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The Big Ten Conference was expected to be a top-heavy league with several teams in the mix for at-large bids. It certainly fulfilled the first part of that prediction. Four teams finished within one game of each other at the top of the standings, with Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan State all tying at 14-4 and Wisconsin going 13-5. After that, Illinois and Minnesota finished at least .500, with no one else going better than 7-11. This could be one of the most competitive conference tournaments around.
Favorites: With Evan Turner healthy, Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the country. The Buckeyes bounced back from a 0-2 and 1-3 Big Ten start to win 13 of their final 14 conferences game win the No. 1 seed. They are one of the most accurate shooting teams in the country, and they are also very solid defensively. Turner is the best player in the country, bar none – he is good enough to carry OSU. David Lighty is the glue of this team, while Jon Diebler and Anthony Buford are scorers. There isn’t much depth or inside scoring, but Ohio State hasn’t need either yet.
Contenders: Michigan State hasn’t looked all that impressive throughout much of the year, but who am I to bet against Tom Izzo and Kalin Lucas in March? The Spartans were on their way to winning the league, starting 9-0, but they proceeded to win three in a row and fell back. Michigan State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and they also are efficient at both ends. Lucas is a top-notch point guard, while Raymar Morgan needs to be more consistent on offense. Draymond Green is a beast on the glass. Durrell Summers is a double-figure scorer, but wing Chris Allen is suspended for at least the first Big Ten tourney game. Wisconsin is surprisingly ranked No. 3 at Kenpom.com, and the Badgers are a legit Final Four contender given the way they take care of the ball and limit second chances for opponents. The Badgers are extremely efficient, and have been one of the best teams in the country when forward Jon Leuer is on the court. If they getting shots out of their halfcourt offense, they are tough to beat. Leuer is a match-up problem inside, while Trevon Hughes is one of the best point guards in the Big Ten. Jason Bohannon can shoot the three effectively, and Jordan Taylor is capable of putting up numbers. Sorry, Purdue fans. Without Robbie Hummel, I don’t think the Boilermakers are a threat to win the conference.
Sleeper: One of the biggest disappointments in the country, Michigan could still be a spoiler in the conference tournament. The Wolverines have knocked off Ohio State and Minnesota, and have been competitive against Michigan State and Wisconsin. Manny Harris is one of the most talented players in the league and can carry the Wolverines on his back. With DeShawn Sims posing a match-up problem for opponents, Michigan could be a sleeper. Also, keep an eye on Northwestern. The Wildcats were an at-large threat for most of the season, and they have a favorable draw in the conference tourney. John Shurna and Michael Thompson form a very solid offensive duo.
Prediction: There are plenty of interesting storylines heading into the conference tournament. Can Purdue win in the postseason without Robbie Hummel? Will Michigan State show some consistency? What seed can Wisconsin and Ohio State get? What about Illinois and Minnesota – will either team get an at-large bid? For the bubble teams, both teams have to get to the semifinals, meaning that both will have trouble. I think that the two best teams are Ohio State and Wisconsin, who will meet in the semifinals. The Buckeyes have the perimeter shooters to knock off the Badgers, and they will then proceed to defeat Michigan State handily in the title game.
No. 8 Michigan over No. 9 Iowa
No. 7 Northwestern over No. 10 Indiana
No. 6 Minnesota over No. 11 Penn State
No. 1 Ohio State over No. 8 Michigan
No. 4 Wisconsin over No. 5 Illinois
No. 2 Purdue over No. 7 Northwestern
No. 3 Michigan State over No. 6 Minnesota
No. 1 Ohio State over No. 4 Wisconsin
No. 3 Michigan State over No. 2 Purdue
No. 1 Ohio State over No. 3 Michigan State
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