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Here are some quick tidbits on each Big Ten team as they enter the conference tourney, which starts on Thursday, March 11th.
#1 Seed – ILLINOIS (13-3 in conference, 22-5 overall)
|The Illini ran off 10 straight conference wins. (Getty Images)
** Illinois comes into the tourney as the league’s hottest team. At one point, the Illini were 3-3 in conference play only to rip off 10 straight wins to close out the regular season. Their one point win over Ohio State on Sunday to clinch the Big Ten outright title (first since 1952) was their sixth straight road win. The Illini haven’t accomplished that feat since 1956.
** Illinois’ three guard line up led the way down the stretch as Luther Head, Deron Williams and Dee Brown combined to average 44 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists in their last four games.
** The Illini (along with Wisconsin and Michigan State) are will be playing for a higher NCAA seed and not for their postseason lives as many of the conference teams will be. So it may take some of the pressure off of those three teams as they will not be forced to win to continue their seasons.
** The Illini play basically an eight-man rotation (the ninth gets eight minutes per game) with the starters all logging an average of 27 minutes or more. They are a very balanced scoring team, which can be tough to defend. Four of the five starters average double digits in points with the fifth, James Augustine, averaging nine PPG.
** Illinois won the Big Ten conference tourney last season. They will play Friday versus the winner of the Indiana – Ohio State game.
#2 Seed - WISCONSIN (12-4 in conference, 21-6 overall)
** The Badgers finished in a tie for second place with MSU, however they won the tie breaker as they beat the Spartans in both meetings this year. UW was vying for their third straight conference title (or share of the title), but fell just one game short.
** The Badgers were one of the most balanced scoring teams in college basketball a year ago as all five starters averaged double digits in points. This year they are a bit different. Only two regulars (Devin Harris and Mike Wilkinson) are averaging double digits. Point guard Devin Harris is the best player in the Big Ten and puts up 19 PPG. However, the loss of starter Alando Tucker early in the season due to a broken foot, has really hurt this team. Tucker, who is now redshirting this year, was the team’s best offensive rebounder and inside scorer (along with Wilkinson). Not to mention he might have been the most athletic player in the Big Ten. Without him Wisconsin is a very good team, with him they would have been one of the very elite team’s in the country.
** Unlike last year when head coach Bo Ryan stuck with a seven-man rotation for most of the season, this year’s Badgers are much deeper. Ryan uses a nine-man rotation with all nine averaging at least 11 minutes per game. Each UW starter logs at least 27 MPG average with Harris topping the team at 36 MPG.
** One thing that could hurt Wisconsin come tourney time is the lack of offensive pop from senior guard Freddie Owens. He injured his foot back in January and hasn’t been the same (on offense) since. A year ago, Owens averaged 10.3 PPG shooting 44 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc. He hit the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer last year to beat Tulsa and send the Badgers to the Sweet. This season since the injury, he has NO confidence in his outside stroke. His scoring average has dropped to just 6.8 PPG and he is shooting horribly from behind the arc (24 percent). Wisconsin needs him to break out of his funk to make a run in the Big Dance.
** The Badgers play Friday against the winner of the Purdue – Minnesota game.
#3 Seed- MICHIGAN STATE (12-4 in conference, 17-10 overall)
|Michigan State shoots 49 percent from the field. (Getty Images)
** After starting the season just 5-7, the Spartans went on a nice roll finishing with a 12-3 mark their last 15 games. A fairly young MSU team was simply not ready for the brutal schedule that head coach Tom Izzo put them through to start the season. Early season losses included Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Wisconsin. All of those teams were ranked in the top 20 at the time Michigan State played them.
** The problem with MSU coming into the season was the fact that they do not have a true point guard. Chris Hill is definitely a shooting guard and Alan Anderson is a small forward playing point guard. True freshman Brandon Cotton was expected to be talented enough to take over the team by mid season, but he decided to transfer just a few games into the year. Look for that to hurt this team come NCAA tourney time when you must have strong guard play to advance deep into the bracket.
** Despite their lack of a point guard, MSU can shoot the ball. They average just under 40 percent as a team from behind the arc, which is tops in the Big 10 and 12th in the nation. They also shoot 49 percent as a team from the field, which is also best in the conference and sixth in the country.
** The Spartans run mainly a seven-man rotation. One concern they have with a short rotation is the fact that freshman starter Shannon Brown has really “hit the wall” so to speak late in the season. He has scored just 12 total points in his last five games. Many times top notch true freshman can play well for a period of time, but have problems late in the season as they are simply not used to this playing schedule. It looks like that is the case with Brown. He must come out of his slump to give MSU a shot to run deep into the NCAA tourney.
