It’s all come down to this!
The Big Ten Tournament is finally here and what a ride the ‘22-’23 season has been. Until the end of action on Sunday, the competition was so dense that there Northwestern could have finished in second place with a win over Rutgers, or in ninth place had they lost.
Parity was immense within the conference this season. Even if it did not go down the way that Michigan Wolverines fans had hoped for, they still had the possibility of finishing in second place in the conference heading into the last weekend of the regular season.
Here’s how the Wolverines and the rest of the conference stack up heading into the Big Ten Tournament:
No. 14: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last week: 14)
The Gophers had just two wins in Big Ten play and their season will likely be over after a game with Nebraska on Wednesday.
No. 13: Ohio State Buckeyes (Last week: 13)
At one point, the gap between Minnesota and teams like Nebraska and Ohio State was fairly thin. A few wins at the end of the season for either side changed that. The Buckeyes have looked a little more like their early-season selves with wins over Illinois and Maryland in the final two weeks of the season. I would not be shocked if they topped Wisconsin in the first round on Wednesday.
No. 12: Wisconsin Badgers (Last week: 10)
An anemic offense has plagued the Badgers all season, and several experts still have them in the NCAA Tournament. For a team that has gone 7-11 since January 1st, that is very surprising to me. They beat Minnesota by just four points in the final game of the season and I think they could lose to Ohio State on Wednesday to thrash their hopes of a tournament appearance.
No. 11: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Last Week: 12)
If Nebraska played the way they did in their last 8 games all season, it would have been a much different year for the Huskers. Keisei Tominaga has averaged 20 points per game in that stretch and is shooting the lights out from deep. They get Minnesota in round one, then Maryland - a team they beat just a few weeks ago - in round two. If there is a Cinderella team in the Big Ten Tournament, it will be Nebraska.
No. 10: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Last Week: 8)
Don’t get me wrong, this Rutgers team is still very dangerous and capable of beating Michigan on Thursday. However, they cannot just constantly rely on their elite defense to win them ball games. Over the final 9 games of the season, the Scarlet Knights averaged an abysmal 60.4 points per game on the offensive end. That earned them losses to Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska, plummeting their stock from second or third in the conference to being a mediocre at-best team. If they don’t perform in the Big Ten Tournament, they could lose an NCAA Tournament appearance altogether.
No. 9: Michigan Wolverines (Last week: 9)
Michigan is allergic to closing out basketball games. Their last four losses come at a combined 12 points, and three of those games came down to the final shot or overtime. We would be viewing this team so differently, if they had pulled off a win or two in one of the several that they lost going down the final six minutes of action. With a win over Rutgers on Thursday, I think the Wolverines actually position themselves to be in the tournament if they take Purdue to the wire. They’re in if they actually beat them. It’s a tough ask, and there is such limited time left. But, if this team can grow up when it matters in March as they have in other years under Juwan Howard, maybe they sneak into the dance.
No. 8: Penn State Nittany Lions (Last week: 11)
It was a season-saving week for the Nittany Lions after they pulled off upsets against Northwestern and No. 21 Maryland in action that went down to the wire. Crazy how much a season can change when a team wins a game or two in the clutch... Camren Wynter’s three-pointer at the buzzer propelled them past the Wildcats in overtime. Then, he did it again off a rebound to beat the Terps as the backboard lit up. Penn State will be riding big mo into the tournament as they hope that the magic they have had winning five of their last six hasn’t run out.
No. 7: Illinois Fighting Illini (Last week: 5)
This may be the lowest I have had Illinois all season. It took two overtimes and a collapse from Michigan for this Fighting Illini team to not lose their final three games of the season. They show fight, but they just play a lot of selfish basketball and make silly mistakes that can cost them a game. When the lights are on, against some of the best competition in the nation, I think this team lacks what it takes to get the job done. Their most veteran player, Matthew Mayer, had freaking caffeine poisoning for drinking too many Red Bulls while playing the new Warzone for Pete’s sake. This was a team that’s head coach threw them under the bus for a lack of leadership early in the season, and that was a prime example.
No. 6: Iowa Hawkeyes (Last week: 7)
Iowa goes up a spot this week despite a loss to Nebraska because they didn’t just beat Indiana in Bloomington, they absolutely shellacked them. The Hawkeyes shot 56.5% from behind the three-point line and held Indiana to just 43.1% on the night while playing in the most hostile environment in the conference. If it weren’t for that senior night loss at home against a surging Nebraska team, they would be a Top-5 team. I think they have a great shot at getting to the semifinals or deeper in this tourney if their offense can stay hot.
No. 5: Michigan State Spartans (Last week: 6)
Michigan State took care of business when they were supposed to this season. Their only bad loss came super early in the season to Notre Dame when they weren’t fully healthy. Outside of that, they have been in the upper half of the conference for pretty much the whole season. The problem: when a team is hot, they struggle to have enough firepower on the offensive end to keep up. With Iowa as a potential quarterfinal opponent, it could spell an early exit for the Spartans if the Hawkeyes are hitting shots at a high rate like they have so many times this year.
No. 4: Maryland Terrapins (Last week: 3)
Here’s a wild stat: Maryland went 11-9 in the conference. Undefeated at home, and 1-9 on the road. Their last two games of the regular season were at Ohio State and at Penn State, so naturally, they had to lose those games to fit this wacky narrative that has run all season long. Now they play on a neutral court in the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps have the talent to wing the whole thing, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if Nebraska upset them in the second round. It’s all going to depend on what Maryland team shows up.
No. 3: Northwestern Wildcats (Last week: 3)
The Wildcats earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament after beating Rutgers in Piscataway on Sunday to snap a three-game losing skid. This earned them a game against either Illinois or Penn State in the quarterfinals of the tournament. They lost to both of those teams in the final two weeks of the season, but both games were a flip-of-a-coin close. This tournament will be in Chicago, and this is the highest-ranked Northwestern team in quite some time. I expect their fans to show out, and for the Wildcats to be competing for the conference tournament title.
No. 2: Indiana Hoosiers (Last week: 2)
Indiana is extremely lucky. They beat Michigan twice, and Illinois once by a combined six points. We are looking at their team and season much differently if those games go the other way. But, they are the only team to boast of beating the Purdue Boilermakers twice this season. Arguably, they have the second-best player in the conference in Trayce Jackson-Davis as well. When trouble comes is when teams can lock down the paint and force them to shoot from deep. The Hoosiers shot the fewest three balls in the Big Ten this season with just 481, 70 less than the next closest team. Find a way to match to slow them down on the interior (or hit a bunch of threes) and Indiana is in trouble. However, I think they have the easiest road to the Big Ten Championship game based on matchups. We will see if they can get there.
No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers (Last week: 1)
From start to finish the Boilermakers have been the top dogs in the Big Ten. When you have a 7-foot-4 freak named Zach Edey who can get you 22 and 13 on a nightly basis, there aren’t many teams in the country who are going to beat you. My problem with them all season long has been the young guard play around him. That is what is going to determine if Purdue is a Big Ten or National Champion or a choke job like they have been the last several seasons around this time. We’ve seen a bit of a dropoff from both Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith over the last couple of weeks which is why the Boilers have lost games. They’ll need both scoring around double-digits a game in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond if they want to be crowned champs.