Big Ten Tournament
Dates: March 8-11
Site: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Draw: Click here
Favorite: Taking the "What have you done for me lately?" approach, you've got to give the lean to No. 3 seed Ohio State heading in. Following a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Michigan State to close out the regular season on Sunday afternoon, the Spartans learned that they lost freshman guard Brandon Dawson to a torn ACL. That combined with losing two straight to end the regular season make Sparty a bit of a shaky No. 1 seed. Plus, on a neutral floor, they probably have an edge over second-seeded Michigan. Aside from a more favorable draw on their side of the bracket, the Buckeyes come in with senior guard William Buford having performed brilliantly in East Lansing. If he can keep the hot hand, they're more balanced and dangerous than anyone in this field.
Three others who can win it: With how wacky this league has been this season, you can really take your pick. If you're going to pick three, you might as well go with the hottest teams towards the top of the bracket. Michigan claimed a share of the league title and won a pair of tough road games to close out the season. They split the season series with Ohio State, so if they meet in the semifinals and they advance further, the Wolverines could definitely pull off a win on Sunday. Despite losing Dawson, the Spartans are still considered a strong threat, especially with Big Ten Player of the Year Draymond Green playing at the level he has of late. Also, keep an eye on both Wisconsin and Indiana, who will likely meet in Friday's quarterfinals. The Hoosiers finished the season strong, but they went 2-6 on the road in Big Ten play. How do they fare on a neutral floor?
Three players to watch:
• Draymond Green, F, Michigan State — If you like humble, hard-working, consistent, productive seniors, there's none finer in the country. Aside from the numbers (16.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.5 apg), he's the reason the Spartans are where they are entering March.
• Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State — Especially in big games, Sullinger competes as hard as anyone. Though a slew of nagging injuries hindered him a bit as a sophomore, this is the kind of stage he likes.
• Jordan Taylor, G, Wisconsin — Taylor hasn't had the monster senior season everyone expected, but he's still been very good and can't be ignored. He was strong late, too. In Wisconsin's last three games — all wins — he averaged 19 points, was 6-of-11 from long range and only committed four turnovers.
Bubble implications: The top six teams — Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue — are in. All eyes are on Northwestern. The Wildcats, who have never been to the NCAA tournament, have been the little engine that many around the country have pulled for all season, but they've simply found ways to keep breaking hearts time and time again in close games. They enter the conference tournament at 18-12 overall and with an 8-10 final record in Big Ten play, and a sub-.500 league mark should not be rewarded. The only win they have to brag about was a home upset of Michigan State back on Jan. 14. Plain and simple, they need to beat Minnesota on Thursday and Michigan on Friday. If they can do that, then, well, they're probably in. Whether that's fair or not … well, that's for another day.
Projected champ: It's hard to ignore what Ohio State did on Sunday afternoon in East Lansing. Despite their ups and downs in the regular season, the Buckeyes still have the strongest, most balanced lineup in the field, and they're playing well coming in. Considering that they'd get to avoid Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin all the way through to the title game, it sets up nicely for them. The best value in a prediction right now is with Ohio State.
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