#4 Seed- IOWA HAWKEYES – (9-7 in conference, 16-11 overall)
** This is a very important tourney for Iowa. The Hawks must win at least two games getting to the conference finals to have a decent shot for an at large berth in the NCAA. If the Big Ten is to get a fourth team in the Big Dance, it would likely be either Iowa or Michigan barring another unexpected team running the table and getting the automatic berth. Right now, the Hawks look like they’re NIT bound unless they can put on a nice run this weekend.
** Iowa’s leading scorer, Pierre Pierce, missed the second half of the Northwestern game last Wednesday with a scratched eye. He came back to play in Iowa’s big win at Purdue on Saturday, thus he will be fine for the conference tourney.
** Iowa may very well be the “thinnest” team in the conference. They are operating with just seven scholarship players after injuries, academics and defections nailed this team earlier in the season. Iowa has a good nucleus of players, however with such little depth it was quite an achievement for the team to finish fourth in the regular season. They must play three straight days in order to win the Big Ten tourney and with basically no bench, one or two wins is all that can be expected from this team. If they did win two games getting to the finals, look for them to be dead tired by Sunday.
** Iowa plays Michigan on Friday.
#5 Seed - MICHIGAN – (8-8 in conference, 17-10 overall)
** This can be a dangerous team come tourney time. The Wolverines have as much talent as most teams in the Big Ten, however they are a very young team. If they can get on a roll and pick up some confidence, they can beat anyone in this conference on a neutral court. The problem with this team is they struggled away from their home court. They beat teams like Wisconsin and NC State at home, but were just 2-6 on the road in the Big Ten. However, the Wolverines may have picked up some much-needed confidence beating a good Northwestern team in Evanston to close out the season.
** Crazy as it may sound, Michigan might be the deepest team in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are also, as a whole, the most athletic team in the conference. They play nine players in the rotation, with all getting at least 13 minutes. Again the problem is, they are so young. Of the nine players that play regularly, three are freshman, four are sophomores, one junior and one senior. This will be a dangerous team next year and for year’s to come.
** The Wolverines are in the same boat as Iowa. They must get at least two wins to get serious consideration for an at large berth in the NCAA tourney. That would get them to the Big Ten finals on Sunday. One win and most likely they would fall into the hands of the NIT.
** Michigan plays Iowa on Friday.
Seed #6 NORTHWESTERN (8-8 in conference, 13-14 overall)
** Obviously based on their record, NU has no chance to get into the field of 65 unless they win the Big Ten tourney. Having to win on four consecutive days makes that almost impossible. However, if they could win two games and guarantee themselves at least a .500 overall record, the NIT is a strong possibility. For some programs that might not be a big incentive, however with the Wildcats it is. They very seldom get to play in any postseason game, thus that is their goal. Win two games and get a shot at the NIT.
** The one problem the Wildcats will have, is they place huge minutes on their starters. Each of their five starters AVERAGES 29 minutes or more. They have been playing just six players on a regular basis. The Cats sixth man for most of the season was Evan Seacat, who averaged six PPG while playing 17 minutes per game. Seacat, however, has not played since getting his “bell rung” back on February 14th versus Penn State. His status is in question for the tourney.
** The 8-8 conference record was the best Big Ten finish for Northwestern since the 1967-68 season.
** Northwestern plays Penn State on Thursday. The winner will take on Michigan State on Friday.
Seed #7 - PURDUE (7-9 in conference, 17-12 overall)
|Purdue is a solid defensive club. (Getty Images)
** We’ve got a feeling the Boilers could be a sleeper in this tourney. They definitely need to win a few games and may need to win the whole thing to get into the Big Dance. They do have some very good wins on their resume’. Purdue beat Duke early in the season and also took down Wisconsin and Michigan State. An overtime loss at home to Illinois last Wednesday really hurt. This team plays solid defense and has decent veteran leadership with Kenneth Lowe and Austin Parkinson. The Boilermakers struggled late in the season by getting blown out at Wisconsin in the Badgers’ final home game. Then they lost in OT at home to Illinois before falling flat at home to lose a close one (63-62) last Saturday to Iowa. The Hawkeye game was very well a letdown game after Purdue put all of its eggs into the Illinois game only to come up two points short. Watch out for this team.
** The Boilers had some injuries down the stretch, which also hurt them. Forward Matt Kiefer, who was a starter for much of the season, has been out since February 21st with a stress fracture in his foot. Word is Kiefer, who averages seven PPG and four RPG, has been lightly practicing this week and should be ready for Thursday’s game against Minnesota. PU was 0-3 without him, and he would be a big boost to Purdue’s thin front line. Purdue has struggled against zones down the stretch due to a lack of inside scoring.
