Craft and the Buckeyes enter Championship Week on a roll - Andy Lyons
In a four-day single elimination tournament, like the one that will be taking place between Thursday and Sunday in Chicago, anything can and will happen. That's why I've assembled a crew of OTE writers to make their cases for who will be the champion of the 2013 Big Ten Basketball Tournament.
With Indiana having just clinched the Big Ten regular season title, no one felt compelled to make a case for the Hoosiers. I guess two First Team All-Conference selections speaks for itself. Make sure to hit the comments if you have your own case to make.
The Case for Ohio State
Brian Gillis: Did you see the way the Buckeyes played defense against Indiana in Bloomington? Hard not to come away from that performance impressed. The backcourt of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott gave Indiana fits, and could do the same for others. Need more? How about the conference’s best pure scorer in Deshaun Thomas. Sure, OSU has lacks additional, consistent scoring threats, but assuming Thomas gets help from somewhere, I like OSU’s chances.
The Case for Michigan State
apy5000: The Spartans haven't been playing their best basketball since I gave them the kiss of death a few weeks ago, but at least they recovered in time to roll Wisconsin at home on March 7. Michigan State sports victories over every Big Ten team with the exception of Indiana this season, and the Hoosiers are all the way on the other side of the bracket. Indiana will need to get by at least one team that it's already lost to in order to get to the championship game.
Meanwhile, with the way Gary Harris and Adriean Payne have developed this season, we could be looking at next season's versions of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. This season, though, Michigan State's fate is often tied to the performance of point guard Keith Appling. During Sparty's recent three-game losing streak, Appling went 5-for-23 from the field without once scoring in double digits. In two wins to close out the regular season, he went 12-for-21 with 35 points. Still, Appling was only 2-for-8 from three-point range in those last two games. If he can recover his long range touch in Michigan State's tournament opener versus Northwestern or Iowa, the rest of the conference will be in trouble.
The Case for Wisconsin
apy5000: Boring old Wisconsin just keeps plugging away and is projected to received a four-seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Bo Ryan just won Big Ten Coach of the Year most likely because no one could figure out how a team whose top scorer averages 11.5 points per game could possibly contend for the conference title. Turns out the Badgers are a superior defensive team this year, which makes up for the team scoring under 100 points per possession in B1G play. Lately that tepid offense has begun to catch up with the Badgers, who shot just 29 percent from the floor in a recent loss to Michigan State and are just 17-for-72 from beyond the arc in the last three games.
So why Wisconsin? Because defense is more consistent that three-point shooting, that's why! Also, the Badgers match up well with potential second-round opponent Michigan. The Wolverines aren't terrific defensively and they lack a big man to match up with Jared Berggren. Wisconsin's best player was 4-for-6 on two pointers in the Badgers' thrilling victory over Michigan this season. If the two teams meet again, Berggren should set up shop inside and let his teammates take care of the long distance shooting.
The Case for Minnesota
babaoreally: They have anti-momentum, and sometimes that's what it takes to make a deep run in the tournament. I don't think what I just wrote makes any sense, because it does not. But I do have a feeling that the Gophers, even though they have looked pretty bad recently, will make a deep run. It could be because they have Trevor Mbakwe, who is one of the best inside players in the league (and one of the longest tenured). Or maybe Andre Hollins has a monster game to steal a game from Indiana. And Joe Coleman could break out against Illinois like he did in January. Rodney Williams might be the key to beating Wisconsin.
Things aren't looking so swell right now for Minnesota, as they are coming off of a bad loss to a meh Purdue team and an even meh-er Cornhusker squad. But two games before that they beat conference champion Indiana. For a team that sits at below .500 in conference play, the Gophs have beaten a lot of good teams. They also have wins against Michigan State and Wisconsin, so they have it in them to beat anyone in the field.
Notice that I didn't say Minnesota could win the conference tournament. They won't, because that would be a
championship, and Tubby Smith's Gophers don't cotton to championships.
zipsofakron: The only team outside of Penn State to lose to both Northwestern and Nebraska. Conversely, also the only team to beat Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State. They're a real box of chocolates.
The Case for Nebraska
Jesse Collins: Look people, this team starts and ends with one man: Tim Miles. I don't know if you all have noticed, but he is actually a pretty good coach with close to unlimited resources trying to build a new team from a mess of pieces leftover from the last regime. Despite that, and despite predictions of going winless and a near-unanimous decision that Nebrasketball would be last in the B1G, Miles led this team to a five-B1G-win season. Sure, that's not Indiana good, but it sure as hell is better than zero-win bad and that should give everyone pause. Remember earlier in the season when Nebraska gave scares to Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State? Remember the first half of the Indiana game (forgetting the second half when Nebrasketball's lack of any athletes shown forth)? How about the times this team actually won? Minnesota still remembers that. All that to say, this year is wide open -- as every analyst has let us know -- and why not Nebraska? They have a great defense most of the time and that wildcard of a good coach who still might have a few tricks up his sleeve seems like at least one win, right? Hey, one win would be deeper than anyone expected, so we'll take it.
The Case for Northwestern
But seriously, sleep on the 'Cats at your own...peril? I think that's the word. Yeah, peril. Northwestern shot below 25% from three in both of their meetings this year. Look for that number to go up. The Hawks lack Mike Gesell this time around, giving Northwestern one less three-shooter to worry about and hopefully the chance to clamp down on Josh Oglesby. have Mike Gesell back, meaning we’re screwed. Seriously, just abandon all hope and stop reading here. Finally, look for the difference-makers for the 'Cats to be their cast of freshmen: now with a season of, well, seasoning, Tre Demps and West Des Moines-product Kale Abrahamson have taken a greater role over the season. Abrahamson in particular was playing out of his mind under the hoop against a bigger Michigan State squad and looks like he's been given a little license to just scrap out there. If the freshmen show up, Northwestern could be a wild card.
The Case for Penn State
apy5000: It's hard to imagine Penn State getting out of the first round in this tournament, but it's not THAT hard to imagine. After all, I probably don't need to remind you that Penn State defeated Michigan just two weeks ago (well, I just did). It wasn't too much of a fluke either. Back in Ann Arbor, Penn State played the Wolverines tough, which makes a neutral site upset seem not too far out of the question.
In both previous contests, Penn State got great performances from its forwards. In Ann Arbor, Sasa Borovnjak blew up for 17 points on just nine field goal attempts. Borovnjak wasn't as loud in the State College upset, but Ross Travis more than made up for it with 15 points and 12 rebounds. With the way D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have been playing lately, the Lions only really need one of their starting forwards to star on offense. Michigan will have to pick up its defensive game if the team hopes to cruise into the second round. And if Penn State can pull another upset, the next opponent will be a Wisconsin team that the Lions were oh-so-close to beating on Sunday.
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