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B1G: The Showdown In Chitown

This will be the 16th year the Big Ten will hold a postseason conference tournament. It would be hard, however, to find a previous year where so many great teams were in one place.

The All-Big Ten media first team included player of the year Trey Burke (Michigan), Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Cody Zeller (Indiana), Aaron Craft (Ohio State) and Victor Oladipo (Indiana)

With the regular season complete, four Big Ten teams are ranked in this week’s Associated Press media poll top 10. That group includes Indiana (ranked third), Michigan (sixth), Michigan State (eighth) and Ohio State (10th). Wisconsin is also rated at 22nd this week.

This year’s event, set for Thursday through Sunday, will return to Chicago’s United Center for the first time since 2007. This will mark the eighth time Chicago has hosted the tournament. It will alternate between Chicago and Indianapolis, which has also hosted eight times, over the next four years.

Indiana (14-4 in Big Ten play) won the Big Ten title outright with its dramatic 72-71 win at Michigan on Sunday. This marks IU’s first Big Ten title since 2002 and first outright championship in 20 years, dating to 1993. The Hoosiers will have the top seed for the conference tournament.

Ohio State and Michigan State tied for second at 13-5. OSU won the tiebreaker with its win over Indiana, so the Buckeyes are the two seed and the Spartans take the three.

Wisconsin and Michigan, each at 12-6, tied for fourth. Wisconsin, with its win over Indiana, got the four seed and the last opening round bye. Sunday’s loss dropped UM to the five seed. The Wolverines will play 12th-seeded Penn State (2-16) in an opening round game Thursday.

Iowa (9-9) got the sixth seed. The three-way tie at seventh (each at 8-10) saw Purdue take the seventh seed, Illinois the eight and Minnesota the nine. Nebraska (5-13) gets the 10 seed and Northwestern (4-14) is the 11 seed.

There will be four games, starting at noon Eastern, both Thursday and Friday. The semifinals will begin at 1:40 p.m. Eastern on Saturday and the championship game will be at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday (see schedule below).

Michigan State is the defending champion. The Spartans snapped Ohio State’s two-year tournament run with a 68-64 win over the Buckeyes in last year’s title game. MSU coach Tom Izzo knows what is in store this weekend in Chicago.

“We’re looking forward to one of the great conference tournaments of all-time if you ask me,” said Izzo, the only coach to bring a team to every Big Ten tournament. “You look at all of the ranked teams and everyone else. It should be a heck of a Big Ten tournament in Chicago.

“If anybody is going to be burned out, it should be our whole conference because we have beat the daylights out of each other all season long.”

For all of the tradition surrounding Indiana basketball, the Hoosiers have never won the Big Ten tournament championship. IU coach Tom Crean was asked if there is pressure – going in as the top seed for the first time – to win the tournament. Crean said he had no idea IU had not won the tournament.

“You just told me something I did not know,” he said. “That’s how little concerned we are about the negatives. What happened happened. It’s not anything we would reflect on. When you start putting things like that in peoples’ heads, you give them pressure they don’t need.

“Trust me, there is enough pressure in the games. There is enough tension. There is enough heat of battle. We don’t need to focus on what hasn’t happened. We need to focus on how they go into each game and prepare. We’ll see what happens.”

Can Spartans Repeat?

Michigan State endured a late-season three-game losing streak with losses to ranked teams Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan before finishing with a pair of wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern last week.

Izzo is looking for more consistency from his team heading into the postseason.

“I’ve never seen us have four guys play together at the same time,” Izzo said. “For us to be good, our point guard (Keith Appling) has to play well and (Adreian) Payne has been playing so well. We have to get one more guy between (Brandon) Dawson and (Derrick) Nix going if we’re going to make the kind of run we want in the Big Ten tournament.”

Izzo was asked if a competitive conference helps or hinders a team heading into the NCAA.

“Competition always helps,” Izzo said. “If you can go into that NCAA Tournament … and I’m looking at us having to play maybe Michigan or Indiana or Ohio State or Minnesota or Wisconsin … and we’ve also played Miami (Fla.) and Kansas. To our players, we ask, ‘Who haven’t you played?’

