By Cole Tussing
Player to watch – Luka Garza (Iowa Hawkeyes)
The current favorite to win the Naismith Award, which is given to the best overall player over the course of the season. Garza is a true scoring machine, and has been one of the main reasons the Hawkeyes have stayed competitive in this tight Big Ten. He’s averaging 24 points per game, which is best in conference and fourth best mark in the nation. Not only is he a threat and putting the ball in the hoop, but also a reliable rebounder. Garza is averaging a double-double with 10 rebounds, which is fourth in conference.
He’s done all of this without duo-guard Jordan Bohannon, which makes Garza even more terrifying for opposing defenses.
Team to watch – Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State over the last few years, has been that team where they have such a strong regular season, and fall short of expectations in March Madness. Feels like yesterday, of the infamous No. 2-seed Spartans getting upset by 15th Middle Tennessee back in 2016. The Spartans while got past the first round last year, struggled to beat Bradley. The Spartans are going to want to break the tradition that has preceded them over the last few seasons.
This team is deep, as always, with a lot of versatile playmakers. Cassius Winston is leading the way, who chose to come back to East Lansing, and not forgo the NBA Draft. Winston’s averages on the year are top 5 in conference in both points and assists, 18 points (third), six assists (fourth).
There’s also very few teams in the nation that rebound as efficiently as the Spartans. They are the best in the Big Ten, and eighth in the nation. A big reason for that is Xavier Tillman. Tillman brings down 10 rebounds a game (third in conference), and also is a defensive force with two blocks averaged (fourth).
On the year, Michigan State has beaten Seton Hall, Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois. Some of their losses are from Kentucky, Duke, and Maryland.
So it should be interesting to watch if the Spartans repeat like the last few years, or is this the time where the wheel finally breaks?
Sleeper of Tournament – Rutgers Scarlet Knights
If the Big Ten wasn’t so front-dominant with Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, we would be talking about the Scarlet Knights a lot more. This is a good team, good enough to have a strong chance at hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. They have wins over Stephen F Austin, Seton Hall, Penn State, and front-runner in Big Ten Maryland.
The Scarlet Knights are led by their dynamic backcourt in Ron Harper Jr and Geo Baker. Both are the leading scorers on the team. Harper is more of the rebounding guy, but Baker makes up for it with being a strong playmaker.
If this team makes the Big Dance, keep them on watch for upset alert.
Big Ten Champion pick – Maryland Terrapins
Anthony Cowan Jr would be my player to watch in this tournament, if Luke Garza wasn’t earning Naismith honors. Just like Winston from Michigan State, Cowan is also averaging top 5 in points and assists on the year, 16 points (fifth) and five assists (fifth).
Even though the Spartans are a better rebounding team as a whole, matched one-on-one Jalen Smith dominates over Xavier Tillman. Smith is second in conference in rebounding with 11 a game.
While the Big Ten has been competitive throughout the year, one thing has been consistent throughout, Maryland has been atop or right below the throne of the conference. The Terrapins had a pretty solid showing in the Big Dance last year. This time around, Final Four might be a stretch, but at the right moment could be bound for the Elite Eight. Unlike a team like Michigan State, I haven’t had a reason to doubt the Terps, because they show up in big time moments.
The Big Ten tournament is set to tip off March 11, starting off with a matchup between Minnesota and Northwestern.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org