Big Ten Wrap & Tourney PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten. With action set to tip from Indianapolis on Thursday, get set for the postseason with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and postseason outlook.
The Big Ten Tournament should prove to be quite the entertaining tournament. With so many teams on the bubble, every game is going to have a do-or-die atmosphere to it. Three of the four quarterfinal games, excluding the one in which Ohio State is playing, could propel teams to NCAA Tournament at-large bids. Another important matchup to watch is Northwestern vs. Minnesota in Round 1 – where they’ll probably be playing for an NIT berth.
- Cold Teams: Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana
- Is Battle Ready For last Stand?: The Nittany Lions’ Talor Battle will try to finally make the NCAA Tournament. Can he shoot Penn State off the bubble and into the field?
- Is Nolen Healthy?: Al Nolen hasn’t played January 22 against Michigan, but he could return this week. Would it be enough to get the Gophers rolling?
- Can Anyone Stop Ohio State?: The Buckeyes look like a juggernaut, and this isn’t the time to be putting big decisions in the hands of the selection committee. In order to feel comfortable about its #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten’s first. Northwestern played them close at Welsh-Ryan Arena – is a big upset in the making?
- Will Izzo’s Tournament Touch Get Going?: Of the teams playing in the first round, Michigan State seems like the most likely candidate to reach the tournament finals. It seems like Tom Izzo just has a knack for this kind of thing by now.
- Is The Next Generation Ready?: There are nine seniors on the three All-Big Ten teams selected by the coaches, and just one freshman. Are players like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, Northwestern’s JerShon Cobb and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. ready to play significant crunch time roles? Or will they wilt under the bright lights in Indianapolis?
A Look Back
- When the season started, it looked like the Big Ten was separated into three tiers. That ended up being the case. More about this in the power rankings.
- Injuries and personnel moves played a big role in the Big Ten this season. Minnesota has gone from an early season Sweet 16 candidate to an NIT bubble team thanks to the transfer of Devoe Joseph and an injury to Al Nolen. Northwestern played with John Shurna less than 100 percent for most of the season and Indiana has been pummeled by injuries as well. While health was a constant question on those teams, Purdue managed to finish second in the conference even without Robbie Hummel.
- G: E’Twaun Moore, Purdue (18.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.2 APG)
- G: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin (18.2 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4.2 RPG, 8.8% TO% which is fifth best in the nation, 130.4 Offensive Rating, good for 11th in the nation)
- F: Jon Leuer, Wisconsin (18.9 PPG, 7.3 PPG)
- F: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (17.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 27.1 DR%, which is 11th in the nation)
- F: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (20.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG) — Big Ten Player of the Year
Sixth Man of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State (6.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, unanimous selection to All-Big Ten defensive team)
Game of the Year: Wisconsin 71, Ohio State 67 in Madison
Newcomer of the Year: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Most Improved Player: Jeff Brooks, Penn State (13.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
Glue Guy: David Lighty, Ohio State (12.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.4 APG)
The Big Ten ended up breaking into four tiers by the end of the conference season. There are three elite teams, four NCAA bubble teams, two NIT teams and two teams going home early.
