Please raise your hand if you penciled in the Indiana Hoosiers as outright Big Ten champions after that embarrassing 5-3 start to the season. If your hand is raised, I don’t believe you.
But that’s where things stand at the conclusion of the conference race as the Hoosiers closed their season winning 20 of 23 games, including a 15-3 mark in league play, to earn the No. 1 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
However, with five conference teams ranked inside the top 25, Indiana is anything but a lock to win the title. With the five-day tournament scheduled to start tomorrow (Wednesday), let’s take a look at legit contenders and how Indiana teams should fare.
WHY THEY WILL
Bankers Life Fieldhouse tends to be the Hoosiers’ home away from home, as it’s not rare to see a big Indiana following during the Big Ten and Crossroads Classic Tournaments.
That said, no team I’ve seen in recent memory feeds off its home fans as much as the Hoosiers. And when Indiana gets on one of its rolls, with its abundance of athletes and shooters, it is one of the hardest teams to slow down. The Hoosiers completed a 28-0 run at Michigan earlier this season.
Why they won’t
Indiana struggles in big moments. Although that has not been the case this season (sort of), Indiana tends to struggle in big games away from Assembly Hall.
Take the beat down at Duke earlier this season for example. Granted, it was at Duke, but the Hoosiers hardly showed up. Also, like we saw last week during the boys basketball state tournament, sometimes playing later in the week, after receiving a first-round bye, can hurt — the legs are there but the feel for the game is not.
Why they will
The Boilermakers seems to be one of the only teams left around the country who repeatedly throw the ball inside. With three post players near 7-foot or taller, why not? This makes Purdue one of the scariest teams, in my eyes, in the field.
If they desperately need a basket, which can be hard in tough tournament scenarios, a simple pass to the post is all they need. The team also has shooters in freshman Ryan Cline and sophomore Dakota Mathias, among others.
Why they won’t
When Purdue struggles to shoot the ball from the outside, teams really key on big’s A.J. Hammons (senior), Isaac Haas (sophomore) and Caleb Swanigan (freshman). All three can make a difference in the post but hardly ever play at the same time, giving head coach Matt Painter a rare advantage.
However, its offense can become stagnant because of this, and teams simply pack the paint. Also, at the No. 4 seed, the Boilermakers could face a dangerous Iowa team in their first contest Friday.
Others to watch
Michigan State, with the best coach in the conference in Tom Izzo, is always a team you can count on in the Big Ten Tournament. And no matter how their season starts, the Spartans always are playing their best basketball in March.
Senior Denzel Valentine (19.6 points per game), arguably the best player in the country, provides ample tournament experience while senior Bryn Forbes (15.5 ppg) is a lights out shooter.
Maryland and Iowa also are teams I would not count out. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if either the Hawkeyes or Terrapins won the championship with the veterans present on each roster.
Senior Jarrod Uthoff (18.8 ppg) of Iowa and sophomore Melo Trimble (14.4 ppg) of Maryland are players that can get going on offense in a hurry, making a deep Big Ten Tournament run for their respective club more than possible.
Wisconsin is a team that always has been very dangerous in the tournament.
It’s changed a bit with Bo Ryan retiring, but Greg Gard has done all he can to keep the Badgers relevant this season.
Their slow and deliberate pace of play usually keeps opposing teams uncomfortable and junior Nigel Hayes (16.5 ppg) is a player who presents match up problems, and quite frankly, he is due for a few big games.
My Big Ten Awards
Player of Year Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Ferrell led Indiana to the title (by two games) without second leading scorer and backcourt partner James Blackmon Jr.
Freshman of Year: Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Bryant led the conference in field goal shooting this season.
Surprise Player Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Happ averaged 11.9 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game after redshirting his first year.
Most Improved Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Uthoff boosted his scoring average from 12.4 to 18.8 points per game.
Coach of Year Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Wisconsin had a solid finish in the Big Ten (12-6) in Gard’s first season after replacing legendary coach Bo Ryan.
2016 BIG TEN TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Banker’s Life Fieldhouse
Wednesday March 9
G1: No. 12 Illinois vs. No. 13 Minnesota, 4:30 p.m.
G2: No. 11 Nebraska vs. 14 Rutgers, 7 p.m.
Thursday March 10
G3: No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Northwestern, noon
G4: No. 5 Iowa vs. Minnesota/Illinois winner, 25 minutes after
G5: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 7 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m.
G6: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. Nebraska/Rutgers winner, 25 minutes after
Friday March 11
G7: No. 1 Indiana vs. Michigan/Northwestern winner, noon
G8: No. 4 Purdue vs. Iowa/Illinois/Northwestern, 25 minutes after
G9: No. 2 Michigan State vs. Ohio State/Penn State, 6:30 p.m.
G10: No. 3 Maryland vs. Wisconsin/Rutgers/Nebraska
Saturday March 12
Game 7 vs. Game 8 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 9 vs. Game 10 winner, 3:30 p.m.
Sunday March 13
Championship at 3 p.m.
Kris Mills is a sports reporter at
The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.