Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-UpPosted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
Conference Tournament Preview
After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.
Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.
A Look Back
The Big Ten was projected to be the best and deepest conference coming into the season and it didn’t disappoint. The conference was ranked No. 1 in the RPI and spent most of the year with five teams ranked among the nation’s Top 25. It was fitting that such a banner year in conference play concluded with a thrilling finish that forced a three-way tie for the regular season title. Some would argue that the Big Ten’s ascension to the top of the conference heap has less to do with actual quality and more to do with the relative weakness of the ACC, Big East and SEC, but the Big Ten has six solid NCAA Tournament teams and might add a seventh with Northwestern. It was a dogfight to play conference road games and wins like Penn State beating Purdue, Illinois downing Ohio State and Nebraska upsetting Indiana proved the depth of talented teams.
Ohio State was deemed the favorite in December after the way the Buckeyes destroyed Duke at Value City Arena. But the coaching in the Big Ten is arguably tops in the country, so guys like Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean devised ways to down the Buckeyes. In the end, both coaches from Michigan (Izzo and John Beilein) shook off major off-season losses by successfully integrating talented newcomers with savvy veterans to split with the Buckeyes and grab a share of the conference crown.
Indiana turned the corner this season under Tom Crean thanks to freshman Cody Zeller and an incredible 16-1 record at home. Northwestern hung tough with a lot of good teams this year, yet finished with just one win against the RPI Top 50 (Michigan State). So they are, as expected, on the bubble as they seek to make their first NCAA tournament appearance.
Conversely, teams like Minnesota and Illinois are headed to the NIT after they underachieved for various reasons (youth, injuries, inconsistency) and traditional football powers (Nebraska and ) struggled as expected.
- Coach Of The Year – Tom Izzo, Michigan State: Izzo took a team that was hit hard by the losses of Durrell Summers, Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe and Korey Lucious and still won a share of the regular season Big Ten title.
- Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Michigan State – A leader for the Spartans in the tradition of Mateen Cleaves and Magic Johnson, Green was versatile enough to guard the opponent’s best player and still become the first player since Tim Duncan in 1996-97 to average more than 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game.
- G: Robbie Hummel, Purdue (16.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG) – It took some time for Hummel to find himself consistently as he returned from a pair of torn ACLs, but he stepped up big time when Purdue was battling to secure solid NCAA Tournament status. He can hit the three and score in the post equally well, grabs plenty of big rebounds and plays with the kind of heart that would make former Boilermaker Brian Cardinal proud.
- G: Tim Frazier, Penn State (18.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.8 RPG, 2.3 SPG) – This junior guard came out of nowhere to rank in the Big Ten’s top 20 in points, assists, rebounds and steals. His efforts didn’t always result in wins, but he was great despite being a marked man for the Nittany Lions.
- F: John Shurna, Northwestern (19.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 2.7 Made threes per game) – The Wildcats leaned heavily on the school’s all-time leading scorer this season and the humble senior came through more often than not. A pure scorer with a quick release that is effective, if not pretty.
- F: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (17.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG) – Sullinger may not be as strong an NBA prospect as he was considered to be last season, but he still produced for the Buckeyes. While not overly athletic, he really uses his body well down to get off shots and grab rebounds.
- F: Draymond Green, Michigan State (16.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.5 APG) Big Ten POY
Sixth Man of the Year: D.J. Byrd, Purdue
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Game of the Year: Ohio State 72, Michigan State 70, March 3 in East Lansing
Newcomer of the Year: Trey Burke, Michigan
Most Improved Player: Tim Frazier, Penn State
1. Ohio State (25-6, 13-5) – The Buckeyes come-from-behind win at Michigan State to steal a share of the regular season title is a huge confidence boost heading into postseason play. William Buford had been struggling with his shot, but if he regains his offensive swagger, OSU will be dangerous. Sullinger, Buford and DeShaun Thomas can each drop 20 points on anyone. A tournament title this weekend might give them a one-seed, but a two-seed could be in the cards if they don’t take care of business. Team MVP: Jared Sullinger (17.3PPG, 9.7 RPG)
2. Michigan State (24-7, 13-5) – Last weekend was not kind to the Spartans. Not only did they blow a large lead and an opportunity at an outright Big Ten title, but they lose valuable freshman Branden Dawson to a torn ACL. MSU projects as a solid two-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, but they need point guard Keith Appling to rediscover his shooting touch to help take some of the scoring pressure off of team leader Draymond Green. Team MVP: Draymond Green 16.2PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.5 APG) Big Ten POY
