The Big Ten Tournament begins on Thursday with first round action before the league’s top four teams join in the fray on Friday. With three teams tied for the regular season championship and five teams among the nation’s top 15, this year’s tournament could be as exciting as fans have seen for years.
Ohio State and Michigan State appear to be the prohibitive favorites but all eyes will be on Northwestern as the Wildcats try to earn their first NCAA tournament bid in school history.
After the jump find our complete preview of the tournament including statistics, superlatives, predictions, scatter plots, drinking establishments and more.
Tempo Free Aerial
We posted a tempo free table earlier this week but the visual format might add a bit more intrigue before the conference finale.
The y-axis (reversed) measures defense and the x-axis measures offense which means that the best teams are in the upper right quadrant of the graph. Despite the league’s reputation as a defensive conference, you can see that only Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin managed to hold opponents under a point per possession. Indiana, Purdue and Northwestern loom large as teams loaded with firepower that struggle to stop anyone.
Log 5 Projections
Ken Pomeroy publishes yearly log5 predictions (explanation) for every conference tournament and they generally outperform seeds in terms of predictive ability. The formula uses Bill James’ log5 equation combined with the Pythagorean rating from Ken Pomeroy’s ranking system to estimate the winners for each league. The results aren’t all too encouraging for Michigan:
Qtrs Semis Final Champ 3 Ohio St. 100 81.5 66.1 37.2 1 Michigan St. 100 89.0 48.0 27.2 5 Indiana 93.5 54.1 29.3 16.5 4 Wisconsin 100 45.3 21.2 10.4 2 Michigan 100 67.7 18.9 5.1 6 Purdue 86.0 17.9 9.7 2.5 7 Northwestern 52.1 17.3 2.9 0.5 10 Minnesota 47.9 15.0 2.4 0.4 9 Illinois 56.4 6.8 1.0 0.2 8 Iowa 43.6 4.2 0.5 0.07 12 Penn St. 6.5 0.6 0.1 0.01 11 Nebraska 14.0 0.6 0.1 0.005
Michigan is ranked 20th in Pomeroy’s ratings and Ohio State (2), Michigan State (3), Wisconsin (7) and Indiana (10), who is also given half weighted home court advantage in the calculations, all fall within Pomeroy’s top 10. Given that information it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Michigan has just a 5.1% chance at winning the event. Michigan’s road to the final isn’t much easier with the tournament favorites looming in the semifinal.
Team with the most to play for: Northwestern
It’s simple. Win two games and Northwestern is in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Win one game and Sunday is going to be a very long day for the Wildcat faithful. Lose to Minnesota and the dream dies yet again. Northwestern has lost a seemingly endless number of close games this season and is finally down to its last chance.
Thursday team most likely to make a run: Indiana.
The Hoosiers always have somewhat of a home court advantage when the tournament is played in Indianapolis and this year they have the team and talent to capitalize. Indiana should cruise past Penn State and draws the No. 4 seed, Wisconsin, in the second round. After winning the tournament in 2008, Wisconsin has lost its first tournament game in each of the past three seasons. Tom Crean hasn’t won a Big Ten Tournament game but Indiana has broken plenty of streaks during Crean’s fourth season.
Biggest question mark: Michigan State without Branden Dawson
Michigan State will still be a great team without Branden Dawson. The Spartans are still more than capable of winning the Big Ten Tournament and mounting yet another Final Four run. However, the Spartan freshman had emerged as a major contributor down the stretch before tearing his ACL on Sunday. Dawson was the Big Ten’s best offensive rebounder in league games and scored an opportunistic 8 points per game while shooting 59% on twos. Joe Rexrode analyzes what exactly Dawson’s loss means to the Spartans in this piece, concluding that the injury is a major blow but not insurmountable.
Ready to steal the show: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Michigan’s sophomore scoring wing has struggled with his perimeter shot all season but he’s showing flashes of regaining his stroke. Hardaway has knocked down 7 of his last 10 triples after converting just 20 of his first 92 three point attempts in Big Ten games this season. Hardaway is the sort of player that has the ability to carry Michigan deep into the tournament if he gets hot from the perimeter.
Team on the rise: Purdue
Indiana and Michigan are both hot, winners of six of their last seven conference games, but Purdue has found quite a groove as well. The Boilermaker offense has found another new gear down the stretch in league play and played its way into the NCAA tournament. Just how good has Purdue’s offense been? The Boilermakers have scored 1.20 points per possession over their final eight league games. Purdue’s defense has been far from stellar but opponents likely can’t afford a cold shooting night against Matt Painter’s squad.
Team falling fast: Illinois
Losers of ten of their last 12, the season can’t end soon enough for the Illini. The pertinent discussion about Illinois isn’t who will play well in Indianapolis but who is in line to replace Bruce Weber at season’s end. That’s a bit shocking considering the fact the Illinois was in sole possession of first place mid-way through January. Illinois beat Iowa at home two weeks ago but Fran McCaffery’s young Iowa team should roll on Thursday.
Best Big Ten tournament coach: Thad Matta
Thad Matta is 14-4 in Big Ten Tournament games, the best record accumulated by any Big Ten coach in the tournament’s history. Matta’s Buckeyes have won back-to-back conference tournament crowns and have also knocked Michigan out of the last two tournaments. The Buckeyes have been up and down but have a nice draw, experience in Indianapolis and the talent to win this tournament.
- Thursday: Iowa over Illinois, Indiana over Penn State, Northwestern over Minnesota, Purdue over Nebraska
- Friday: Michigan State over Iowa, Indiana over Wisconsin, Michigan over Northwestern, Ohio State over Purdue
- Saturday: Indiana over Michigan State, Ohio State over Michigan
- Sunday: Ohio State over Indiana
Headed to Indianapolis?
Tickets are still available via Ticketmaster.com and buying tickets off fans of losing teams is generally pretty easy. Michigan fans will gravitate toward O’Reilly’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, the official Michigan bar of the weekend.