The Big Ten Tournament’s Most Burning Questions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 28th, 2018

It’s not even March yet and here we are, Day One of the Big Ten Tournament. It’s a strange feeling. Perhaps the only stranger feeling will be watching these predominantly Midwestern schools battle it out in Madison Square Garden, the venue where Willis Reed was immortalized and Frazier beat Ali and no Big Ten school outside of Rutgers sits within easy driving distance. Jim Delaney be damned, let’s examine the most important questions to be answered this week in Manhattan.

Crazy as it sounds, the Big Ten Tournament is in the Big Apple. (

  • Can Nebraska do enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid? After losing to Illinois on February 18, Nebraska took care of business by beating Indiana and hammering Penn State on Sunday in a veritable NCAA Tournament elimination game. Which is to say, the Cornhuskers — currently among Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out — still have life. Yet, with a 1-5 record against Quadrant 1 opponents and a 2-3 record against Quadrant 2, they will probably need to beat at least one NCAA Tournament-bound opponent this week in order to have a legitimate case come Selection Sunday. Luckily, Tim Miles’ group should get that opportunity on Friday against Michigan — the lone Quadrant 1 opponent they managed to beat this season. Another win over the Wolverines will give the Huskers an argument; a victory over Michigan State in the semifinals would probably make them a lock. Key number: 29.7% 3FG. Nebraska did a masterful job taking away the three-point line this season, holding opponents to a Big Ten-best 29.7 percent mark from behind the arc — among the best of any power conference team in America.

  • Can Michigan State or Purdue vie for #1 seed consideration? As of Tuesday, both the Spartans and Boilermakers sit firmly on the #2 line in most NCAA Tournament bracket projections. With conference tournament season yet to play out, though, there’s still plenty of room for movement — both up and down. In order to for either team to garner serious top-seed consideration, they will probably have to win it all in Madison Square Garden, then hope for either Xavier, Villanova, Kansas or Duke (or some combination) to stumble early in their respective tournaments. Michigan State’s relative dearth of quality wins (just 3-3 against RPI Quadrant 1 opponents) means it would probably need to face — and beat — Purdue in the title game to have a chance. With six wins against Quadrant 1 opponents, the Boilermakers might still have a case for the top line regardless of who they beat this weekend. Key number: 11-3. That’s Kansas’ record against RPI Quadrant 1 opponents, in case you’re questioning why the six-loss Jayhawks are so firmly ahead of the three-loss Spartans in most bracket projections.
  • Is Purdue back to being Purdue? After a shaky February marked by three losses and an injury to senior forward Vincent Edwards, Purdue managed to end its regular season on a high note: Edwards returned (10 points in 25 minutes), Dakota Mathias scorched the nets (7-of-9 3FG), and the Boilermakers crushed Minnesota by 24 points. “We needed that,” Mathias said afterward. It was the first time in nearly a month that Purdue looked like the dominant inside-out team it was for the first three months of the season. With Indiana, Minnesota or Rutgers up ahead, Purdue has an opportunity to take another step forward in the Big Ten Tournament. A win on Friday and the Boilermakers will likely face Ohio State — the only team to beat Purdue at home — in the semifinals. Considering Edwards’ ankle and the team’s reliance on three-point shooting (and thus fresh legs), the week off before Selection Sunday should help Matt Painter’s crew. This week, though, presents an opportunity for his team to regain its mojo and perhaps position itself for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Key number: 32%. During the month of February, all-conference guard Carsen Edwards used (on average) a whopping 32 percent of Purdue’s possessions while on the floor, further evidence that the explosive sophomore has become the Boilermakers’ go-to offensive weapon.

A Michigan-Michigan State semifinal would be juicy. (Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Does Michigan have another run in it? Last season, Michigan’s plane nearly crashed and it showed up late, only to win four games in four days en route to the Big Ten title. This season, the Wolverines head to New York City as perhaps the league’s hottest club other than Michigan State. Thanks in part to outstanding bench production from freshman Jordan Poole (13.3 PPG in his last three games), Michigan has won five straight, including impressive road wins over Penn State and Maryland. John Beilein‘s teams are generally known for their offensive prowess, but it’s the Wolverines’ defense — ranked 11th nationally  — that’s helped it win games down the stretch. What’s more, the team’s seniors — led by Moritz Wagner — are playing perhaps their best basketball of the season. Michigan’s head-to-head loss to Nebraska means it must play on Thursday, but if the Wolverines can beat Illinois/Iowa and avenge their loss to the Cornhuskers, watch out: A rematch with Michigan State — which Michigan beat in East Lansing — would be one heck of a game. Key number: 2. That’s what Michigan ranks nationally in offensive turnover rate (14.2% TO), meaning the Wolverines will likely finish among the nation’s top 20 in that category for the sixth-straight year.
  • Can Penn State complete the Buckeye hat trick? By losing its last three games of the regular season, Penn State probably squandered any remaining NCAA Tournament at-large hopes. Still, you can bet the Nittany Lions are licking their chops this week. Assuming they can beat Northwestern on Thursday, Pat Chambers’ talented group would have an opportunity to beat #2 seed Ohio State for the third time this season — quite a feat, considering the Buckeyes have only lost to only one other Big Ten opponent (Michigan). Last time they played, Tony Carr dropped 30 points and Josh Reaves helped limit Keita Bates-Diop to a mere 10 points. Regardless of how the Buckeyes fare in March, this season will be considered an unqualified success. Still, another loss to Penn State would not do much for their confidence entering Selection Sunday. Key number: 35%. Bates-Diop, the Big Ten Player of the Year, shot just under 35 percent from the field over Ohio State’s last five games — well below his season mark of 48.4 percent.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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