Five Key Storylines in This Week’s Big Ten TournamentPosted by Brendan Brody on March 8th, 2017
The Big Ten Tournament begins this afternoon in Washington, D.C., when Penn State takes on Nebraska. It will end Sunday afternoon presumably with a postseason picture looking much closer to clarity. In anticipation of the proceedings, here are a handful of quick potential storylines to keep an eye on over the next five days.
Bubble Teams: Two of the more fascinating games in the early portion of the Big Ten Tournament will be Illinois vs. Michigan and Iowa vs. Indiana. With late-season surges, both the Illini and the Hawkeyes have moved into bubble consideration. Illinois has improved defensively over the past month but will be tested by Michigan’s sixth-most efficient offense in the country. Iowa has won four in a row (including a win over the Hoosiers) on the strength of 10.5 made three-pointers per game at a 46.7 percent clip. If both teams lose early this week, the number of Big Ten teams heading to the NCAA Tournament will essentially be set. Two wins, however, will keep the debate alive.
Clean Sweep: Purdue comes into the Big Ten Tournament as the top seed after winning the regular season championship by two games, but a difficult follow-up task awaits this week. Only two teams since 2011 have managed to win the outright regular season title as well as the conference tournament, but the Boilermakers have been the best team in the league all season. A sweep of both the regular season and postseason crowns will only help Purdue’s credibility with the selection committee, perhaps giving it the pathway to put together a run in the Big Dance for the first time since 2012.
Underdogs Making a Run: One of the most prevalent themes in the regular season was the general unpredictability of any given Big Ten game. Will this trend continue over the course of five days in D.C.? Nebraska and Penn State already have wins over top four seeds, while Rutgers just knocked off a bubble team and suffered numerous close losses this season. The other double-digit seed teams in the field — Indiana and Ohio State — are talented units that underachieved in a big way. Given how this season has gone, expect one of these teams to makes a surprising jaunt into the weekend.
Coaching Turmoil: There’s been plenty of gossip around the league about whether the head coaching jobs at Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio State will open depending on performances at the Big Ten Tournament this week. Does a semi-deep tournament run provide enough reason for these schools to retain their coaches, or will an early loss lead to a couple dismissals? The Big Ten has been fairly stable among the coaching ranks over the last five years, but this could change depending on the results of the next few days.
Northwestern Nightmare Fuel: After winning 21 games during the regular season, it takes some stretching to imagine a scenario where the Wildcats fail to make their initial appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Hypothetically, Rutgers could beat Ohio State tonight, setting up a frightening match-up that would terrify every Wildcats’ fan worried about taking a resume-killing loss. Be prepared to hear a great deal about Northwestern’s status up until Selection Sunday regardless.