May. 26, 2017
Previewing The 2017 Big Ten Tournament
The most wonderful time of the year is here again! No, not Christmas. Conference Tourney time. This is our last chance of the season to see our favorite teams that likely won't make the Big Dance aka NCAA Tournament, and it's the last time that literally any team can go on a run and play their way into the Tournament.
This is especially important in the Big Ten, which is wide open this year. Let's break it down team by team, then we'll give you our surprising choice to win it all.
The Purdue Biolermakers are looking down at everybody from the top of the Conference this year, largely thanks to the dominant big man duo of 6'8" sophomore Wooden Award Candidate Caleb Swanigan and junior 7 footer bully Isaac Haas, along with a very solid cast of supporting characters on the wings. We saw against Northwestern however just how much trouble Purdue can have when you shut them down inside-even for only a few minutes. Do they have enough outside of the paint to run the table in a sure to be very tough Big Ten Tournament?
Wisconsin has the exact opposite problem, as they really don't have dominant size in the paint but they are chock full of talented guards and forwards who just flat out know how to score. Will they be able to use that to their advantage or will their lack of real size be the cause of their going home early? Indiana also fits here, as to me they were by far the strongest team in the Conference but losing OG Anunoby forced freshmen power forward De'Ron Davis into a much larger role, significantly weakening the depth of their size down low. Can McSwain, Davis, and Juwan Morgan step up and give Thomas Bryant some real help in the frontcourt?
Minnesota, Maryland, and Northwestern are considered three of the strongest teams in the Conference but neither is run by a true point guard, and when push comes to shove those kinds of point guards look for their own offense or make plays that cost their teams the game. That flat out doesn't cut it in postseason play. The fact that all three are likely in the Tournament doesn't help them have the necessary mentality, either. You can throw in Illinois, who is probably not in the Big Dance but their guards have shown time and time again that they'll look for their own offense rather than get the ball to the Illini's best players.
That leaves the two teams who to me are most likely to win the Big Ten title this year.
The first of those is Michigan State. Let's be real. Tom Izzo could coach a team of field mice to a Big Ten title if not a Final Four appearance. He runs one of the best programs in the country and has for well over a decade. You give him a big like Nick Ward, and he'll kill you down low. Then you add projected first round pick Miles Bridges -who can easily be the most unguardable player in the Conference by a large margin if he gets into a mindset to take over- and two extremely talented young guards and the Spartans are a very dangerous team.
The second is our surprising choice to win it all -the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan does not have the size of Purdue but they've got some very talented and dominant size of their own in German import Moritz Wagner. More importantly, nobody other than maybe Penn State has the level of wing talent the Wolverines do. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zak Irvin are both guys who can be very good NBA wing players and who can both offensively take over games with their skill and physical gifts. Throw in starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr -easily one of the best in the Conference- and reserve guards Ibi Watson and Xavier Simpson not to mention Duncan Robinson, and Michigan can beat literally anybody in this Tournament.
In the next tier down from the above teams are five programs who to me just don't have quite enough to pull off the improbable.
Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio State are three teams that have a few standout players but to me just don't have enough around them to win the Big Ten title this year. Peter Jok and Tyler Cook are one of the best guard-forward combos in the Conference but the Hawkeyes do not have anywhere near enough around them. Nebraska has Tai Webster -who finally had the type of statistical season we all knew he was capable of- and Glynn Watson Jr but they just flat out don't have enough around them. Ohio State is by far the deepest team in this group but they don't have enough experienced size around standouts 6'5" sophomore guard JeQuan Lyle, 6'4" junior forward Jae'Sean Tate, and 6'8" senior forward Marc Loving.
That leaves two teams who to me are playing for next year. Rutgers has some young talent but I just can't see them being a winning team this year.
Penn State on the other hand has more than enough wing and backcourt talent to shock the Conference. As we've seen this year, the Nittany Lions can play with and even beat literally anybody. Mike Watkins is every bit as much a blue chip talent as Thomas Bryant and Caleb Swanigan but he is literally all Penn State has down low other than inconsistent junior Julian Moore out of Philadelphia. Speaking of Philadelphia, PSU's two starting freshmen wings are as talented as any freshmen in the country and as good as any wing players in the Conference. Throw in junior floor general Shep Garner -who is among the best in the Conference- and less talked about hyper-athletic freshmen forward Nazeer Bostick -who can play tough down low and hit from beyond the arc with regularity- and those four alone could turn around damn near any program. Add in two-way sophomore wing Josh Reaves and UConn transfer Terrence Samuel and you've got a very strong team. The icing on the cake is junior forward Payton Banks, whose shooting can really give you that little bit extra but who's a player you pretty much have to pray doesn't hurt you more than he helps you. Their biggest flaw is a glaring lack of size after Watkins but do not sleep on Penn State.
So there you have it, our preview for this year's Big Ten Tournament and surprising choice to win it. Be sure to tune in as the ball tips off at this afternoon in Washington, DC -the first time it's ever been held outside of the Midwest- because this could be one for the ages.