Big Ten 2016-17 Tournament Preview

-Jim Root

(Compare to our preseason preview here)

Season Recap:


Notable Storylines from the season:

1.      Biggie Blows Up – I write here and there for Rush the Court’s Big Ten website, and in doling out our preseason awards, several forwards had us split on who to award Preseason Player of the Year to – Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes, and Thomas Bryant. Swanigan laughed at us, ripped a rebound away from us, and dunked all over our faces, running away with the award behind the nation’s most double-doubles (especially as analytics-based Happ momentum died with the Badgers tailspin). He finished with 25 of those, the same as Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, and his emergence as a complete Godzilla-esque monster inside allowed the Boilermakers three-point shooters to comfortably cash shot after shot from the perimeter (6th in the country in percentage).

2.      Fredo Figures It Out – Ok, so the Godfather analogy isn’t perfect since there aren’t any other Pitino brothers out there succeeding, but up until this year, Richard was definitely looking like the bad egg mobster son. He significantly pumped up the talent level this year with freshmen Amir Coffey and Eric Curry and transfers Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs, though, and that along with internal development from the veterans led the Golden Gophers to a stunning double-bye and top-4 finish.

3.      Blah Top Tier – There aren’t really any top-tier title contenders here. Purdue, by far the best bet of the league, may struggle to get above a 3 seed, even if they win the conference tournament. Any team with someone as good as Swanigan can go on a run, but the theme since February 11th (when the committee revealed its top 16) has been how little there is to love about the 2016-17 B1G.

4.      Purple Cats Buying Dancing Shoes – Covered ad nauseum in many places, but it can never get repeated enough – Chris Collins, Bryant McIntosh, and company appear to have lifted Northwestern to its first ever tournament berth. Armed with an excellent defense and a perimeter that can get hot, NW definitely has a chance to get its first NCAA Tournament win this year, as well.

5.      B1G Bubble Bath – I like this term for two reasons – it demonstrates just how many teams sit near the cutline this year (as many as five: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois), and it also hints at the complete opposite of a bloodbath, which this league was decidedly not this year. Sure, teams beat each other, but not in the way the ACC or Big 12 contenders beat each other up This league just got depressing after a while, and that’s not just because I’m a Badger fan. Sad!

Tourney Preview: 

The 14-team bracket gives double-byes to the top 4 seeds, while 5-10 are technically in the “second round” already. The bottom four have to kick off the tournament tonight (Wednesday), with Penn State/Nebraska and Rutgers/Ohio State duking it out in the HEART of Big Ten country…Washington D.C.? Ummm, what? The drive for “winning a new market” never ceases to look stupid. Bring this back to Chicago or Indianapolis where it belongs!

Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s):

Seeds as of Wednesday morning from
Purdue – 4 seed
Minnesota – 6 seed
Maryland – 6 seed
Wisconsin – 7 seed
Michigan – 9 seed
Northwestern – 9 seed
Michigan State – 10 seed
Iowa – Third Team Out
Illinois – Fourth Team Out

As mentioned above, there’s a lot of bunching up in the middle of the bracket, which will make placing them into regions rather difficult (whined the bracketologist). Iowa and Illinois (despite the loss to Rutgers) both have real chances to elbow their way into the field with two wins, as the Illini would feature a win over Purdue and Iowa would get a second Wisconsin victory on their ledger. It wouldn’t be a given with that – there’s a lot of movement on the bubble this time of year, both up and down – but that’s probably what’s needed to have a real chance.

Dark Horse(s):

I like two teams to make a run here – Iowa and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes are playing their best basketball right now, and they just need to beat major scufflers Indiana and Wisconsin to exceed expectations. They also have a bona fide star in Peter Jok and a crop of freshmen that is playing far better than they did early in the year. Speaking of which – Sparty! Izzo has handed the keys over to the young pups, mostly by necessity due to injuries but also because they’re the best four players on the team. Cassius Winston is sneakily becoming a favorite of 3MW, and Nick Ward plays like the 7th-grader that hit puberty before everyone else – he’s just a load on the block. Oh, and I guess Tom Izzo can coach a little bit, too.


(12) Nebraska defeats (13) Penn State
(11) Ohio State defeats (14) Rutgers

(8) Michigan defeats (9) Illinois
(5) Michigan State defeats (12) Nebraska
(7) Iowa defeats (10) Indiana
(6) Northwestern defeats (11) Ohio State

(1) Purdue defeats (8) Michigan
(5) Michigan State defeats (4) Minnesota
(7) Iowa defeats (2) Wisconsin
(3) Maryland defeats (6) Northwestern

(1) Purdue defeats (5) Michigan State
(3) Maryland defeats (7) Iowa

(1) Purdue defeats (3) Maryland

The Boilermakers solidify themselves as a protected seed (likely moving up to a 3 with three tournament-level wins). Wisconsin continues to flounder as Nigel Hayes wonders whether he should have ever changed his shooting form (he shouldn’t have, it’s terrible!). Iowa becomes the most interesting Power 6 bubble team, probably coming down to how many bids get stolen in the C-USA, A-10, and Power leagues. Michigan, Northwestern, and Michigan State all become dangerous 7-10 teams, but none of them make the Sweet 16. Illinois is left wanting and instead becomes a 2-seed in the NIT (not a 1!!!).