**Editor’s Note: Sorry this is up a little late, we were having tech issues. That’s on us not Reags.
Ah, the Big 10. Nothing like having a major conference play its conference tournament a week early because its desire to get a footprint out east. I mean, it’s insanely dumb, so dumb that Jim Delany even said the condensed schedule won’t be happening next year. Just keep it simple, man. Keep the Big 10 Tournament in Chicago and Indianapolis. Rotate every couple years. It’s how it should be. That’s a blog for another day, so with that in mind let’s get into everything. Here’s this year’s bracket:
Odds: For those that like some sweat. These are the odds via Oddsshark:
Bubble Teams that Need a Win: There are really just two bubble teams here with Nebraska and Penn State. Nebraska is going to get the winner of Michigan vs Illinois/Iowa in the quarterfinals. Nebraska needs to win that and likely needs to beat Purdue to feel comfortable about a bid. Penn State gets Northwestern in the first round and then gets Ohio State for a third time this year. Penn State is on the bubble due to two wins over Ohio State earlier this year. However, Mike Watkins has been dealing with a knee injury and he’s expected to play minimal – if at all- in the Big 10 Tournament. Nebraska is the team that will draw most bubble talk though. They have a curious resume. They have one decent win – home vs Michigan and one bad loss – at Illinois. The rest of the resume is just whatever. They beat teams they were supposed to. They lost to the teams they should. There’s a bit of an inflated record due to playing Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State just once. Two more quality wins would be incredible helpful due to that.
Value Team to Take: Michigan at 7/1 is pretty good value. Unfortunately they are the 5 seed instead of the 4 meaning they have to play one more game, but we saw that worked out for them last year. The Wolverines are absolutely rolling right now winning its last 5 including a home win over Ohio State. If they beat Illinois/Iowa, the Wolverines get Nebraska in the quarters and then Michigan State in the semis. Michigan actually matches up well against Michigan State due to the wing depth that Michigan has. Granted they’ve only played once each of the last two years, but Michigan has won both those games including at Michigan State this year. Again, at 7/1 it’s worth the shot.
Players to Watch: You know all about Miles Bridges and Keita Bates-Diop, so we’re going to leave them off the list here. Bates-Diop was just named Big 10 Player of the Year while Bridges was a consensus first-team All-Big 10 pick. You even know about Ethan Happ and Mo Wagner so we’ll leave those bigs off as well. But, what about the guys that the casual fan aren’t too familiar with? Here are five to watch:
Dakota Mathias (Purdue) – If you ask a casual fan to name guys from Purdue they’ll likely tell you Isaac Haas or Carsen Edwards or Vince Edwards. That all makes sense. But, it’s Dakota Mathias who really puts everything together for Purdue. Due to the fact they start two guards at 6’1″ or under, Mathias often takes on the role of having to guard the best and bigger wing player, something he thrives at. He’s one of the best defenders in the country. He also provides a steady hand on offense as he likes to run off screens and has a quick release to get his shot up.
Cassius Winston (Michigan State) – All Cassisus Winston is doing this year is leading the country in 3-point shooting at 56.5% while being arguably the most clutch player for Sparty. Not to mention he’s also 3rd in the country with a 44.6% assist rate. Not too shabby. If there’s a bucket needed late in the game, Michigan State will turn to either Winston or Bridges. Winston likes to attack off the dribble, especially with a high ball screen.
Tony Carr (Penn State) – Tony Carr was just named a first team All-Big 10 player as well and rightfully so. The sophomore from Philly has turned into the go to guy for Penn State and has the looks of a guy who has a shot at the NBA. Carr put up 19 points per game this year while shooting 46% from the 3-point line. He got close to the coveted 20/5/5 average as he went 19.9/4.8/4.5 splits this year. If Penn State wants to advance and get on the right side of the bubble here’s it’s going to come down to how Carr plays.
Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State) – Wesson has been better than advertised during his freshman year at Ohio State. We know all about KBD and Tate, but Wesson is a key part due to his size. He’s really the only one over 6’8″ that sees a decent amount of playing time – Micah Potter gets about 20% of the minutes as the other 6’8″ or taller player. Wesson’s stats won’t blow you away as he’s averaging 11 point sand 5 rebounds a game, but he’s vital to how Ohio State runs its sets.
Isaac Copeland (Nebraska) – The Georgetown transfer has stepped right in to help Nebraska. Yes, James Palmer Jr., (another transfer) has been Nebraska’s best player, but Copeland’s ability to play that stretch position and keep the lane open is vital. What’s also vital is Copeland’s ability to stay on the floor. He doesn’t commit many fouls, which means Nebraska can always have one of its two best players out there. If Nebraska wants to get those two wins it needs, Copeland needs to play like an All-Big 10 player.
Storylines to Watch:
1. Does anyone show up for these games?
This is strictly an off the court thing, but I’m curious to see how MSG draws for this. It’s not like there are a ton of Big 10 grads living in NYC – I’m pretty sure all of them work in the Barstool office. It’s also not like Rutgers will have a bunch of fans there to draw the homecourt advantage of playing in New York. Maryland isn’t good enough this year where fans will hop on the train up to NYC either. I’m genuinely curious to see how the attendance looks. When Minnesota/Ohio State played at MSG back in January it was not a good draw.
2. Can Michigan do it again?
Last year Michigan caught fire in the Big 10 Tournament. It started with the crazy story of a near disaster during takeoff due to high winds and resulted in one of the best conference tournament runs I can remember. This year they enter the Big 10 Tournament on a 5-game winning streak, having to play an extra game as the 5-seed (last year they were the 8) and expectations yet again. If Michigan can do it two years in a row, I think we may actually hear everyone talk about John Beilein the way we should – as a top-15 coach in America.
3. How chalky will this go?
The Big 10 is in a weird spot this year. It’s just a bad year for the Big 10. You have a couple really good teams, but other than that? A whole lot of nothing. That could mean one of two things. We’re going to see wild upsets and a team like Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game or complete chalk and a title game of Michigan State vs Purdue and a semifinal consisting of Michigan State/Michigan/Purdue/Ohio State.
4. Can Michigan State get a 1 seed?
Michigan State is one of the four best teams in the country, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a 1 seed. That’s the thing to remember with the committee – they select based on resume, not eye test, not rankings, etc. Michigan State needs to win the Big 10 Tournament to have a shot at a No. 1 seed. It got help this week with Duke losing at Virginia Tech, which puts Michigan State into that No. 5 spot for me right now behind Virginia/Kansas/Xavier/Nova. Win the Big 10 and you get a week off to relax, recover and hope that you get a little bit of help to jump to the top line.
1st Round: No. 13 Illinois over No. 12 Iowa, No. 11 Minnesota over No. 14 Rutgers
2nd Round: No. 9 Wisconsin over No. 8 Maryland, No. 5 Michigan over No. 13 Illinois, No. 7 Penn State over No. 10 Northwestern, No. 6 Indiana over No. 11 Minnesota
Quarterfinals: No. 1 Michigan State over No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 5 Michigan over No. 4 Nebraska, No. 2 Ohio State over No. 7 Penn State, No. 3 Purdue over No. 6 Indiana
Semis: No. 1 Michigan State over No. 5 Michigan, No. 3 Purdue over No. 2 Ohio State
Finals: No. 1 Michigan State over No. 3 Purdue
MVP: Cassius Winston (Michigan State)
All-Tournament Team: Cassius Winston (Michigan State), Miles Bridges (Michigan State), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahman (Michigan), Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State), Vincent Edwards (Purdue)
Why Michigan State: As I said, they are a top-4 team in the country and are really starting to play good basketball. More importantly, they can go all out in this event with the week off. That’s the one weird thing about this event being a week early. You can play rotations a little different without having to worry about guys being tired for a game less than a week later. I really wanted to take Michigan over Michigan State and then to win it all, but the fact Michigan has that extra game makes me worried for them. Michigan State has the depth and talent though to handle a tournament style event.