“There should be a comfort level to know you can play with anybody. Match-ups do make a difference in the tournament. But I’d admit this has been one of the more grueling seasons I have been involved with in the Big Ten.”

Can Michigan Bounce Back?

Michigan blew a five-point lead in the final minute in Sunday’s home loss to Indiana. The defeat was crushing for UM on several levels as it denied the Wolverines a share of the conference title.

It also dropped Michigan from a potential three seed to the five for the Big Ten tournament, meaning UM must play an opening round game before possibly facing fourth-seeded Wisconsin in a quarterfinal game Friday.

“We just have to move forward and get ready for the tournament,” said UM coach John Beilein. “I went around after the game and gave everybody a pat on the back. I just said, ‘We will grow from this.’ It is what it is. We have to continue to get better.”

The Indiana game was the fourth time in Big Ten play a game went down to the final possession.

“There were so many games this year where the ball was in the air and we either won or we lost,” Beilein said. “We were a victim of it sometimes and we benefitted from it sometimes. It says a lot about the strength of this league.”

Buckeyes Peaking At Right Time

Ohio State coach Thad Matta and his team came up one game short of what would have been a fourth straight Big Ten title. But, as the second seed for the conference tournament, his Buckeyes – who won five in a row down the stretch (including last week’s 67-58 win at Indiana) – could be in a position to take some hardware home this weekend.

“It’s been an incredible Big Ten season,” Matta said. “Now we go to Chicago later this week and we have to try and string together some great games. It will definitely be a great tournament.”

The late-season run came after a deflating 71-49 loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 17. Matta said the team regrouped after that embarrassment.

“It’s always the goal of our program to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” Matta said. “I think we’re closing in on it. I told the guys, ‘You’ve got to be one of the hottest teams in the country because we’re winning.’ ”

Matta knows a lot about Big Ten tournament runs. In his eight previous years at OSU, he has led the Buckeyes to three tourney championships and three runner-up appearances.

“When you’re playing three or four games in three or four days, you’re just trying to get through it,” he said.

Iowa Fighting To Get Off Bubble

As noted below, the current NCAA Tournament projections have seven Big Ten teams in contention for berths to The Big Dance. An eighth team, Iowa, may also have a case for an at-large berth.

Iowa won six of its last eight games to get to 9-9 in the conference and 20-11 overall. But the Hawkeyes’ lackluster nonconference schedule has them a distant 75th in RPI. Still, coach Fran McCaffery believes his team has a shot – particularly if it can win two or more games in Chicago.

“I think it’s important that we are in the discussion,” said McCaffery, whose team will open tournament play against Northwestern on Thursday. “We have certainly earned that just from the fact we were 9-9 in the toughest conference in the country. The RPI is one component of what you look at. I think you look at (Ken Pomeroy’s) rankings, the Sagarin and the BPI. All of those were substantially higher.

“We have won six of eight. We have continued to improve and get better. We have a great opportunity to go to Chicago and try to improve on all of those numbers.”

Iowa opened 3-7 in conference play before getting hot down the stretch.

“You start the season and you think you know what you have,” McCaffery said. “You have some young guys and you try to bring them together. It’s the toughest league in the country and you get challenged. You want to night in and night out play at your best.

“We knew we had to improve defensively and on the glass and we did. We feel really good about our development.”

The Hawkeyes could get injured guard Mike Gesell back this weekend to bolster their chances.

Also Notable

* Michigan’s Trey Burke was voted as the player of the year by both the coaches and the media. Burke topped the first-team All-Big Ten team, which also included Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. was on the coaches team, while OSU’s Aaron Craft was on the media first team.

The coaches second team had Craft, Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren and Michigan State’s Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. The media second team includes Hardaway, Harris, Payne, Berggren and Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe.

Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan was voted as the coach of the year by both panels. MSU’s Harris was voted as the freshman of the year by both panels. The coaches voted IU’s Oladipo as the defensive player of the year and Indiana’s Will Sheehey as the sixth man of the year.

Click here for a full list of the All-Big Ten team honorees.

* Although the Big Ten has had a postseason tournament since 1997-98, it still recognizes the regular season champion as its official champion for the season. That means Indiana is the champion this year. The winner of the tournament gets the conference’s official berth to the NCAA Tournament.

