This year’s Big Ten Tournament should prove to be one of the more competitive in recent years as the conference boasts five teams in the AP top 25. While Michigan is the two-time defending champions, its path to the championship will be tough.
Michigan State comes into the tournament as the first seed and No. 4 in the nation, in line for a top seed in the NCAA tournament with a strong performance.
The Spartans are led by Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, who leads the conference in assists and is top five in scoring. Due to injuries to juniors Nick Ward and Joshua Langford, Winston will have to continue his dominance in order to make a serious run.
Ward is questionable to return, and his presence would provide a big boost to the Spartans, as he was scoring 15 points a game and shooting 60 percent from the field before he broke his hand. Senior forward Kenny Goins also ranks fourth in the conference in rebounds per game. The Spartans already swept the season series with the Wolverines, and will look to avenge their loss to Michigan in last year’s semifinals.
Michigan has aspirations of a three-peat, which would be the first time a school has done so since the tournament began in 1998. They are led in scoring by freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis at 15 points a game.
Senior center Jon Teske patrols the paint, standing at 7 feet, one inch, and leads the conference in blocks. While the Wolverines are certainly no underdogs, all five of their losses this season come from within the conference.
If the two powerhouses from Michigan fail to capture a championship, Purdue will look to return to the championship game, and come out victorious.
Purdue has only lost four games inside the conference, and is undefeated at home. The Boilermakers are led by junior guard Carsen Edwards, who leads the entire conference at 23.4 points per game, while also ranking third in steals. While there aren’t any other big-time scorers on the team, sophomore Matt Haarms ranks second in the conference in blocks and first in field goal percentage.
The 7-foot, 3-inch center from the Netherlands will certainly make it difficult for other bigs or slashing guards to score inside. If Purdue can string together strong performances from their star players, they have a realistic shot of not only returning to the championship game, but winning it.
Wisconsin ranks fourth in the Big Ten, and 19th in the country, after missing out on the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years last season. Much of this year’s success can be attributed to senior forward Ethan Happ, who leads the team in points, assists, rebounds and steals. He ranks fifth in scoring, third in rebounding, and third in assists for the entire conference.
After losing to Michigan by three points in last year’s quarterfinals game, the Badgers have a good chance at making a much deeper run this year. Maryland is the final team from the Big Ten to be ranked in the national top 25 rankings, ranking 5th in the conference, and 21st in the country.
While the Terrapins are considered to be a dark horse, they will be looking to beat the odds and make a deep tournament run led by sophomore forward Bruno Fernando. Fernando ranks second in the conference in rebounds and blocks, while also tied for the best field goal percentage. Maryland has never won the Big Ten tournament, but has one of their best chances to do so this year.
Despite being unranked, Iowa has a good chance to improve upon their second round exit from last year’s tournament. After ending last year’s season with a 14-19 record, the Hawkeyes have improved to a 21-10 record, just one game behind Maryland and Wisconsin.
Junior forward Tyler Cook leads the team in both rebounds and scoring, although Iowa does have four players scoring in double digits. The Hawkeyes only have a 10-10 record inside the conference, and have only won one game against the ranked opponents in the conference, so their work is cut out for them if they want to make some noise this year.
The Big Ten is a very tightly contested and deep conference this year, with multiple teams posing real threats to win the championship. While Michigan has a good chance to complete the first ever three-peat in Big Ten tournament history, there are numerous teams that stand in their way.