Big Ten Tournament Preview and Predictions

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Update from 3/12/2020: Due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Big Ten Tournament has officially been canceled. The Big Ten will not crown a champion, unlike the ACC who declared regular-season champion Florida State the winner. Next week’s NCAA tournament is currently on as scheduled without fans in attendance, but that is likely to change in the coming days.

 

With the Big Ten regular season wrapped up on Sunday, the 14 members of the conference travel to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to participate in the conference tournament Wednesday through Sunday. There will be NCAA tournament seed, automatic bid, and program-altering implications on the line this week, and the five of us from the FHC Sports Report are here to preview an exciting time in college basketball.

 

Most Underrated Team

MatthewIowa

I have to go with the Hawkeyes on this one. Despite being ranked 25th in this week’s version of the AP Poll, Iowa is just 5-6 in the past 11 games, including losses to Purdue and Illinois this past week. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes have plenty of room to improve. Iowa went scoreless for 5:46 of the second half and still managed to bring the game down to the wire in a hostile environment against the #23 ranked Fighting Illini. Freshman guard Joe Toussaint looked great as well, finishing with 14 points in the game as really the fifth scoring option of the team. Let alone, they boast arguably the best player in the nation in big man Luke Garza, who is averaging nearly a double-double on the year with 23.9 ppg and 9.8 rebounds per game. He has five 30+ point games this year, including his career-high explosion of 44 points against Michigan.

AdamPurdue 

With impressive wins on their resume, I believe that Purdue can make a big run. With Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams to carry the big man game down low in a big man conference, and with the 3 point shooting solidified outside by Senior Evan Boudreaux, I think Purdue can make a big run against the post reliant, Big Ten teams.

TommyOhio State 

The Buckeyes have one of the most elite starting fives in the conference. Led by junior big man Kaleb Wesson, the Buckeyes present one of the best defenses in the country, giving up an average of 64.5 points per game. Ohio State is statistically the best 3-point shooting team in the Big 10. CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. make up a deadly backcourt that could create a major advantage in the tournament. Junior Andre Wesson also is a threat from deep and is very good at taking the ball to the basket. With many threats on the floor, the Buckeyes could be poised for a deep run in Indy. 

Eli – Rutgers

Although the Scarlet Knights have been streaky throughout the season, their big wins have carried them into an almost certain spot in March Madness. They put themselves on everyone’s radars with highlight wins over ranked Wisconsin, Seton Hall, Illinois, and Maryland teams. The dynamic duo of junior Geo Baker and sophomore Ron Harper Jr. look to go far in the Big Ten tournament and make a splash on the national level.

JoeIllinois

Third-year head coach Brad Underwood has led the Fighting Illini to a 21-10 record. Illinois’s 13-7 conference record has landed them a fourth seed in the Big Ten tournament, and Illinois is one of the most underrated teams in the country. The NCAA Net Basketball Rankings puts them in the 39th spot. With three players averaging double digits, the Illini have the ability to take down anyone in the country. Ayo Dosunmu is averaging 16.6 points and 3.3 assists. Combine that with Kofi Cockburn’s 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 rebounds a game, and the Illini have the needed assets to be successful.

 

Players that can carry their team to victory

MatthewGeo Baker (Rutgers)

The third team All-Big Ten honoree is Rutgers’ first player to be named to an All-Big Ten team since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten, and his leadership and playmaking have led them to their best season since joining the conference in 2014-2015. With an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3, which is good for seventh in the conference, and an average of 15 points per game in the last eight games after recovering from a thumb injury, Baker has been crucial to the success of Rutgers. In the regular-season finale at Mackey Arena, Baker dropped 11 points in the final six minutes of regulation to send it into overtime, eventually scoring a dagger to secure Rutgers’ second away win of conference play. With strong performances from Geo, look for the Scarlet Knights to pull off a couple wins in the tournament and secure their place in the big dance. 

AdamKofi Cockburn (Illinois) 

The seven-foot freshman is a beast. Amid a big-man conference, he is second in points per game, trailing Luke Garza of Iowa. He has a 53.2% field goal percentage on the year, which is good for sixth in the Big Ten. Overall, though, Kofi can throw down massive dunks and block the best big man in the conference any day. The only thing that would slow him down is his speed. If Minnesota makes a big run, Daniel Oturu could end up making Kofi look silly.

TommyLamar Stevens (Penn State)

Stevens will be the difference-maker in the Nittany Lions’ success in this tournament. The senior is averaging 17 points per game and is the main offensive catalyst for Penn State. Stevens offers a big presence for the inside averaging 6 rebounds per game also. Claiming first team All-Big Ten this year, it is no question that Stevens will be a key player in this year’s tournament. 

EliCassius Winston (Michigan State)

Winston has already achieved many accolades throughout his college basketball tenure, including Big Ten Player of the Year, First Team All-American by the AP and the Sporting News, and a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten First Team in the 2018-19 season. This year, while leading the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, Winston is averaging 18.6 points and 5.9 assists per game—his point-per-game average is third in the Big Ten, his assists-per-game average is fourth, his 43.2% three-point percentage is second, and he is tied for fourth for most steals-per-game in the conference with 1.2. He has gained the main leadership role on this team and it will look to him to show up and show out in the Spartans’ upcoming tournament appearances.

JoeTrayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana)

Trayce Jackson-Davis was named third-team All-Big Ten and made the Freshman all-conference team. Averaging 13.6 points and 8 rebounds a game, he is a key contributor for the Hoosiers. The 6’9 freshman dominates the glass for the Hoosiers, consuming 23.5% of the rebounds throughout the entire season. Coming into his freshman year at Indiana, Jackson-Davis was ranked 17th in ESPN’s top 100. He has shown his worth throughout the season. The superstar for the Hoosiers will help to lead Indiana to succeed in the near future.

 

Tournament Winners

MatthewMichigan

Call me crazy, and maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but I’m going to go with Michigan, but hear me out on this one before I’m crucified. On the top half of the bracket, no one impresses me. The Wolverines have already beaten their opening-round opponent Rutgers twice this year, with neither game taking place at home. Michigan’s length troubled the Scarlet Knights last go around in Rutgers’ only home loss of the year, and I expect this to be the case once again on Thursday afternoon. From there, a matchup against top-seeded Wisconsin scares me a bit, but out of the three co-champions of the regular season, I’d easily take a game against Wisconsin over red-hot Michigan State and the Anthony Cowan-led Maryland Terrapins. These two teams only played once in the regular season, and the Wolverines fell 81-74 at home. However, this was without junior guard Eli Brooks, who has been crucial to both sides of the floor for Michigan, and I expect his presence to make an immense difference. Seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske have played in the finals each year they have been at Michigan, and I’m confident in their ability to make it past what will likely be the winner of Iowa/Illinois. I expect Michigan to see the winner of Maryland/Michigan State in the finals, and I think we will see Michigan-Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship for the second year in a row. The Wolverines and Spartans split the series 1-1 this year, with the home team taking the contest both times. I thought Eli Brooks did a phenomenal job of guarding MSU’s Cassius Winston in the most recent matchup, holding him to 20 points on 5-18 shooting from the field, seven [points] of which came in the final 2:21 of the game. Michigan is 4-0 in neutral site games so far this year, including a marquee win over Gonzaga. If the Wolverines’ bigs Jon Teske, Brandon Johns, and Austin Davis can take care of Xavier Tillman down low, expect to see Michigan hoisting the tournament trophy for the 

Adam and TommyMichigan State

Ever since the Spartans’ loss to #9 Maryland at home at the near end of the season, they have been on a tear, winning their last 5 games of the regular season. Led by Senior Guard Cassius Winston and Freshman star Rocket Watts, Michigan State has begun to fund a rhythm at the right time. I think that Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten Conference right now, and I believe that they can make a big run to the championship game, and an even farther run in the NCAA Tournament.

Joe –Maryland

Maryland is coming off of a rough patch losing 3 of its last 5 games. With a win over Michigan on March 8, the Terrapins hope to gain some momentum heading in the Big Ten Tournament. Mark Turgeon has helped his team achieve a “bye” into the quarterfinals of the tournament already. Maryland’s dynamic duo of Anthoney Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith dominate the two-man game. Enforcing a very productive pick and roll for the Terrapins, that can get points on the board at any time during the game. In my opinion, Maryland also has the easiest way to the championship. Penn State is a good team but I believe Maryland has the upper hand on the Nittany Lions.

Eli –Wisconsin

The Badgers secured the number one seed in the Big Ten after winning their last eight games in a row, with notable victories over Michigan, Ohio State, and Rutgers during this streak. Wisconsin has seemed to get it figured out on offense; the Badgers’ five starters all average close to or over ten points per game. Nate Reuvers, their star junior forward, is averaging 13.1 points, 1.9 blocks, and 0.5 steals per game. Guard D’Mitrik Trice is also shooting an impressive 37.6% from outside the arc. I predict Wisconsin and Michigan State meet in the tournament championship and much to my aversion, the Badgers best the Spartans in a decisive outcome.

 

Teams That are Hot

Adam and Matthew – Wisconsin

Early in the season, it looked like Wisconsin would have another year of ups and downs, failing to make the NCAA tournament yet again. With some ups and downs, Wisconsin was a .500 team in the middle of the season. Now that Freshman Micah Potter has stepped up as the sixth man for Wisconsin combined with the reliable Nate Reuvers doing his job per usual, the Badgers have been on a roll lately, winning eight in a row and 9 of their last 10. The Badgers have looked very tough to beat lately, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they make a run in both the conference tournament as well as the NCAA tournament.

Eli and Joe – Michigan State

The Spartans’ season started off full of disappointment, dropping three games in the first month of the season. The losses against Kentucky and Duke were understandable, but the loss to Virginia Tech in the Maui Invitational was unacceptable. Michigan State has flipped things around lately, however. The team has won five consecutive games ranging back to mid-to-late February, with four coming against ranked Big Ten opponents: Iowa, Maryland, Penn State, and Ohio State. Star Senior point guard Cassius Winston hopes to win one more Big Ten Championship title after winning the championship last year. In the 2019 championship game against Michigan, Winston put up 14 points and 11 assists. Tom Izzo does his best coaching in March and the “Spartans will” only heat up more.

Tommy – Illinois

The Illini will be one of the more interesting storylines heading into this tournament, jumping from an 11 seed last year to a four seed. Illinois has picked up quality wins over the past couple weeks such as a road win against Penn State and a big home win over Iowa. With playmakers such as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn gaining much attention from opposing teams when game planning against the Illini, this made room for Andres Feliz to emerge as a huge offensive threat. This three-headed monster for Illinois could be very dangerous for opposing teams in this tournament.