This was Indiana’s 21st Big Ten title. Purdue holds the all-time lead with 22. Ohio State is third with 20.

* Who’s Hot and Who’s Not: Several of the Big Ten teams will arrive in Indianapolis on a roll. They include: Ohio State (won five in a row), Iowa (won six of last eight) and Purdue (won three of last five).

There are also several coming in on a down note, including Northwestern (lost eight in a row), Nebraska (lost three of last four) and Illinois and Minnesota (each lost last two).

* For the third year in a row, the Big Ten is in the top two nationally in conference RPI at No. 2. The Mountain West has the top spot. The Big Ten was No. 1 last year and second in 2010-11.

As of today, both ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm have seven Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament field. This will be the third year for the expanded 68-team field.

They each have Indiana (fifth in RPI), Michigan State (eighth), Michigan (12th), Ohio State (14th), Minnesota (24th), Wisconsin (42nd) and Illinois (43rd) in the field. (CBS will go from coverage of the Big Ten tournament championship game to the NCAA bracket show at 6 p.m. on Sunday.)

Prior to 2006, no team with an RPI of 33rd or higher had been denied an at-large bid since the field swelled to 64 in 1985. That changed in 2006, when the committee snubbed both Missouri State (21st in RPI) and Hofstra (30th). In 2007, Air Force (30th) was the only team in the top 35 that did not get in. In 2008, Dayton (32nd) and Illinois State (33rd) did not make the field from the RPI top 35. In 2009, San Diego State (34th) did not make it. In 2010, Dayton (35th) was the top team in RPI to miss the field. That distinction went to Harvard (35th) in 2011. Last year, the highest ranked RPI team to miss the Big Dance was Marshall at 44th.

Over the last 15 years, Big Ten teams have typically felt good if they were in the top 50 in the final RPI rankings. In that time period, just three Big Ten teams have missed the field with a top-50 RPI. That was Michigan in 1997 (40th in RPI) and 2006 (47th) and Ohio State (49th) in 2008.

Only eight eligible Big Ten teams with winning conference records have been denied NCAA bids since 1985. They were Minnesota in 1995-96 (10-8), Minnesota in 2001-02 (9-7), Iowa in 2003-04 (9-7), Indiana in 2004-05 (10-6), Iowa in 2006-07 (9-7), Ohio State in 2007-08 (10-8), Penn State (10-8) in 2008-09 and Illinois (10-8) in 2009-10.

The NCAA has only taken five Big Ten teams with a sub-.500 record in Big Ten play. Those were Indiana in 1989-90 (8-10), Wisconsin (8-10) in 1993-94, Iowa and Penn State (both 7-9) in 2000-01 and Iowa in 2004-05 (7-9). Illinois and Minnesota could join that group this year.

* Teams that play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament (seeds 5-12 this year) have at least a little reason for optimism.

In the 15 years of the tournament, 17 of the 60 teams that advanced to the semifinals played on the first day of the event.

Seven of the 30 teams that have reached the finals were also first-day teams, including sixth-seeded Iowa which won the 2001 tournament title.

The tournament final has featured teams seeded 11th, 10th, ninth, eighth and sixth (three times).

* Official all-time tournament records for Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State reflect a number of games and postseason tournaments for each school that have been vacated due to NCAA sanctions. (All records below reflect the results of actual games played and do not take into account games vacated by NCAA sanctions.)

Ohio State has enjoyed some success in the Big Ten tournament over the years. OSU won the tournament in 2002, although that result was later vacated, and also won it in 2007, 2010 and 2011. OSU went 3-1 and finished as the runner-up to Illinois in 2003. The Buckeyes were also runners-up in 2006 (to Iowa), 2009 (to Purdue) and last year (to Michigan State).

In 2007, OSU became the first team in tournament history to roll through the event with three double-digit wins as the Buckeyes dispatched Michigan (72-62), Purdue (63-52) and Wisconsin (66-49). No one has bested that record since.

Ohio State has the best Big Ten tournament record at 23-11 (.676). Illinois is next at 23-13 (.639), followed by Michigan State (18-12), Wisconsin (15-13) and Iowa (14-13).

