Big Ten tournament preview: Indiana faces tough path to the title game

The Dagger will be previewing this week's eight marquee conference tournaments. Here's our look at the Big Ten tournament:

Big Ten Tournament
Dates: March 14-17
Site: Chicago (United Center)
Top four seeds: 1. Indiana 2. Ohio State 3. Michigan State 4. Wisconsin
Draw: Click here

Best draw: There's no such thing as an easy draw in the loaded Big Ten, but Michigan State's path is about as favorable as it could have hoped. Not only do the third-seeded Spartans avoid the likes of Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois in the quarterfinals, they're on the opposite side of the bracket from top-seeded Indiana, the only Big Ten team they didn't beat in the regular season. Iowa wouldn't be a cakewalk in the quarterfinals and likely semifinal opponent Ohio State is peaking in March, but Michigan State could have been in worse position.

Worst draw: For the top seed in the tournament, Indiana's draw is extremely difficult. The Hoosiers will begin in the quarterfinals against Illinois or Minnesota, two NCAA tournament-bound teams that upset them in the regular season. Up next is likely either fourth-seeded Wisconsin or fifth-seeded Michigan, both of whom are capable of winning the tournament. And if Indiana survives that game, the reward is probably either Ohio State or Michigan State in the title game. So if the Hoosiers cut down the nets, it's safe to say they'll have earned it.

Three players to watch:

• Trey Burke, G, Michigan — The Big Ten player of the year and national player of the year candidate averaged 19.2 points and 6.8 assists

• Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana — Nobody in the nation impacts a game in more ways than Oladipo, an elite perimeter defender who has become more efficient on offense too.

• Keith Appling, G, Michigan State — If Michigan State is going to win this tournament, the Spartans will need greater consistency out of their talented but sometimes erratic point guard.

Bubble implications: The Big Ten is the rare league whose NCAA tournament fate is all but settled prior to its conference tournament. Maybe fading Minnesota could be in a little trouble with a quarterfinal loss to Illinois. Perhaps Iowa could make an argument with a run to the Big Ten semifinals or title game. But more than likely, the Big Ten's seven NCAA tournament teams will be Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota.

Projected champ: If the Big Ten semifinals feature Michigan State against Ohio State and Indiana against either Michigan or Wisconsin, then that could easily be a stronger foursome than we see in the Final Four next month. Of that formidable group, Michigan State is my pick. Adreian Payne is tapping into his immense potential more consistently. Gary Harris has emerged as one of the best freshmen in the nation. If the Spartans could get more from Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, they have the talent and hunger to beat surging Ohio State in the semifinals and avenge their previous two losses against Indiana in the title game.