MJ: Big Ten tourney breakdown
Let the bidding begin
A spot in the NCAA tournament is up for grabs when the Big Ten tournament tips off starting today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Beat writer Marcus Jackson breaks down each team’s chances of cutting down the nets.
Seeded No. 1 because: The Wolverines won the regular season title by a comfortable three-game margin, claiming their first outright Big Ten championships during any of their current players’ lifetimes. Michigan was the only team this season to defeat the other 11 Big Ten teams.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... Big Ten MVP Nik Stauskas, who led the conference by scoring 20 or more points in 13 games, continues to spearhead an offense rated third in the country by Ken Pomeroy.
Will be bummed if ... Indiana comes calling in the quarterfinal. The Hoosiers knocked off the Wolverines in the state of Indiana last month and gave Michigan all it could handle in the season finale Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Postseason outlook: Michigan is going dancing. It’s just a matter of seeding with the Wolverines, who could be listed as high as a No. 2, their best since the 1992-93 team was a No. 1.
Seeded No. 2 because: The Big Ten’s model of consistency finished in the top four of the conference standings for the 13th consecutive season thanks to an eight-game winning streak down the stretch, the longest in the modern history of the program.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... Traevon Jackson plays like he did in last season’s Big Ten tournament. Jimmy’s kid averaged 11.2 points, 3.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds en route to being named to the all-tournament team while leading the Badgers to the title game.
Will be bummed if ... the defense doesn’t tighten up. With Sunday’s loss to the Cornhuskers, Wisconsin has allowed 70-plus points three times in the last five games.
Postseason outlook: The Badgers are headed to their 16th straight NCAA tournament and were in play for a No. 1 seed until Sunday’s loss at Nebraska to close the season.
Seeded No. 3 because: Tom Izzo’s talented bunch played a good chunk of the season without starters Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson who combined to miss a total of 23 games because of various injuries.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... everyone is healthy and ready to contribute to a postseason run. The Spartans are good enough — they spent five weeks at No. 1 early in the season, the longest stint at the top of the AP Poll in program history.
Will be bummed if ... that No. 3 seed remains somewhat cursed. The 10-14 record by No. 3 seeds in tourney history is the worst among the top four seeds and only one title (Purdue, ’09) has come from that slot.
Postseason outlook: The Spartans will be in the NCAA tournament for the 17th consecutive season. Izzo is looking to continue his run of sending every four-year senior to a Final Four. This is the last shot for Appling and Payne.
Seeded No. 4 because: Second-year coach Tim Miles did a masterful job of transforming a team that was picked to finish 12th in the preseason into one of the league’s best, thanks in large part to Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, who led the league in scoring (18.0 ppg).
Will celebrate Sunday if ... the games are moved to Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln. Nebraska’s brand-new arena proved advantageous this season as the Huskers went 15-1 at home, including an 8-1 mark in conference play. Nebraska was just 4-10 away from home this season.
Will be bummed if ... Ohio State is the quarterfinal opponent. In their one meeting outside the Nebraska state lines, the Buckeyes put a hurting on the Cornhuskers with a 31-point victory, limiting second-leading scorer Shavon Shields to four points and two boards.
Postseason outlook: Most bracketologists have Nebraska on the NCAA tournament bubble, so at least one win would make the faithful feel good about the program’s first berth in the tournament since 1998.
Seeded No. 5 because: The Buckeyes were one of the least-predictable teams in the league, losing four straight at one point and getting swept by Penn State, but also notching wins against the likes of Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... recent history is any indication of future success. The Buckeyes won last year’s tournament behind Most Outstanding Player Aaron Craft, who averaged 12 points, six assists and two steals at the United Center.
Will be bummed if ... they get worn out. To win a championship, the Buckeyes are going to have to win four games in a row, something they failed to do during the 18-game Big Ten slate.
Postseason outlook: Ohio State will be playing in the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season under Hoopeston’s Thad Matta, who has led the program to two Final Fours and an Elite Eight last season.
Seeded No. 6 because: After a strong start to the conference season (6-3) Iowa fell apart during the second half of the schedule, losing five of the last six to finish 9-9 for the second straight season.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner give the pre-tournament speech. The only team to win four straight to win a Big Ten title was Brunner and Horner’s 2006 team that was also seeded sixth and kicked off its run with a win against Northwestern.
Will be bummed if ... the Hawkeyes continues to play porous defense. Iowa allowed a Big Ten-worst 73.6 points per game during conference play, including 78 points per contest in the last 11 games.
