Analyzing the 2019 Big Ten tournament field

Analyzing the 2019 Big Ten tournament field

Before Rutgers and Nebraska tip off at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the United Center in Chicago, college basketball writer SCOTT RICHEY analyzes all 14 teams heading into the 22nd Big Ten tournament, sizing up their chances to win the title and what they'll need to do in order to keep their fans happy:

No. 1 Michigan State (25-6)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... Cassius Winston, the likely Big Ten Player of the Year. The junior point guard has shouldered an even heavier burden this season without Joshua Langford and Nick Ward, and he's managed to keep the Spartans at the top of the conference.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... everybody not named Cassius Winston also steps up their game, including Ward, who will be back after missing five games with a hand injury. Still, the Spartans could use some rebounding by Kenny Goins and three-pointers from Matt McQuaid.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... Winston can't carry them like he has most of the season and Tom Izzo's March magic runs out. That's if they get past Indiana for the first time in three tries this year, should the Hoosiers win their Thursday game against Ohio State.

No. 2 Purdue (23-8)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... potential All-American Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot-1 guard might not be having as efficient of a season as last, but his overall production is up even as he's been asked to carry one of the heaviest offensive loads in the conference.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... they look more like they did in beating co-Big Ten champs Michigan State (five players in double figures) than the Carsen Edwards Show alone. Ryan Cline, Matt Haarms and Co. need to share the offensive burden a little more.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... they don't make it out of the quarterfinal round, and that's not out of the picture with the Boilermakers having to face the winner of Penn State-Minnesota — one of the hotter teams in the Big Ten and a team that just beat Purdue, respectively.

No. 3 Michigan (26-5)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ...freshman wing Ignas Brazdeikis. He's had a disappearing act or two, including going scoreless in a loss to Wisconsin, but three 20-point games in the final three regular-season games has him on solid footing heading into his tournament debut.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... Charles Matthews returns from the ankle injury that cost him the last three games, and if that return doesn't alter how productive Michigan's other wings — like Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole — have been in his stead.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... the end result of their week in Chicago is anything but a tournament championship (and perhaps some revenge against Michigan State). It would be a third straight title, which hasn't happened in the 21-year history of the tournament.

No. 4 Wisconsin (22-9)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... perhaps the most unique player in college basketball. Ethan Happ does everything for the Badgers, but he doesn't have a jumper and has become a liability at the end of games because of his abominable 46.8 percent free-throw shooting.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... Happ gets some help. Wisconsin is at its best when its leading scorer can turn double teams into open looks for his teammates on the perimeter (that they need to knock down). Looking at you, Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... there are any close games, which could be an issue in this year's tournament given how even the bulk of the conference has been. That's when Happ is at his most vulnerable. Stopping the clock and fouling him is a solid game plan at this point.

No. 5 Maryland (22-9)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... Bruno Fernando. The 6-11 sophomore gives the Terrapins a scoring threat at one end and an aggressive rim protector at the other. Everything you want in a big man these days.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... relying on five freshmen in the rotation works out more like early January in the Big Ten (a 7-2 record, including six straight wins) than February (4-3 with a bad loss at Penn State).

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... their stay in Chicago has a negative impact on their NCAA tournament seeding. Maryland is projected as a five-seed now. A too-early Big Ten exit could drop them a seed line or three.

No. 6 Iowa (21-10)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... junior forward Tyler Cook, who leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounding and isn't that far behind point guard Jordan Bohannon when it comes to the team's assist lead.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... this all too familiar end-of-the-year spiral ends up being just a regular-season thing. More post touches for Cook and Luka Garza, though, wouldn't hurt Iowa's chances, either.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... this particular end-of-the-year meltdown continues. The Hawkeyes are just 17-24 in February and March the past four seasons (including this year) under Fran McCaffery.