** Gene Keady plays 10 players on a regular basis. The Boilermakers are very solid on defense, however they do have trouble scoring the basketball. They have just two players who average in double digits and their leading scorer, Kenneth Lowe, averages 13 PPG. Lowe was also named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year. In the last 11 games, Purdue topped 70 points just twice. ** Purdue plays Minnesota on Thursday. The Boilers beat the Gophs twice this year by seven at home and by 18 in Minneapolis. If they get by that game, they play Wisconsin.
#8 Seed - INDIANA (7-9 in conference, 13-14 overall)
** Talk about falling flat after a great start. After the Hoosiers opened the Big Ten season by getting blasted by Wisconsin, they then rolled to five straight wins and were tied for first place in the conference at 5-1. IU then proceeded to lose eight of its last 10 games, including five of the last six games at Assembly Hall which is unheard of. Some of those losses were to the likes of conference powers Wisconsin and Illinois, however a few of the home defeats were downright embarrassing against Minnesota and Ohio State. Coach Mike Davis is very worried that his team has not improved at all, and a case can be made that the Hoosiers have gotten worse as the season has gone on.
** Indiana must win at least two games in this tourney to even qualify for the NIT. If the team doesn’t win two games, IU will have its FIRST losing season since 1969-70. The Hoosiers have very little chance to win this tourney and get the automatic bid to the NCAA. They also don’t sound to jazzed about fighting their way into the NIT either. Here is a comment from senior A.J. Moye following their season ending loss to Wisconsin. “I don’t want to play in the NIT. That’s the loser’s tournament.” The team’s leading scorer Bracey Wright also said the NIT doesn’t interest him. IU may not have a whole lot to play for in this tourney.
** The problem with IU’s offense is two fold. The Hoosiers are a bad-shooting team, hitting just 39 percent of their shots for the season. They also have NO inside game. George Leach is the only inside threat, with 6’3’’ A.J. Moye probably being their second best option in the paint which is not a good thing. When 6’8’’ forward Sean Kline blew out his knee a few games back, that really hurt the Hoosiers in the paint.
** IU plays Ohio State on Thursday, with the winner facing off against conference champ Illinois on Friday.
Seed #9 OHIO STATE (6-10 in conference, 14-15 overall)
** Unlike the Hoosiers, at least the Buckeyes showed a little spunk down the stretch. We have to say, we thought OSU would be a pretty good team this year because of some talented transfers (Tony Stockman and J.J. Sullinger) adding to a decent corp of players already in place. However this team never really gelled. The Buckeyes did win three of their last five games, and took Illinois to the wire in the conference closer before losing by just one point.
** Also like the Hoosiers, OSU needs to win at least two games to qualify for the NIT. That will be tough seeing the Buckeyes would have to play Illinois again if they beat Indiana. They just took the Illini to the wire in Columbus, so we don’t expect the conference champs to overlook the Bucks. They seem to be much more motivated than Indiana and playing better. That being the case, don’t be surprised if OSU beats Indiana in round one on Thursday. You shouldn’t be, they already beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington this year.
Seed #10- MINNESOTA (3-13 in conference, 11-17 overall)
** Minnesota has been a dangerous team at times, however the Gophers are simply too one-dimensional. That dimension is freshman Kris Humphries shooting A LOT. Don’t get us wrong, Humphries is a fantastic talent for a freshman, however when he gets the ball you pretty much know what is going to happen. He led the Big Ten in scoring at 22 PPG and also picked up 10 RPG. However, he shot the ball a whopping 461 times this year. To give you some perspective, Gopher guard Ben Johnson took 244 shots which was second on the team. Thus Humphries took nearly two times as many shots as anyone else on his team. That being said, if he gets hot, he can really be a dominant player. Don’t expect him to be in a Gopher uniform next year. He will be in the NBA.
** In its two games against Purdue this season (both losses), Minnesota was really bullied around by the Boilers. PU decided to be very physical with Kris Humphries and it paid off as the Boilermakers held him in check as well as any other team in the Big Ten. Humphries had 19 points in a loss at PU, but shot just 5-of-15 from the field. In Minneapolis, he had just 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Thus the Boilers held the Gopher star to 10-of-31 shooting (32 percent) and 16.5 PPG. That’s pretty good considering Humphries averaged 22 PPG and shot 46 percent from the field on the season.
Seed #11- PENN STATE (3-13 in conference, 9-18 overall)
** We’ll make it real quick on the Nittany Lions. They have very little chance to win a game in this tourney. They are young and not very deep. Their best player is Jan Jagla, who averages 14 PPG. He is a 6’10’’ player that would rather shoot three pointers than tussle in the paint. The Lions can muster a little inside game with Aaron Johnson, who averages nine PPG but that is about the extent of it. Their starting guards are two true freshman (Smith and Luber) who hit a serious wall about a month ago. Both average over 36 minute per game and they are now basically out of gas. They should definitely be one and done as they play a motivate