(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- Ohio State - The Buckeyes' unexpected success this year was THE premier story of perhaps the entire basketball season (outside of the Trae Young and FBI stuff). After a shocking (and oddly timed) firing of long-time coach Thad Matta, OSU brought in former Butler front-man Chris Holtmann to run the show - and holy shit did he deliver. Picked by many to finish near the basement of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes ended just a game out of 1st place thanks to the emergence of B1G POY Keita Bates-Diop, the departure of locker room cancer JaQuan Lyle, and the stellar length of Andrew Dakich (just kidding on that last one).
- Where was Wisconsin? - The Badgers finished the season outside of the top 4 of the Big Ten standings for the first time since the 1999-2000 season when they went 8-8 and made the Final Four. A down-year was inevitable with the amount of turnover Greg Gard's squad had from the season before, but many were hesitant to lower preseason expectations. This year will likely prove to be a mere blip on the radar of Wisconsin's near two-decade dominance as Gard brings back a slew of talent in 2018-19.
- Nebraska Came out of Nowhere - Show me a person that said he picked Nebraska to finish in the top 4 of the Big Ten standings and I'll show you a liar. The Cornhuskers shocked everyone this season by notching a 13-5 conference record behind stud point guard Glynn Watson and high-major transfers Isaac Copeland and James Palmer. Despite the success (and Tim Miles's bitching) the Huskers still have some work to do to make the Field of 68. Nebraska played the 2nd easiest schedule in the Big Ten and its best win out of conference was Boston College. Still though, kudos to Nebrasketball for a fine year.
- Minnesota's Meltdown - The Gophers were a unanimous preseason top 3 Big Ten team and started the year 8-1 despite an injury to stud sophomore Eric Curry. Then things got worse. Reggie Lynch, the squad's linchpin in the middle, was kicked off the team for sexual assault charges and Amir Coffey, one of the best players on the team, played only half the year. Even a break-out year by Jordan Murphy and another superlative season from Nate Mason couldn't save Minnesota from conference irrelevance.
- Purdue and Michigan State - The Boilermakers and Sparty were undoubtedly the class of the conference this season (sorry Ohio State). Both teams spent a good chunk of time in the AP Top 5 and both teams look like legitimate Final Four contenders with complete rosters that compete on both ends of the floor.
What to Watch:
- The question on everyone's mind is: Will Michigan get into another plane scare and run the table? I don't know the answer to the plane part, but running the table is certainly within the realm of possibility. Seemingly an annual tradition, John Beilein's squad is firing on all cylinders right now, winning their last five contests, four of which by double digits.
- An underrated narrative to this tournament is the fact that if a team not named Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, or Michigan wins this conference championship, it's bad news bears for all bubble teams. Weirdly enough, the Big Ten only has four safe teams at the moment with Nebraska squarely on the bubble and Penn State on the outside looking in. Both those squads and several other teams outside of the top four are more than capable of playing spoiler and crashing the Dance.
- Watch for the sleepers. I will go down on this hill because I am stubborn: Illinois is capable of being a good basketball team. The Illini admittedly sucked out loud this season, but they lost three games in OT and another two on top of that by less than five points. I'm not saying Illinois is winning the Tourney, but I'm saying there's a chance. Other sleep specials I like are Penn State and, yes, even Indiana.
Who Will Win:
- Michigan State - The resume may not be as strong as the other top dogs thanks to a weak-ass non-conference schedule, but Michigan State's 28-3 (16-2) record will not be ignored by the Committee. Sparty hasn't lost a game since January 13th and have arguably the deepest roster in the country (at least in the frontcourt). Add in bona fide star power with Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson, and its tough to see someone stopping the Green and White freight train.
If Not Them, Then:
- Purdue - What can stop a Green and White freight train? Perhaps a Boilermaker! Purdue narrowly lost its only bout with the Spartans this season in East Lansing, but Matt Painter's squad has the size and talent to go toe-to-toe with the conference champs. The championship will be one hell of game if Purdue can get past Ohio State and Sparty takes care of business on their side.
- Michigan - Like I said above, the Wolverines are hot, hot, hot. Beilein has an uncanny ability to get the most out of his team every season, especially in March. Michigan is playing its best defense of the Beilein era and as always has that potent offensive attack. The Wolverines will have to skate by a Nebraska team desperate for a victory to prove they belong in the Big Dance. Previously, the Huskers downed Michigan in Lincoln by 20 points.