With the expansion to 14 teams, the Big Ten Tournament bracket expanded by one two-game round, adding one more game to the total needed by the lowest seed to win. The principal side-effect of this safeguard against Rutgers ever winning the Big Ten Tournament is that the tournament now starts on Wednesday, but you could be forgiven for overlooking this given that the three lowest-seeded Big Ten basketball teams (and Rutgers) will be the only ones playing.
Could one of these teams go the distance?
#14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 7-24 (1-17)
That felt weird, didn't it? Putting a number next to Rutgers? While they were unable to match the two whole conference wins of last season's memorable Big Ten debut, they still managed to lock up the same seed in the Big Ten Tournament. With three conference wins to his name, Eddie Jordan needs just one more win to match the other Eddie Jordan's middling Formula 1 effort. I wonder if any Rutgers fans were briefly confused by this story.
Giving up an average of over 80 points a game puts Rutgers at 330th in the country. The lone bright spot is that freshman point guard Corey Sanders is no longer suspended. Combing through the stats suggested to me that Rutgers lacks effective big men and all the scoring on a per-game basis is done by two guards and forward Devonta Freeman, who was injured and then suspended before Leron Black made it cool.
If you only got to win one game in a year, though, you'd want it to be a blowout going into the Big Ten Tournament
Players To Watch: PG Corey Sanders
Chalk Path: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, MIchigan State, Indiana
Can They Make Some Noise?: Not a snowball's chance in hell. Can we start using "Not a Rutgers' chance in Indianapolis" to describe hopeless scenarios?
Seriously Rutgers, congratulations on being the Program Of The Distant Future. Have you signed a sponsorship deal with Svedka to commemorate this yet?
#13. Minnesota Golden Gophers: 8-22 (2-16)
"Why would you let someone film you with their phone?" Mason Sr. said.
Little Richard Pitino just suffered the worst loss of his career, and it's not hard to see why. With Carlos Morris kicked off the team, Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer under a very sexy suspension and Joey King out with a broken foot, only freshman forward Jordan Murphy remains from a list of the team's top six scorers, and while shooting .473 from the field while averaging double figures and 8 rebounds is a pretty good stat line for a player, it's not very good for a team. Watching Murphy play with this team at this point is like watching him play with a rec league team. In the supremely unlikely event that Minnesota makes a run, please use #WreckLeague to discuss this team on Twitter.
Players To Watch: Jordan Murphy, but also walk-on point guard Stephon Sharp, who has the flattest jump shot I've ever seen. It's so flat that if it were a beer pong shot I'd be on high alert for bounces every time he took it.
Chalk Path: Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State
Can They Make Some Noise?: Not if the sound is muted on the video. This roster is so thin it makes Kate Moss look like Michael Moore.
#12. Illinois Fighting Illini: 13-18 (5-13)
A loss to Penn State in double overtime on Saturday meant that not only did Illinois lock down the #12 seed, but also that they matched my prediction for their conference record. My prediction was among the least optimistic, and yet at 14-17 (5-13), I missed by one game. Specifically, I did not think they would lose to Chattanooga. That record makes them look a lot better than Minnesota and Rutgers, but that's only because they got two games against each.
Anyway, Illinois is here for a number of reasons, The erosion of a once promising frontcourt left them with little ability to defend the post and get second chance points in the paint. Center Mike Thorne, Jr is out with a torn meniscus, while forward Leron Black is out with a torn meniscus and a bad case of brain fade. They've had to count on center Maverick Morgan, who's been surprisingly efficient on the offensive end but is not the rim protector Illinois needs to prevent open layups from happening. Freshman forward/center Michael Finke looked promising, but has not been the same since a mild knee injury. A hip injury and fatherhood seem to have taken their toll on junior guard Kendrick Nunn, who shot 3 for 15 on Saturday and has been a shell of what he was early in the season. Jaylon Tate has finally played his way to the end of a pretty short bench, so Illinois will use very few substitutions.
The two brightest spots at this point are freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands, who needs only 6 more made 3-pointers to tie Corey Bradford's freshman record at Illinois, and 2nd-team All-B1G selection Malcolm Hill, who leads Illinois in minutes, points, rebounds, free throws, assists and blocks and trails Kendrick Nunn by 1 steal. Some of these statistics are hilarious; he has 264% more made free throws than the runner-up (Nunn), 48% more points (Nunn) and 60% more rebounds (also Nunn), while getting more assists than our starting PG and more blocks than our starting C. Malcolm will rest well after this season. It's been a tough one.
Players To Watch: Malcolm Hill, Jalen Coleman-Lands. If Kendrick Nunn regains his form, maybe? Mike Thorne hasn't been ruled out.
Chalk Path: Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State
Can They Make Some Noise? If they can beat Minnesota while keeping Hill, Nunn, Morgan, Lewis and Coleman-Lands under 25 minutes AND Mike Thorne returns to play Iowa AND Kendrick Nunn finds his shot again, it's not out of the question. Five games is an awfully long way for a team this thin to go, so I don't think they' can make it past Thursday.
#11. Nebraska Cornhuskers: 14-17 (6-12)
Nebraska actually had a similar season to Illinois in that they lost a lot of games in a tough non-conference slate, won a game inexplicably against a ranked conference opponent (at Michigan State no less) and then lost to basically everyone else except the teams in this tier (out of which Penn State narrowly escaped thanks to their win Saturday). At one point, they had a four game winning streak, which looks much less impressive when you consider that Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois were three of those teams.
Nebraska is in the top 100 in points allowed per game (68.3) but struggles to move the ball with only 11.8 assists per game (good for 279th). Sporting an Aussie, a Kiwi and an Illinois legacy, Nebraska's roster is quite a diverse collection, but offensively it all comes down to senior forward Shavon Shields and junior guard Andrew White, who combine to average 33 of Nebraska's 71 point average. I admittedly have not watched much Nebrasketball, but their lack of size would indicate that they need Shields and White to be at the top of their game in order to have a good game.
Players to Watch: Shavon Shields, Andrew White, freshman point guard Glynn Watson, freshman guard Johnny Trueblood if you like vampire nudity
Chalk Path: Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Indiana
Can They Make Some Noise?: It's not out of the question, but unless Wisconsin reverts to their November form, the dynamic duo will have to have the week of their lives.
Bonus: Illinebrutgersota Fighting Scarlet-Golden Illiknighpherhuskers
In the lead-up to RUTGERSOTA 2: THE RECKONING, I considered if Rutgers and Minnesota could, with their forces combined, field a competitive team with the players they had left. As that thought stayed with me, I considered that these teams are here largely because of thin rosters, recruiting imbalance, injuries or being Rutgers, and wondered what the Voltron of Wednesday BTT Teams would look like.
G Corey Sanders
G Andrew White
F Shavon Shields
F Malcolm Hill
C Maverick Morgan
G Glynn Watson
G Kendrick Nunn
G Tai Webster
G Jalen Coleman-Lands
F Jordan Murphy
F DJ Foreman
F/C Michael Finke
C Bakary Konat