Favorite(s)-Indiana (26-5 14-4), Michigan State (24-7 13-5), Michigan (25-6 12-6)
Indiana may be the best team in the country, they may score the 3rd most points of anyone in the country and have basically five guys in double figures, but they also play in the deepest, most competitive conference in the country. They are led by a pair of seniors in Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford and juniors Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehy. The quartet accounts for 46.5 points and 18.6 rebounds. Add to them pre-season All-American center Cody Zeller (16.5 and 8.0) who is just a sophomore and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell and you can see the oodles of talent the Hoosiers have. But even the #1 team in the country is susceptible, losing to Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota and keep in mind their best non-conference win was an overtime win over Georgetown.
Tom Izzo and the Spartans are like death and taxes, you can always count on them being in the thick of the Big Ten race. This is your typical blue collar Michigan State squad with the inside duo of Adrien Payne and Derrick Nix who combine for 19.4 points and 13.9 rebounds while the back court of freshman Gary Harris and junior Keith Appling add 26.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists. One could argue that even though finishing behind Indiana, the Spartans have been more impressive besides being swept by the Hoosiers they only fell on the road at Ohio State and Minnesota.
The Wolverines are the most athletic team in the conference. With a back court of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr and their 34 points, 8.0 rebounds and 9.1 assists Michigan is bound to be successful. Add to that duo a trio of talented freshmen in Glenn Robinson III, Nick Stauskas and Mitch McGary who add 28.6 points and 13.0 rebounds and John Beilein has a recipe for success.
Contender(s)-Wisconsin (21-10 12-6), Ohio State (23-7 13-5)
Wisconsin is Wisconsin, slow down, rebound and play tough defense. Offensively the Badgers are led by a foursome of Jared Bergrren, Ryan Evans, Ben Brust and Sam Dekker 42.5 of the team’s 66.2 points and 23.4 of the 37.3 rebounds. Bo Ryan’s team holds wins over Michigan and Indiana and only lost to Michigan State by a bucket.
The only reason Ohio State is considered a contender in the Big Ten is their two juniors Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr who have the ability to go off offensively as the two combine for 29.9 points per game. Point guard Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders in the country but is inconsistent on offense. The Buckeyes have seven losses but every one of them came to a team that was ranked in the top 20 at the time.
Team Likely to pull an upset-Illinois (21-11 8-10)
The November, 12-0 Illinois team is the reason they are an upset special, ask Butler and Gonzaga. They then went 3-8 in their next 11 before finishing 6-3 . For a team that lives and dies by the 3, if they are living well they are dangerous.
3 Key Players-Victor Oladipo-Indiana, Trey Burke-Michigan, Brandon Paul-Illinois
For Indiana their most important player is junior guard Victor Oladipo. It is not for his 13.7 points and six rebounds, the Hoosiers have plenty of other guys that can do that. It is his leadership and lock down defense he provides. He is the guy that sets the tone for the team, especially at the defensive end. He is so important that there has been talk of him being a first-team All-American. Watch Indiana play and you’ll see why.
If guard play is so important in March, then Michigan is in good shape with sophomore Trey Burke. Burke is the prototypical scoring point guard. He pours in 19.1 points a game, but unlike some other scoring points whose assists lack at the points he still dishes out 6.9 dimes a game. The 6-0 guard also chips in on the glass with a handful of rebounds a game. With nearly half of the conference nationally ranked, every night is a dog fight and it is because of Burke’s play that Michigan has a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Illini started off the season 12-0 and a huge reason why was senior guard Brandon Paul. He had 20 points in a win over Butler to win the Maui Invitational and 35 in an upset of Gonzaga. For a team that hoists nearly 24 3-pointers a game with Paul launching over 25% of them it is important for him to shoot well for Illinois to be successful. Paul’s 16.2 points is good, but he needs to be the early-season version of himself if the Illini are to challenge in the Big Ten.
2013 BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
March 14-17 Chicago, IL
#8 Illinois vs. #9 Minnesota
#5 Michigan vs. #12 Penn State
#7 Purdue vs. #10 Nebraska
#6 Iowa vs. #11 Northwestern
#1 Indiana vs. #8/9
#2 Ohio State vs. #7/10
#3 Michigan State vs. #6/11
#4 Wisconsin vs. #5/12