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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Bracketology: Purdue looks for top overall seed

When it comes to the Big Ten right now, it’s Purdue and then everyone else.

The Boilermakers will be in “prove it” mode when the NCAA Tournament mode kicks off, but as things stand, they are a class above their conference foes. While everyone is jockeying for middling seeds, Purdue is stating its case for the No. 1 overall seed. The Boilermakers just vanquished the two other highest-ranked teams on this list and now embark on a journey for a second-straight Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament title.

That tournament tips off Wednesday at Target Center with a double-header on Peacock. At 5:30 p.m. EST, No. 12 seed Maryland takes on No. 13 Rutgers; 25 minutes after that matchup concludes, No. 11 Penn State faces No. 14 Michigan. Could any of those first-round teams go on a wild ride in Minneapolis?

The Terrapins are probably the best team of the four; they actually meet the baseline NET ranking for a Big Ten team to make the NCAA Tournament in the last three seasons with a top-75 mark – none of the other teams rank better than 93rd. However, if I were to pick one team to go on a Cinderella run deep into the Big Ten Tournament, I would pick Penn State for one reason: bracket opponents.

The Nittany Lions start out against Michigan, easily the worst team in the conference (their NET rating is 30 behind anyone else). If they win that game they get Indiana, which has the second-worst NET rating in the conference. They avoid Purdue’s side of the bracket, instead getting Nebraska in a potential quarterfinal.

Could Penn State beat Nebraska and Illinois to make the final? It’s doubtful, but it seems the most plausible path for any of the first-round teams. Now, let’s see where the teams that do not need the conference championship project when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding:

Purdue: 1-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 8 Michigan State/No. 9 Minnesota

A few notes on the way Purdue has finished this season:

· The Boilermakers won 14 of their final 15 regular season games. The last three of those came against the Big Ten teams with the second-, third- and fourth-highest NET ratings in the conference (Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan)

· Zach Edey has led the team in both scoring and rebounding in eight straight games. Over that span, he is averaging 27.1 points and 12 rebounds per game.

So, the team and its best player -- the presumptive back-to-back player of the year, in fact – are playing their best at the ideal time. I like their chances to repeat as Big Ten Tournament champions.

Illinois: 4-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 7 Iowa/No. 10 Ohio State

It had to be frustrating for Illinois to blow a six-point halftime lead over Purdue at home in their last chance to earn a share of the conference regular season title. Factor in Purdue shooting 8-of-10 from three in the second half and Terrence Shannon Jr. struggling with a season-low 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting, and it just gets more aggravating. However, if the Illini take care of business in Minneapolis, they will get their third shot at Purdue with the conference title on the line.

Wisconsin: 7-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 12 Maryland/No. 13 Rutgers

The Badgers got back in the win column against Rutgers and put up a major fight in Mackey against Purdue Sunday. Still, they did lose eight of their final 11 regular-season games, squandering a chance at a high seed and a double bye in Minneapolis. This is clearly not the team that was ranked top-10 earlier this season, but can they fight their way to a semifinal rematch with Purdue?

Northwestern: 9-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 8 Michigan State/No. 9 Minnesota

The Wildcats are an interesting team, capable of scoring an eye-searing 49 points on 35.3% shooting in a close loss at Michigan State and dropping 90 on Minnesota in back-to-back games. Northwestern has to be happier about its bracket seeding than any other team in their position would be, though; if they can exact revenge on Wisconsin for the loss in their one matchup, the Wildcats get a rubber match with the Boilermakers. The teams split the season series and both games went to overtime, so Northwestern would enter that game completely unintimidated.

Michigan State: 9-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 5 Wisconsin/No. 12 Maryland/No. 13 Rutgers

The Spartans probably would have jumped back ahead of the Wildcats on these rankings due to the head-to-head win if only they hadn’t dropped the regular season finale to Indiana. We know by this point that Michigan State is volatile. In order to take the Big Ten crown, the Spartans would have to win four straight games, something they have only done once this season (and that included victories over Oakland, Stony Brook and Indiana State). Could they put a scare in Purdue in the quarterfinals, though? Absolutely.

Nebraska: 10-seed

First Big Ten Tournament game: vs. No. 6 Indiana/No. 11 Penn State/No. 14 Michigan

The Cornhuskers had the whole week to prepare for the finale against Michigan, and their win earned them the crucial No. 3 seed that keeps them off Purdue’s side of the bracket. It will be a treat to watch Keisei Tominaga, who dropped 30 on the Wolverines, in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments; if he hits a few big shots in a row, keep an eye on the celebrations he will unleash.

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