It's time to set up the Big Ten Tournament which we'll be following from start to finish this week with game previews and free NCAA basketball picks for all 13 games.
Among the many debates presented by the talking heads at ESPN this college basketball season, which conference was the best on the hardwood came up frequently. There were some who felt it was the Big 12, and that league is certainly among the best with top-ranked Kansas along with Oklahoma, which sat at No. 1 briefly, leading the way for as many as seven of the 10 members making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Others pointed to the ACC, and given its rich hoops tradition, that conference is another fine pick. Like the Big 12, the ACC is projected to send seven schools to the Big Dance with North Carolina and Virginia both strong picks to garner No. 1 seeds.
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Of course, any such discussion is simply a moot exercise since there is not one single set of criteria or agreed upon formula for determining the answer. And that means my choice of the Big Ten for top conference is just as correct as any other.
At least one sports book thinks one team from the Big Ten will rise above all others to win it all. Bovada is presently listing Michigan State at +500 on the NCAA basketball odds boards to cut down the nets at the end of the tournament, putting the Spartans right alongside No. 1 Kansas entering the meat of the conference tournaments schedule. For comparison purposes, 5Dimes has the Jayhawks at +800 with the Spartans +850.
That should mean it's no surprise to see Tom Izzo's side playing the role of heavy favorites to win it all this week when the Big Ten begins its tournament at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. BetOnline has MSU just about even money (+105) to rise above the dozen teams that will take part.
Indiana is +300 at the same sports book and followed by Purdue (+550), Maryland (+600), Iowa (+800) and Wisconsin (+1400). All five are expected to hear their names called later on this week on Selection Sunday.
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I'll be following the entire tournament this week with previews and free NCAA basketball picks, so I guess now's as good a time as any to pick a winner. Trouble is, my early analysis reveals five teams that could come away from Indianapolis with the crown and the automatic NCAA Tournament berth that goes with it.
Let's start with four teams that don't have a chance, those being Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers. Two of those will win on Wednesday, then see their seasons come to an end in Thursday's second round. Should Nebraska or Rutgers pull off an upset of No. 6 seed Wisconsin in Round 2, it would severely damage the Badgers' chances of reaching the NCAA's, unless they got placed in one of the play-in games.
I also don't see any of the Nos. 7-10 seeds -- Ohio State, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State -- moving on after Friday's quarterfinals. Wisconsin could topple No. 3 seed Maryland, but it's my belief that will be the end of the road for the Badgers in this bracket.
No. 5 Iowa is capable of going all the way despite a very sluggish end to the regular season that saw the Hawkeyes lose four of their final five. They should meet No. 4 Purdue in the quarterfinals, the Boilermakers having already dropped two to Iowa this season.
Assuming Maryland does get past Wisconsin in the quarters, the Terrapins would be the first real test for the Spartans in the semis. Michigan State beat the Terps in East Lansing, 74-65, in their only meeting.
Last but not least, Indiana has the top seed for the event, and the Hoosiers are a team that just everyone slept on at some point in the season or another. They're a top 10 team in scoring and beat four out of five ranked teams in the final three weeks to win the Big Ten regular season title. The one loss? Why, to Michigan State, naturally, giving Tom Crean's troops the revenge factor should the Hoosiers and Spartans collide Sunday for the tournament championship.