3. Michigan (23-8, 13-5) – After point guard Darius Morris stayed in the NBA Draft, many people weren’t sure who was going to lead this veteran group. But John Belein did a masterful job of integrating freshman point guard Trey Burke into the team with veterans Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. The team lives and dies by the three-pointer, but their style is unique and difficult to prepare for on short notice. Regardless of what happens this weekend, they should be a solid third seed in the Tournament. Team MVP: Trey Burke (14.6PPG, 4.96 APG)
4. Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6) – The Badgers started slow in conference play, dropping three straight and starting 1-3 before righting the ship and going 11-3 in their last 14. They seem to be a solid four-seed heading into the NCAA Tournament with a unique style that is difficult for many teams to play. They led the nation in scoring defense (51.9 PPG) and can defend anyone, but they can also get beat by anyone in the Tourney if they don’t shoot the ball well. Jordan Taylor needs teammates Josh Gasser and Ryan Evans to help share the scoring load. Team MVP: Jordan Taylor (14.6PPG, 4.1 APG)
5. Indiana (24-7, 11-7) – The Hoosiers enter postseason play looking strong, having won seven of their last games eight (six of which were by double-digits). Christian Watford seems to have found his jump shot again, and Will Sheehey has given IU valuable depth. Given Indianapolis’s proximity to Bloomington and their 18-1 home record, IU could be considered a darkhorse to win the Big Ten Tournament. Most brackets project them as a three or a four-seed. Regardless, this team is good enough to make the Sweet 16 and possibly beyond. How will they handle the bright lights of postseason play away from Bloomington? The Team MVP: Cody Zeller
6. Purdue (20-11, 10-8) – The Boilermakers won five of their last seven games and enter postseason play looking solid. The loss of Kelsey Barlow hurt their depth, but not their team chemistry. Ultimately, seniors Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson will determine how far Purdue does this season. An upset over Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament might help their seeding, but Purdue is no better than an eight-seed otherwise. MVP: Robbie Hummel 16.8PPG, 7.0 RPG)
7. Northwestern (18-12, 8-10) – Will Selection Sunday reveal unbridled joy or crushing heartbreak for Northwestern? The Wildcats were close, but couldn’t get wins over Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State down the stretch. Most brackets seem to have them in right now, but wins over Minnesota and Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament would likely cement their case. If they don’t make it, they only have themselves to blame (1-10 versus RPI Top 50). Team MVP: John Shurna (19.8PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 2.7 Made 3-pt per game)
8. Iowa (16-15, 8-10) – Despite a near .500-record, Iowa still might have a shot at an NIT berth if they can get a couple wins in Indianapolis. Matt Gatens has been on fire lately, and Fran McCaffrey’s bunch seems to have bought into his system and is headed in the right direction as a program. They play at a much faster pace then most teams in the conference. They led the league in steals and finished third in scoring. Finishing over .500 is solid and those 16 wins included victories over Indiana, Michigan and a season sweep of rival neighbor Wisconsin. Iowa was not a team people wanted to play late in the season, especially at home. Team MVP: Matt Gatens (15.7PPG, 3.8 RPG)
9. Illinois (17-14, 6-12) – A season that started with so much promise at 4-1 fizzled after a home upset of Ohio State. The Illini dropped 11 of their last 13 games and are now NIT-bound. Illini nation won’t tolerate a .333-conference winning percentage, so Bruce Weber will likely lose his job at season’s end. This team had talent, but was maddeningly inconsistent and enigmatic, and underachieved because Weber never found a reliable point guard and struggled with the attitude and discipline of team leaders Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul. Team MVP: Meyers Leonard (13.4PPG, 8.3 RPG)
10. Minnesota (18-13, 6-12) – Everything changed once star forward Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL against Dayton. The youth of this team cost them a few games as they blew several leads down the stretch and they averaged a conference-worst 14 turnovers a game. They were the only team to beat Indiana at home this year, so it was clear they had talent. They just need to get more seasoning and become a little mentally tougher. It’s little consolation, but they could make some noise in the NIT. Team MVP: Trevor Mbakwe (14.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG)
11. Nebraska (12-17, 4-14) – The Cornhuskers limp into the Big Ten Tourney having dropped eight of their last nine games. Their four wins include home upsets of Indiana and Illinois, but they got a rude welcome from the conference overall. Like Penn State, they really struggled to score at times. The low point might have been their 34-point effort at home against Michigan State. Team MVP: Bo Spencer (16.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
12. Penn State (12-19, 4-14) – Penn State will be heading home after Indianapolis and their offense is the reason. The Nittany Lions were either 11 or 12 in the conference in scoring offense, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage. Patrick Chambers had a fairly inexperienced group once Taylor Battle and co. left. Junior guard Tim Frazier had a breakthrough season, garnering first and second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and coaches after ranking in the top ten in a variety of statistical categories. Team MVP: Tim Frazier (18.6PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.8 APG, 2.3 SPG)