The first thing you should know about men’s Big 10 basketball is that it isn’t as wimpy as it has been the last several years. But, with five teams ending the regular season in the top 25; Midwest college basketball is back in a major way.
The Big Ten Tournament begins Thursday, March 8 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the Spartans earning the No. 1 seed. Here is a look at the top five teams:
No. 8 Michigan State
The 15-point late season loss to Indiana was a bit of a shock but the Spartans have rebounded in a big way from last year’s debacle to be not only the top team in the Big 10, but one of the top 10 teams in the nation. The loss to Indiana may lessen their chances at No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but wins against Michigan and Ohio State help. If they win the Big 10 Tournament – which will not be easy – the team should feel real confident heading into March Madness.
Forward Draymond Green has been a beast for Tom Izzo this season and big things are expected from him. Sophomore Keith Appling (11.5 points, 3.8 assists) and freshman Branden Dawson (8.5 points, 4.6 rebounds) have been bright spots for the Spartans and should have a good tournament. And you can’t forget about Izzo, one of the nation’s best coaches.
No. 10 Michigan Wolverines
In his fifth year as Michigan coach John Beilein finally has the Wolverines on the right track. Last season, a young Michigan team surprised a lot of people with their tournament play making it to the third round. This team has an excellent chance of shocking Michigan State and Ohio State because they shoot the ball very well and beat both teams during the regular season. The problem lies in their defense; sometimes they show up and sometimes they don’t.
However, they are a very talented team with sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists) leading the way and freshman Trey Burke (14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists), who is one of the most talented guards in the nation that not many people are talking about.
No. 7 Ohio State
Sophomore sensation Jared Sullinger could have been the No. 1 draft pick last year, but came back to school to try and win the Buckeye’s their first national title. Averaging 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds, he’s been everything advertised although his team lost some crucial games to teams they should have beaten.
Still, the Buckeyes are a deep and talented team with the best weapons in the Big Ten. They can easily steal the spotlight from Michigan State and Michigan with help from role players like senior guard William Buford (14.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3 assists) and sophomore guard Aaron Kraft (8.6 points, 4.5 assists).
No. 14 Wisconsin
Knocking off Ohio State on Feb. 26 was a huge win for the Badgers, and knocking off Michigan State twice speaks volumes of what the Badgers are capable of in the Big Ten tournament. But the two losses to Iowa are a huge red mark and show they’re not as strong as they could be. Like Michigan, they have a lot of offensive weapons but no one plays great defense, which means they can very easily get blown out of games.
No. 15 Indiana
Coach Tom Crean is still thanking his lucky stars that freshman Cody Zeller (15.5 points, 6.4 rebounds) came to IU. He’s been a model player for the Hoosiers all season and has really rallied the team. Unfortunately, the hot start with wins over Kentucky and Ohio State slowed down dramatically as the season went on, losing to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. The Feb. 28 win over Michigan State was huge for the Hoosiers entering the Big Ten tournament; a boost of confidence they really needed.
The knock against Indiana is that they’re obviously struggling and Zeller needs someone to pick up the scoring slack. However, they have size and depth, which should help.