Now the fun begins...
Admittedly, the Big Ten conference race was a wilder ride than I expected back in November. Some teams really stepped up (Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State) while others (Michigan State) really struggled more than expected at times. But as we all know, November - February is really there to A) get you in to the postseason and B) to get you prepared to play in said postseason.
Winning the Big Ten is a feat every school wants to accomplish and congratulations to the Buckeyes for doing so. But more than even conference titles and league tourney titles, teams - make that programs - are measured on their success in March, on the national stage, in the NCAA Tournament.
Given what I have seen over two months of conference play and four months of basketball, the Big Ten will once again make some noise in the Big Dance. And just because a Wisconsin or Michigan State or Indiana might be a 6, 7 or higher seed, don't count them out just yet. The Big Ten teams know each other so well that it makes conference play a battle of who can play the most perfect. Come tournament time, that factor goes away and the coaches and players get a chance to shine against teams who don't know their every tendency. This is why a program like Michigan State does so well almost every year during March Madness. This is why a team with a coach like Bo Ryan could be the bracket buster that makes it to the Elite 8 or beyond. This is why we love the month of March.
Back in November, I took a look at everyone in the Big Ten and put some guesses on where they'd end up. Of course it is tough to predict things like losing two key bench players in mid-season (Wisconsin), or losing key players to injury late in the season (Michigan State) or how previously good, but not great juniors would develop into real winners (Ohio State and Iowa).
Following is how I sized up the teams four months ago, how they really finished with a self-grade placed on each prediction (right on for B10 play = A, within 1 game = B, within 2-3 games = C within 4 games = D, 5 or more games off = F).
Michigan State – 12-2 / 13-3 (T-1st) / 25-5 / NCAA Berth
Illinois – 12-2 / 13-3 (T-1st) / 25-5 / NCAA Berth
Wisconsin – 11-2 / 12-4 (3rd) / 23-6 / NCAA Berth
Iowa – 12-2 / 10-6 (4th) / 22-8 / NCAA Berth
Ohio State – 9-2 / 9-7 (T-5th) / 18-9 / NCAA Berth
Indiana – 8-3 / 9-7 (T-5th) / 17-10 / NCAA Berth
Minnesota – 9-2 / 8-8 (7th) / 17-10 / NIT Berth
Michigan – 9-2 / 7-9 (8th) / 16-11 / NIT Berth
Purdue – 8-3 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 11-16
Northwestern – 7-5 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 10-18
Penn State – 7-4 / 1-15 (11th) / 8-19
Ohio State – 11-0 / 12-4 (1st) / 23-4 / Grade: C
Illinois – 14-0 / 11-5 (T-2nd) / 25-5 / Grade: C
Iowa – 11-3 / 11-5 (T-2nd) / 22-8 / Grade: B
Wisconsin – 10-3 / 9-7 (T-4th) / 19-10 / Grade: C
Indiana – 8-3 / 9-7 (T-4th) / 17-10 / Grade: A+ for nailing it across the board!
Michigan State – 12-2 / 8-8 (T-6th) / 20-10 / Grade: F
Michigan – 10-1 / 8-8 (T-6th) / 18-9 / Grade: B
Penn State – 8-3 / 6-10 (T-8th) / 14-13 / Grade: F
Northwestern – 8-4 / 6-10 (T-8th) / 14-14 / Grade: C
Minnesota – 9-2 / 5-11 (10th) / 14-13 / Grade: C
Purdue – 6-5 / 3-13 (T-9th) / 9-18 / Grade: A
Average overall grade: within 2.09 games = C
All Big Ten:
I look at All Big Ten teams as the five guys I would want on the floor given the chance to pick a team of five that could take on and beat anyone in the nation. I.E. the best players, regardless of stats. Glue guys. Guys that you can count on to make a key bucket, stop, pass, free throw or rebound. Second team is the bench that I'd want to have. Without further ado:
C - Paul Davis (MSU)
F - Terence Dials (OSU)
F - Alando Tucker (WIS)
G - Shannon Brown (MSU)
G - Dee Brown (ILL)
F - Greg Brunner (IOWA)
F - Geary Claxton (PSU)
F - Vedran Vukusic (NU)
G - Daniel Horton (M)
G - Jeff Horner (IOWA)
F/G - Robert Vaden (IU)
F - Marco Killingsworth (IU)
G - Adam Huluska (IOWA)
G - Maurice Ager (MSU)
G - Jamar Butler (OSU)
The coaches and media, however, beg to differ.
The Big Ten Tourney is almost upon us and aside from maybe Purdue, I sense that almost any team could make a run at the title. Three teams - Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota are hanging on for dear life for an NIT bid. Indiana and Michigan are as close to bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament as the league has, but in my opinion, are both in. This is how I expect things to play out in Indy this weekend...
#8 Penn State over #9 Northwestern
#7 Michigan over #10 Minnesota
#6 Michigan State over #11 Purdue
#5 Indiana over #4 Wisconsin
#1 Ohio State over #8 Penn State
#2 Iowa over #7 Michigan
#3 Illinois over #6 Michigan State
#5 Indiana over #1 Ohio State
#2 Iowa over #3 Illinois
#2 Iowa over #5 Indiana
After a wild Big Ten tournament, won by Indiana golden boy Steve Alford, the Big Ten will send at least Penn State and maybe a .500 Minnesota team to the NIT and seven to the Big Dance.
Ohio State will land a 2 seed
Iowa will land a 3 seed
Illinois will land a 3 seed
Wisconsin will land a 7 seed
Indiana will land an 8 seed
Michigan State will land a 6 seed
Michigan will land a 9 seed
Of the seven, without yet seeing the draw of course, four will make the Sweet 16. Once the brackets come out, I'll get more specific. In the meantime, ESPN is updating bracketology daily now.