1. Ohio State (29-2, 16-2) – The Buckeyes will be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to be the top seed overall. The two losses were in conference on the road against Wisconsin and Purdue, two teams that didn’t lose a home game all season. Ohio State is a definite Final Four contender and is a balanced juggernaut. Four of the team’s players appeared on one of the Big Ten’s three all-conference teams and a fourth, Aaron Craft, made the all-freshman team. Last week, Ohio State got its revenge against Wisconsin in record fashion. The Buckeyes made 14 of 15 three-point attempts, setting a record for the best single-game three-point percentage in NCAA history. Jon Diebler led the way by going 7-8 and scoring 27 points. Team MVP: Jared Sullinger
2. Purdue (25-6, 14-4) – A questionable two-point loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena might give some people pause, but it just seems like a lack of focus. Matt Painter has kept this team heading in the right direction, even without Robbie Hummel. Of course having all-league talents like E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson doesn’t hurt. Still, the Boilermakers have gotten key contributions from Lewis Jackson, D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith and the defense has been outstanding (currently second in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy). The Boilermakers are probably going to be a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and should be able to make a deep run. Team MVP: JaJuan Johnson
3. Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5) – The second slowest team in the country also happens to have the nation’s best offense. Thanks to an aversion to turnovers, great free throw shooting and an uncanny ability to this shots the Badgers finished the regular season ranked #1 in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Jordan Taylor probably dropped himself from conference player of the year consideration by going 2-9 from the field and scoring just eight points in the loss to the Buckeyes, but that shouldn’t diminish the outstanding season he’s had. The Badgers are probably looking at a #3 or #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if they have to play an underdog that likes to play at a faster tempo. Team MVP: Jordan Taylor
4. Michigan (19-12, 9-9) – John Beilein would get my vote for Big Ten Coach of the Year. He took a young team that was picked by everyone to finish last in the Big Ten and made it into an NCAA contender. By beating Michigan State to close the regular season, the Wolverines probably have done enough to make the field of 68, but a win over Illinois in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament wouldn’t hurt. Freshmen Jordan Morgan (9.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG) have been outstanding, but sophomore point guard Darius Morris (15.1 PPG, 6.8 APG, 4.0 RPG) is the straw that stirs the drink. Expect to see the Wolverines dancing as very dangerous #10 or 11 seed. Team MVP: Darius Morris
5. Illinois (19-12, 9-9) – The Fighting Illini are wrapping up a season that can only be described as “disappointing.” Illinois has a ton of talent and a roster full of seniors, but players like Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis haven’t been able to put it together when it counts. It looks like Illinois won’t slip to the NIT this season and should be a #8 or 9 seed come Selection Sunday. Of course Bruce Weber’s team is 6-9 since starting Big Ten play 3-0, so they’re heading in the wrong direction. Team MVP: Demetri McCamey (15.0 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.4 RPG)
6. Michigan State (17-13, 9-9) – Playing the hardest schedule in the nation has skewed the record of the Spartans, who reached the Final Four a season ago. Kalin Lucas has been trying to will his team to the NCAA Tournament. He’s averaged 21.6 points per game over the final five games of the season. Unfortunately Michigan State was only a 3-2 record in those games. The Spartans should make the NCAA Tournament, allowing Tom Izzo to work his March magic again, but they’re going to be in the First Four or sitting on the #11 or 12 seed line. Team MVP: Kalin Lucas (17 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SPG)
7. Penn State (16-13, 9-9) – The Nittany Lions’ inability to win a single significant road game and a loss to Maine are probably going to leave them as one of the final teams out of the NCAA Tournament without an upset in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals (assuming they get past Indiana). That’s too bad, because Talor Battle (20.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.1 APG) deserved much better than that during his final season. Team MVP: Talor Battle
8. Northwestern (17-12, 7-11) – Despite what the media said about Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament hopes at the beginning of the season, this isn’t the year that the Wildcats break the curse. The Wildcats are hanging onto the edge of the NIT bubble, but will probably have to beat Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to stay there. Once again defense was the problem as the Wildcats had by far the worst defense in the Big Ten and ranked 150th nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. It came from a simple problem, too, as there were just too many open shots available against the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 and match-up zone defenses. Team MVP: Michael Thompson (15.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.3 APG)
9. Minnesota (17-13, 6-12) – A five-game losing streak, including losses at Northwestern and home against Penn State this week, dropped the Gophers from NCAA bubble team to NIT bubble in about two weeks. Besides the stellar play of Trevor Mbakwe, the team has really struggled during that stretch. It probably comes from having just one experienced guard on the roster in Blake Hoffarber. Chip Armelin, Maverick Ahimisi and Austin Hollins weren’t ready from prime time roles when Al Nolen got hurt. There are rumors that Nolen will be back for the Big Ten Tournament. If that’s the cas,e the Gophers could be an intriguing wild card. Team MVP: Trevor Mbakwe (13.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG)
10. Iowa (11-19, 4-14) – By beating Purdue close out the regular season the Hawkeyes claimed sole possession of 10th place in the conference. That might not seem like much, but it’s a good building block for Fran McCaffery’s first season. McCaffery has brought a different style to the Big Ten and the Hawkeyes were by far the fastest team in the conference at 68.0 possessions per game (102nd in the country). Freshman Melsahn Basabe (11.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and junior Bryce Cartwright (10.8 PPG, 5.8 APG) are good building blocks for next season. Team MVP: Matt Gatens (12.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG)
11. Indiana (12-19, 3-15) – The Hoosiers didn’t win a single road game all season and are currently on an eight-game losing streak going into the Big Ten Tournament. Tom Crean’s team is heading home for the season as soon as they lose in Indianapolis. Team MVP: Christian Watford (16.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG)