The Ten Biggest Storylines Heading Into The Big Ten Tournament

Originally when I first received my credentials for the Big Ten Tournament, I thought my access was going to be restricted to just the team I cover (being the Indiana Hoosiers). However, after learning that I have access to all 13 games, I decided I may as well cover the tournament as a whole.

For the next five days I will be publishing daily recaps of the day’s events and I will also live-tweet all 13 games. You can follow me on Twitter @QTipsForSports for all the fun.

So before the fun begins, let’s take a quick look at the ten biggest storylines heading into the Big Ten Tournament:

  1. Michigan State Tries To Earn A 1-Seed: During a season of chaos and upsets, Tom Izzo’s squad is as close to a championship contender as any other team in the country. Yet despite having a winning record against the RPI top 25 and 11 wins overall against RPI top 100 teams, the Spartans are far from a lock as a 1-seed. That’s because not only did Michigan State not win the Big Ten, but finished two games behind champion Indiana. A conference championship is really the only thing missing from the resume and the Spartans can still claim the conference tournament championship this week, which should satisfy that last requirement for a 1-seed. Now it’s up to Izzo on whether or not grabbing a 1-seed is worth pursuing.
  2. Indiana Tries To Win Its First Big Ten Tournament: Even though the Hoosiers are tied for the most regular season Big Ten titles (22), did you know Indiana has never won a Big Ten Tournament? Granted the Big Ten was one of the last conferences to adopt a postseason tournament ( the first one being in 1998), but it’s still hard to believe the Hoosiers have yet to win one especially since roughly half of them have been in Indianapolis, which is practically a second home for the Hoosiers. After a 15-3 record against the conference this year, you’d think this would be the year they’d have the best chance to get their first.
  3. Does A Big Ten Regular Season And Tournament Championship Earn Indiana A 1/2-Seed?: Indiana might also need to win the Big Ten Tournament to grab a 1 or 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which in itself is pretty incredible when you realize this team was very much on the bubble at the beginning of February. Four more wins against the RPI top 50 later and the Hoosiers are almost a lock for a top-4 seed. How Tom Crean’s group does this weekend will determine if they move up even more before Selection Sunday.
  4. Can Either Maryland Or Iowa End Its Late-Season Slump?: While Indiana has seen its stock rise, both Maryland and Iowa have seen its stock plummet over the last few weeks. The Terrapins have lost four of their last six games while the Hawkeyes have lost five of their last seven games. Both have shown to be very talented teams capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but that would likely require them to play well in the Big Ten Tournament to turn momentum in their favor. If either lose right away in Indianapolis, you’d be smart to avoid picking them when filling out your March Madness brackets.
  5. Ohio State And Michigan Both Need Multiple Wins To Help NCAA Chances: Even though Iowa and Maryland have struggled down the stretch, both are locks for the NCAA Tournament. That is not the case for Ohio State and Michigan. The Buckeyes have gone 4-4 in their last eight games while the Wolverines have gone 3-5 in their last eight games. In addition to not finishing the season strong, both have just three wins against the RPI top 100 and a ton of losses (Ohio State has nine vs RPI top 100 while Michigan has 11 vs RPI top 100). With the pool for the at-large bids getting crowded with all of the mid-major conference leaders who lost in their postseason tournaments, the Buckeyes and Wolverines will need to win multiple games during the Big Ten Tournament just to stay on the bubble come Selection Sunday.
  6. Will A Double-Digit Seed Win Multiple Games?: Upsets have been the norm in college basketball this season and some of the more surprising ones have happened in the Big Ten. Penn State has wins over both Iowa and Indiana, Illinois has a win over Purdue, Nebraska has a win over Michigan State, and Minnesota has a win over Maryland. All four of those teams are double-digit seeds and would have to beat teams of similar caliber to win multiple games this week. They’ve all done it before so it’s not out of the question it could happen again.
  7. How Will Wisconsin Respond To Starting The Big Ten Tournament A Day Earlier Than Usual?: Even though Greg Gard didn’t lead Wisconsin to yet another top four finish in the Big Ten, he’s done a great job taking over for Bo Ryan and deserves to be named the permanent head coach. That being said, after years of having off until Friday, how will the team react having to win one extra game? Will the fans remember to come root for their team on Thursday or will they forget out of habit? All joking aside, if the Badgers get to at least the semifinals  they might move up to a 6-seed, which is incredible for a team that had home losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee to begin the season.
  8. Potential Indiana-Purdue Rematch In Indianapolis: There are plenty of great potential matchups in this year’s Big Ten Tournament, but when considering the location of the tournament (Indianapolis) and the likeliness of the matchup (both teams only need to win one game), an Indiana-Purdue rematch becomes the most intriguing. Due to unbalanced schedules caused by league expansion, the in-state rivals are no longer guaranteed to play each other twice a season. Recently both programs haven’t been good at the same time so the lack of a home-and-home likely prevented one team from sweeping the other. That wasn’t the case this year as both are ranked in the AP top 25 and are real threats in the NCAA Tournament which made the fact that they only played once this season a shame. That could be corrected if both win their quarterfinals matchups on Friday.
  9. Which Coaches Are Under Pressure To Perform Well?: Even though only one coach has a realistic chance of being fired after this season (that being Rutgers’ Eddie Jordan), there are still many coaches who will feel the pressure to perform at the Big Ten Tournament this weekend for varying reasons. Richard Pitino of Minnesota has been given a pass for this season, but after the recent suspensions and the loss to Rutgers, there’s definitely some pressure to end the season on a positive note. John Groce was just given a vote of confidence that he will return to coach Illinois next year but if the Illini get destroyed by Minnesota on Wednesday it may make his margin for error even less come next season. Missing the NCAA Tournament won’t put coaches like Thad Matta (Ohio State) and John Beilein (Michigan) on the hot seat but both would like to avoid any unnecessary pressure going forward. Lastly both Fran McCaffery (Iowa) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland) carry the burden of high expectations and with both teams stumbling towards the finish line, you can bet both want to avoid being considered underachievers with their talented squads.
  10. With The Final On Sunday, Could A Team Realistically Win And Cause An NCAA Selection Shakeup?: Did you know that in the history of the Big Ten Tournament, an eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th seed have all made the championship game? With the Big Ten so top-heavy this year, if an eighth thru 11th seed made the Big Ten title game that would have huge ramifications for the NCAA Selection Committee. While the committee would probably place the eighth seed (who is Michigan) into the bracket regardless of outcome, ninth thru 11th (Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska) are nowhere close to being at-large teams and would cause the selection committee to make two vastly different versions of the final bracket in the case of one of those teams winning the Big Ten Tournament. Of course this is true of any year, but considering what has already happened this season, this possibility should not be ignored.
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