No. 7 Minnesota (19-12)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... double-double machine Jordan Murphy. His 20 this season ties him for third nationally with South Dakota State's Mike Daum and Bethune-Cookman's Cletrell Pope.THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... Murphy and Amir Coffey carry them there. Few duos can match what Minnesota's top two players do when they're both hitting on the same night. It's been an effective 1-2 punch.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... not having a true point guard comes back to bite them. There's a reason Coffey has taken those duties, and turnovers have been an issue in a significant number of the games Minnesota has lost.

No. 8 Ohio State (18-13)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... Kaleb Wesson, and the big man is back after Wesson missed the last three games serving a suspension. He's needed. The Buckeyes lost all three games by a combined 59 points.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... inserting their leading scorer and rebounder back into the lineup is a true difference-maker. A little more from the supporting cast wouldn't hurt Ohio State's chances, either.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... Wesson's return ultimately doesn't matter, their turnover troubles continue and inconsistencies this season from a young team with four freshmen in the rotation don't go away.

No. 9 Indiana (17-14)

THEir BEST PLAYER IS ... at this moment, freshman guard Rob Phinisee. He's not Indiana's leading scorer, but he did have 18 assists and just two turnovers in the Hoosiers' last four games (all wins).

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... they can maintain their late-season push from the last two weeks. Getting Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford the ball (31.8 ppg between them) is imperative.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... their attempt to play their way back into the NCAA tournament hits an early roadblock. One win might be enough. Two, though, would certainly boost Indiana's bubble chances.

No. 10 Penn State (14-17)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... a matchup nightmare — and not just for Illinois. Junior forward Lamar Stevens is able to pair physicality with an ability to get his own shot whenever and wherever he wants it.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... the way the ended the regular season — seven wins in 10 games, including upsets of Michigan and Maryland — is repeatable in the pressure cooker that will be this year's Big Ten tournament.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... shots don't fall. The Nittany Lions managed to finish the regular season strong despite their inefficiency as jump shooters, but at some point, shot takers have to turn into shot makers.

No. 11 Illinois (11-20)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu. The Chicago native heads home for the Big Ten tournament leading the Illini in scoring and assists while checking in at second in steals and third in rebounding.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... they're able to accomplish something they haven't done this year or in any of the past five seasons: win five games in a row against Big Ten foes. That's the challenge of a Wednesday start.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... this year's Big Ten tournament looks more like the last two (one game and done) than in 2016 when Illinois beat Minnesota, upset Iowa and made it to the quarterfinals.

No. 12 Rutgers (14-16)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... forward Eugene Omoruyi. The 6-7 junior does a little bit of everything for the Scarlet Knights, leading them in both scoring and rebounding while acting as a second facilitator.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... last year's Big Ten tournament run — two upset wins after the same Wednesday start in NYC — can be duplicated a little farther from home. And extended three more games, of course.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... Nebraska cuts Rutgers' stay in Chicago short trying to extend Tim Miles' tenure as long as possible. Rutgers beat the 'Huskers once this year, but that came in the friendly confines of the RAC.

No. 13 Nebraska (16-15)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... from a statistical standpoint James Palmer Jr., but no player might mean more than point guard and Illinois native Glynn Watson Jr. It's a bit of, as Watson goes, the Cornhuskers go.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... they're able to recapture the level of play that got them a 13-4 start. Of course, they'll do so without Isaac Copeland and the spectre of 11 losses in their last 14 games hanging over them.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... depth issues, of which the Huskers have many, are too difficult to overcome. Nebraska could be down to just six regulars (and three original starters) for Wednesday's game.

No. 14 Northwestern (13-18)

THEIR BEST PLAYER IS ... fifth-year senior Vic Law, and his status (or at least 100 percent health) is questionable for Wednesday after suffering a wicked-looking injury in the Wildcats' regular-season finale.

THEY CUT DOWN THE NETS IF ... and only if they find some sort of positive footing offensively that's eluded them of late. The Wildcats have averaged just 58.2 points in losing 11 of their final 12 games of the regular season.

THEY GO HOME ANGRY IF ... the tournament plays out as expected. Teams that start on Wednesday typically don't last long, and Illinois has a plus-3 differential in the regular-season-series split.

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