Northwestern has the worst mark at 6-15, followed by Indiana and Penn State (both 9-15), Purdue (9-14), Michigan (12-14) and Minnesota (13-15).

* Including the 2002 tournament championship that was vacated, Ohio State has won four Big Ten tournaments. Michigan State has won three. Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois have each won two Big Ten tournaments. MSU won in 1999, 2000 and 2012. Illinois won in 2003 and 2005, Iowa won in 2001 and 2006 and Wisconsin won in 2004 and 2008.

Michigan won the inaugural tournament in 1998, although that title was vacated as part of the school’s NCAA sanctions. Purdue won its first tournament title in 2009.

Michigan State (1999, 2000), Illinois (2005) and Ohio State (2007) each won the tournament title and went on to that year’s Final Four. Michigan State was crowned national champion in 2000.

* The best seeds to have in the Big Ten tournament are the one seed and the two seed. Teams with the top seed are 27-8 (.771) and have won seven championships. Teams seeded second are a combined 22-10 (.688) with five championships.

Top seeds were knocked out by opening round winners seeded eighth or ninth in four of the first six tournaments. But top seeds have reached at least the semis each of the last nine years.

The sixth seed hasn’t been bad (26-14, .650) with one champion (Iowa in 2001). Teams seeded fourth are 12-14 with one champion (Michigan in 1998). The eighth seed has produced a 15-15 record, including a 12-3 record against the ninth seed in the opening round.

The worst seed to have has been the 11th seed. Teams seeded 11th are a combined 3-15 with Illinois getting all three of those wins in 1999, meaning 11th seeds have dropped the 14 other match-ups with sixth-seeded teams.

The fifth seed is 8-15 all-time. Fifth-seeded teams dropped the quarterfinal match-up to the fourth seed in each of the tournament’s first five seasons. In 2009, Ohio State became the first No. 5 seed to win a semifinal and reach the title game.

* The Big Ten has announced that the tournament is a complete sellout – an impressive feat at the 20,917-seat United Center. The conference put standing room only tickets on sale last week.

The United Center opened in August 1994 and is the home of the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Big Ten tournament was held the first four years as well as three times since then at Chicago’s United Center.

Big Ten Standings

TEAM CONF OVERALL
*Indiana 14-4 26-5
Michigan State 13-5 24-7
Ohio State 13-5 23-7
Michigan 12-6 25-6
Wisconsin 12-6 21-10
Iowa 9-9 20-11
Illinois 8-10 21-11
Minnesota 8-10 20-11
Purdue 8-10 15-16
Nebraska 5-13 14-17
Northwestern 4-14 13-18
Penn State 2-16 10-20
*-Won conference championship

Big Ten Tournament Schedule

At Chicago United Center

(All times Eastern time)

Thursday’s Opening Round

* Illinois (8th seed; 21-11, 8-10) vs. Minnesota (9th seed; 20-11, 6-12), noon (Big Ten Network)

* Michigan (5th seed; 25-6, 12-6) vs. Penn State (12th seed; 10-20, 2-16), 2:25 p.m. (BTN)

* Purdue (7th seed; 15-16, 8-10) vs. Nebraska (10th seed; 14-17, 5-13), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

* Iowa (6th seed; 20-11, 10-8) vs. Northwestern (11th seed; 12-17, 4-14), 7:55 p.m. (ESPN2)

Friday’s Quarterfinals

* Indiana (1st seed; 26-5, 14-4) vs. Illinois-Minnesota winner, noon (ESPN)

* Wisconsin (4th seed; 21-10, 12-6) vs. Michigan-Penn State winner, 2:25 p.m. (ESPN)

* Ohio State (2nd seed; 23-7, 13-5) vs. Purdue-Nebraska winner, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)

* Michigan State (3rd seed; 24-7, 13-5) vs. Iowa-Northwestern winner, 8:55 p.m. (BTN)

Saturday’s Semifinals

* Quarterfinal winners, 1:40 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday’s Championship Game

* Semifinal winners, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

My National Top 20

Going into Championship Week, here’s what I have: Duke, Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville, Georgetown, Michigan State, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Marquette, Florida, Kansas State, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, St. Louis, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Memphis.

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