Big Ten Tournament 2021: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 5, 2021

Big Ten Tournament 2021: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The best conference in men's college basketball is about to take over Indianapolis.

    Starting on Wed. March 5, the 2021 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament will span five days to crown a champion and officially secure the first of many NCAA Tournament bids this conference will receive.

    While technically a basketball tournament, it might feel more like a Hunger Games-style survival of the fittest. The conference has everything: depth, top-shelf talent, national championship contenders, multiple national player of the year candidates.

    Four schools rank among the country's top seven. Two more sit inside the top 25. Several others could score at-large invites to the Big Dance.

    This tournament is what all other conference tournaments aspire to be. Let's dive in with previews, predictions and players to watch.

Tournament Schedule and Latest Standings

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press


    Wednesday, March 10

    Game 1 (Seed #12 vs. Seed #13), 6:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

    Game 2 (Seed #11 vs. Seed #14), 25 minutes after Game 1 (BTN)

    Thursday, March 11

    Game 3 (Seed #8 vs. Seed #9), 11:30 a.m. ET (BTN)

    Game 4 (Seed #5 vs. Game 1 winner), 25 minutes after Game 3 (BTN)

    Game 5 (Seed #7 vs. Seed #10), 6:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

    Game 6 (Seed #6 vs. Game 2 winner), 25 minutes after Game 5 (BTN)

    Friday, March 12

    Game 7 (Seed #1 vs. Game 3 winner), 11:30 a.m. ET (BTN)

    Game 8 (Seed #4 vs. Game 4 winner), 25 minutes after Game 7 (BTN)

    Game 9 (Seed #2 vs. Game 5 winner), 6:30 p.m. ET (BTN)

    Game 10 (Seed #3 vs. Game 6 winner), 25 minutes after Game 9 (BTN)

    Saturday, March 13

    Game 11 (Game 7 vs. Game 8 winner), 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Game 12 (Game 9 vs. Game 10 winner), 25 minutes after Game 11 (CBS)

    Sunday, March 14

    Championship, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Latest Standings

    No. 2 Michigan 14-2 (19-2)

    No. 4 Illinois 15-4 (19-6)

    No. 5 Iowa 13-6 (19-7)

    No. 23 Purdue 12-6 (17-8)

    No. 7 Ohio State 12-7 (18-7)

    No. 25 Wisconsin 10-9 (16-10)

    Maryland 9-10 (15-11)

    Rutgers 9-10 (13-10)

    Michigan State 8-11 (14-11)

    Indiana 7-11 (12-13)

    Penn State 6-12 (9-13)

    Minnesota 6-13 (13-13)

    Northwestern 5-13 (8-14)

    Nebraska 3-15 (7-18)

Preview and Predictions

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The way sees it, this tournament features three of the top five teams in the country: Michigan (No. 2), Iowa (No. 4) and Illinois (No. 7). Not to mention, three other clubs ranked among the top 15: Ohio State (No. 7), Wisconsin (No. 11) and Purdue (No. 14).

    If you throw a dart at this field, you have a decent chance of hitting a national contender.

    Why, then, does it feel like this is headed toward a Michigan-Illinois championship collision?

    That obviously isn't the only possible outcome. Iowa (second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency) and Ohio State (fourth) have the firepower to net-shred their way to a title. Wisconsin's defense is always a headache, and senior guard D'Mitrik Trice can get fiery hot. (Just ask Illinois.) Purdue is one of five teams in the country with top-20 rankings on offense and defense, and junior forward Trevion Williams can fill it up.

    Minnesota has wins over Michigan and Iowa. Rutgers and Michigan State knocked off Illinois. Indiana beat Iowa twice. Northwestern beat Ohio State.

    The parity is real. But so are the two-way powers of Michigan and Illinois.

    The Wolverines are seventh nationally in offense and fourth at the opposite end. The Illini rank ninth and seventh, respectively. That means they can win games at either end. It also means they can overcome some uncharacteristic struggles on one side of the floor by bearing down at the other.

    Michigan's freshman 7-footer Hunter Dickinson is a matchup nightmare—and a Naismith Award semifinalist. Illinois' junior guard Ayo Dosunmu should be a lock for All-American first team. Sophomore center Kofi Cockburn might join him.

    Flip a coin if these clubs meet in the championship round. I'd lean Illinois for the Dosunmu-Cockburn-Trent Frazier trio, but Michigan would have plenty of smart backers, too.

Player to Watch: Luka Garza, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Iowa has never seen a player like Luka Garza. College basketball as a whole seldom does.

    His stat sheet is basically just the word unstoppable written in all caps. It's not just the 23.9 points per game he provides on a nightly basis. It's the fact he hits such a high volume while also dazzling in efficiency with a 55.3 field-goal percentage and a 45.0 percent splash rate from the perimeter.

    "He can step away and shoot it," ESPN's Jay Bilas said (via 247Sports). "He has really extended his range. He can easily knock down shots from three-point range. He's a great screen-setter. His footwork is great. People talk about him being slow, but he beats you down the court with how hard he runs."

    Last season, Garza was a a consensus first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year. This season, he transformed Iowa's all-time record books into his personal collection. Offensively, he's as good as it gets in college basketball.

Player to Watch: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    If Ayo Dosunmu is healthy—he's been in concussion protocol—he could be the best player in this tournament.

    Like Garza, Dosunmu is a Naismith Award semifinalist and a probable shoe-in for first-team All-American. His nightly contributions include 21.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He had a triple-double in two of his last five trips to the hardwood.

    "I don't know who's any better," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in late February. "I mean, literally, I know guys have more publicity and more marketing and more this and that, but the numbers don't lie and the productivity doesn't lie and the winning doesn't lie. I don't know who in the hell anybody thinks is any better than him right now."

    All due respect to the regular-season champion Wolverines, but a healthy Dosunmu could make Illinois the team to beat in Indianapolis.