in its last five games, including a 78-67 loss to Rutgers on March 3.

    Still, the one-two punch of Anthony Cowan (16.3 PPG, 4.7 APG) and Jalen Smith (15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG) makes the Terrapins dangerous every time they take the floor.

    Regardless of whether they face Penn State, Indiana or Nebraska in their first game, they should be heavily favored, and a victory would set up a heavyweight clash with Michigan State in the semifinals.

    They split the regular-season series with both teams losing at home, but the Spartans are playing at another level right now. Their 12-point victory over the Terrapins on Feb. 29 might be the best indication of where these two teams currently stand, and it might also be indicative of how a third meeting would play out.

2. Michigan State Spartans

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    Cassius Winston
    Cassius WinstonGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 7 Ohio State (projected, Friday, 6:30 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Wins Big Ten tournament

    It may have settled for a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, but Michigan State clearly looks like the class of the conference right now.

    Senior guard Cassius Winston is playing at an extremely high level, averaging 19.8 points and 5.9 assists over his last 10 games, and the Spartans enter the postseason working on a five-game winning streak.

    During that same 10-game span, Xavier Tillman has contributed 13.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per contest while playing some of the best interior defense in the nation. Add in freshman Rocket Watts (17.8 PPG in last four games) and Aaron Henry (12.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG in last five games), and there are a lot of weapons on the floor for the Spartans.

    Slotted in the No. 9 spot in the latest AP poll, which is tops among all Big Ten teams, they will be playing for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. That should be all the motivation they need to keep their foot on the gas.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Nate Reuvers
    Nate ReuversDylan Buell/Getty Images

    First matchup: No. 9 Michigan (projected, Friday, 12 p.m. ET)

    Prediction: Loses their first game

    After an inauspicious 5-5 start to the season that included a loss to New Mexico (NET: 144), Wisconsin went 16-5 to close out the regular season.

    The Badgers ride an eight-game winning streak into the Big Ten tournament, and with home wins against Michigan State (64-63) and Maryland (56-54), they won a three-way tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the competition.

    While they beat Michigan during their lone regular-season meeting on Feb. 27, they surrendered a season-high 74 points in the process. It took a lights-out shooting night from Wisconsin to pull out the victory, as it went 29-of-54 from the field (53.7 percent) and 11-of-23 from beyond the arc (47.8).

    If Wisconsin can't control the tempo this time around, it may be headed for an upset.

         

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.

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