Postseason outlook: Despite the late-season struggles, Roy Devyn Marble and the Hawkeyes appear a safe bet to be playing in their first NCAA tournament since 2006.
Seeded No. 7 because: The Gophers never got comfortable away from the friendly confines of Williams Arena, going just 2-7 on the road with those wins coming at 10th-place Penn State and 11th-place Northwestern.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... head coach Richard Pitino’s dad takes the reins of the Gophers for the week. While the Gophers are one of six Big Ten teams to never win the conference tournament, Rick Pitino has won 10 conference tournament championships, including the last two years at Louisville.
Will be bummed if ... it’s a little too warm down south in the Hoosier state. Since that win at Penn State on Jan. 8, the Gophers are 0-6 in games played outside the Twin Cities.
Postseason outlook: Unless Minnesota can make a run to the semifinals at the least, they’re likely looking at an NIT bid as bracketologists have them firmly on the bubble or one of the first few teams out.
Seeded No. 8 because: While the Hoosiers are a tough out at raucous Assembly Hall, they struggle away from Monroe County, going 2-7 on the road, winning at Northwestern and Penn State.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... Big Ten Freshman of the Year Noah Vonleh, Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell all play up to expectations. Vonleh, a seven-time Freshman of the Week honoree, Ferrell, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, and Williams, the reigning FOTW, have all shown the ability to stand out on an individual basis.
Will be bummed if ... history means anything. Longtime Hoosiers boss Bob Knight hates conference tournaments and the program he led to 11 Big Ten titles and three national championships has never won the conference tournament.
Postseason outlook: The Hoosiers are likely headed to the NIT, missing the NCAAs for the fourth time in Tom Crean’s six seasons.
Seeded No. 9 because: The Illini had one of the best turnarounds in school history after starting the first half of the conference schedule 2-7. Illinois went 5-4 in the second half, making it the third-best second-half turnaround in the modern era. Last year’s four-game improvement ties the 1988 team for the best.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... the defense, which held four consecutive opponents under 50 points for the first time since 1947-48, can return to form.
Will be bummed if ... the recent struggles at the postseason conference showcase continue. Illinois hasn’t reached the semifinal round in the last four years, the longest drought in program history.
Postseason outlook: Unless it wins the whole thing, the Illini will be playing in the NIT for the second time in the last five years, a positive result considering the dismal start to the Big Ten season and the inexperienced roster.
Seeded No. 10 because: Despite showing signs of improvement (sweeping Ohio State for the first time), the Nittany Lions started 0-6 in the Big Ten and own just one victory (vs. Nebraska) against the top four seeds in the tournament.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... whatever Talor Battle & Co. were lacing their water bottles with in 2011 makes the trip to Indy. That was the best showing for Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, reaching the title game and subsequently earning an NCAA bid as a result.
Will be bummed if ... they have to rely on making a bunch of three-pointers to win games. Penn State ranked 11th in conference play, shooting 29.4 percent behind the arc. Only Northwestern was worse.
Postseason outlook: For the fourth time in the last five years, the Lions’ season will end at the Big Ten tournament, giving them plenty of time to root for their women’s team, projected as a top-four seed in the NCAAs.
Seeded No. 11 because: They shocked the world and started the conference season 5-5, including winning three straight road games (Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota) for the first time in 54 years — 14 years before first-year coach Chris Collins was born.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... Jim Delany & Co. decide to make this a lacrosse tournament instead of hoops. The Northwestern women’s lacrosse team has reached each of the last nine Final Fours, winning it all seven times.
Will be bummed if ... the first team to 60 wins each game. The Wildcats were last in the Big Ten, scoring an average of 59.5 points per game this season.
Postseason outlook: The Wildcats’ season will come to an end this week and they’ll use their smarts to enter Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar bracket challenge.
Seeded No. 12 because: As Matt Painter said after Sunday’s loss, it’s all his fault. The ninth-year coach took the blame for recruiting the wrong type of player as the program finished last in the conference for the first time since 2005-06, Painter’s first season at his alma mater.
Will celebrate Sunday if ... the NCAA bends the rules and allows Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson another year of eligibility. The only time the program won the conference tournament was in 2009 when those future NBA draft picks were in school.
Will be bummed if ... the Boilers are already down in the dumps, thanks to their subpar season and the news that former Champaign Central standout Jay Simpson’s career is done because of a heart condition.
Postseason outlook: The Boilermakers will get a jump on the spring break festivities. A year after reaching the CBI with a sub-.500 record, none of the three postseason tournaments are going to come calling.