By Connor McCann
College basketball fans can definitely argue that, overall, the Big Ten was the best conference in college basketball this year.
Conferences like the Atlantic Coastal and Southeastern have produced some of the top talent, but no league goes deeper than the Big 10.
Indiana, Penn State, Illinois, Rutgers, Nebraska and Northwestern were at the bottom of the conference, but those five teams combined for 11 wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the KenPom rankings.
Only those five will have to worry about the nine other programs joining them in Chicago this week for the Big Ten tournament. Michigan State leads the pack as the No. 1 seed- and they’ll be tough to beat. Unless you’re Indiana that is- whose beat them twice.
But Michigan beat MSU twice. Oh, and Michigan State beat Michigan Twice. You following? This should be a fun one.
We’ll start at the top. Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Wisconsin are the top four seeds. The hottest of those teams is Wisconsin, who has won three in a row. March always seems to be kind to the Badgers, so they are definitely a team to watch. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have to get past Michigan State to make it to the final- no easy task. The Spartans started the season off rather slowly, but have really come into form in the last few weeks.
Indiana is certainly a strong sleeper pick. What a frustrating season . They have all of the talent necessary to win this tournament, but they’ve struggled in a lot of games that should have been easy wins. Nontheless, they’re the hottest team in the conference right now, winners of four straight including knocking off ‘Sparty’ and the Badgers. Peaking at the right time means something, especially in March. The Hoosiers won’t go gentle into that good night.
A player to watch is Wisconsin star Ethan Happ. He didn’t take home Big Ten Player of the Year honors- those went to Michigan State guard Cassius Winston.
But let that fool you. He’s top-five in the conference in points per game (17.8), rebounds per game (10.4) and assists per game(4.7). Happ has dominated against the other top three teams in the conference, failing to score 20 points just once in his four games against Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan. Wisconsin will need him to keep up that big-game mentality if they want to go far.
Prediction time. I don’t think that, if it comes to Michigan-Michigan State final, that the Spartans will be able to take down the Wolverines for the third time. Heck, I don’t think anyone is going to take down Michigan in this tournament. I haven’t spoken about them much in this article, but I think they’re the real deal. Sure they’ve slowed down since their incredible start to the season, but I don’t see anybody getting in their way when the time comes to get down to business.
Predicted champion: Michigan.