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Welcome to Conference Championship week, when automatic bids get stolen, bubble teams make their final push and top contenders look to affirm their status. As you prepare to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket, catching up on these teams might give you a better idea of who could make a run.
CBS Local Sports is previewing the six major conference tournaments: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. We’ll break them down by the favorites, contenders and dark horses that will have a chance of locking up the automatic bid to the Big Dance, which starts next week.
Now, it’s on to the Big Ten. The conference hasn’t quite been the same dominant force it has been in years past, and there’s really no clear number-one team. Purdue has the top spot with a 14-4 conference record, but there are seven teams that have between six and eight losses occupying the two through eight spots. The point of telling you all this up front? To indicate that anything can happen over the course of the tournament beginning on Wednesday.
First, a look at the tournament schedule (courtesy of CBS Sports).
Wednesday, March 8 (First round)
Game 1: No. 12 seed Nebraska vs. No. 13 seed Penn State | 4:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 2: No. 11 seed Ohio State vs. No. 14 seed Rutgers | 7 p.m. | BTN
Thursday, March 9 (Second round)
Game 3: No. 8 seed Michigan vs. No. 9 seed Illinois | 12 p.m. | BTN
Game 4: No. 5 seed Michigan State vs. Game 1 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | BTN
Game 5: No. 7 seed Iowa vs. No. 10 seed Indiana | 6:30 p.m. | ESPN2
Game 6: No. 6 seed Northwestern vs. Game 2 winner | 25 minutes after game 3 | ESPN2
Friday, March 10 (Quarterfinals)
Game 7: No. 1 seed Purdue vs. Game 3 winner | 12 p.m. | ESPN
Game 8: No. 4 seed Minnesota vs. Game 4 winner | 25 minutes after game 7 | ESPN
Game 9: No. 2 seed Wisconsin vs. Game 5 winner | 6:30 p.m. | BTN
Game 10: No. 3 seed Maryland vs. Game 6 winner | 25 minutes after game 9 | BTN
Saturday, March 11 (Semifinals)
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner | 1 p.m. | CBS
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner | 3:30 p.m. | CBS
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Game 13: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner | 3 p.m. | CBS
The Boilermakers are the conference’s highest-rated team according to Ken Pom. They check in at 11th, while the Badgers are at 15th. They are top 20 in both adjusted defensive efficiency rating (93.1, 18th) and offensive efficiency rating (117.6; 20th DI) and feature a pair of dominant low-post players in forward Caleb Swanigan and center Isaac Haas. Swanigan is a monster on the glass averaging a double-double with 19 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. He’s already posted four 20-20 games. Yes, you read that correctly. Add to Swanigan four other players that score in double figures (the aforementioned Haas, Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias), and you’ve got a multifaceted offense capable of putting up points on anyone. Mathias has been scoring from deep with outrageous consistency lately, hitting 11 of his 26 attempts (42.3%) in his last six games. Purdue enters as the top seed and are therefore the favorites to emerge victorious from Indianapolis.
The Terps would be the surprise team of the conference were it not for Northwestern. Mark Turgeon’s squad does still have plenty of high-talent recruits on the roster with Melo Trimble, Justin Jackson and Anthony Cowan leading the way. They rate as the 38th-best team in Ken Pom, posting a top-40 offensive efficiency rating (113.9; 36th DI) while playing at a slower tempo (67.3; 224th DI).
That said, the Terps rate out as Ken Pom’s sixth-best team in the conference. Their seemingly gaudy 24-7 record is a little suspect due to a weak out-of-conference schedule that included a loss to a Pittsburgh team that is near the bottom of the ACC. Add losses to Nebraska and Penn State in conference play, and it’s still hard to get a read on this team. Nonetheless, the Terps have received much closer to the star performance they expected out of Melo Trimble this year (16.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.6 APG), and they could certainly pull off a run to the Big Ten crown.
Another year, another Wisconsin team slowing people down to a crawl, forcing them to use almost the full shot clock on each possession and generally acting like a boa constrictor slowly squeezing the life out of other teams. They play at one of the slowest paces in the country (63.6 adjusted tempo rating; 334th DI), while posting a top-15 defensive efficiency rating. Led by the trio of Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, Greg Gard’s crew has faltered as of late in conference play with losses in five of their last seven games. The Badgers are capable of taking home the crown, but they’ll need to find their early-season form if they want to do so.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers are one of the nation’s better defensive teams despite playing at one of the faster tempos in the Big 10. Now, fast-paced is relative in this conference of half-court offenses, but the Gophers are in the top 100 of Ken Pom’s adjusted tempo rating (69.7; 94th DI) and are 15th in defensive efficiency (92.5), allowing 69.1 points per game. An eight-game winning streak during the last month of the regular season elevated this crew to the fourth spot in the conference standings at the end of the year. They’re led by a quartet of scorers in guards Nate Mason (15.5 PPG), Amir Coffey (12.0 PPG), Dupree McBrayer (11.1 PPG) and forward Jordan Murphy (10.9 PPG).
The Gophers have beaten Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern during the regular season, but lost both games they played against the Badgers and Spartans. The Gophers played both teams close at home (one and two-point losses to the Spartans and Badgers respectively) but lost big on the road (an average of 17.5 points). This week’s games will be played on a neutral floor in DC, so we’ll see how they handle that environment.
That’s right, the Wildcats. You know, the team that has never made an NCAA Tournament. Well, if you haven’t been following college basketball this year, the Wildcats are well on their way to putting on their dancing shoes for the first time. Coach Chris Collins has the ‘Cats in the top 30 of the Ken Pom efficiency ratings on defense (95.3 29th) and staring at a 6-seed in the conference tournament. The biggest reason they fall in the contenders category? They’ve already beaten Wisconsin this year on the road without their leading scorer (Scottie Lindsey). The nagging question that they need to answer? Northwestern has gone 1-2 against the other top four teams in the conference this year. Can they beat multiple top teams in a row to hoist the trophy? The trio of Lindsay, Bryant McIntosh and forward Vic Law is good enough to put them in the conversation. Lindsay has been battling back from a bout with mono and is just starting to round into form again.
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It almost seems unfair to have a Tom Izzo-coached team in this category, but here we are. The Spartans had a rough start to the year going 0-4 against top-25 teams before starting to right the ship in late December. Then they fell apart once again in the early part of conference play, losing four of five games, including losses to Penn State and rivals Ohio State and Michigan. A lot of their struggles were due to injuries to the Spartans’ big men and to star freshman Miles Bridges. The biggest loss is senior guard Eron Harris going down with a season-ending injury, as he was one of the few threats from distance on this team. Now, Sparty finds itself sitting as a five-seed in the conference tournament. If you haven’t learned by now, never underestimate the Spartans come March. It’s generally the under-heralded Izzo teams that make the surprising deep tournament runs.