Big Ten Tournament Preview

Zach Edey leads Purdue into the Big Ten Tournament.

The Big Ten was a rollercoaster all season long. The conference had 49 games decided by 5 points or less, of which, 29 were decided by 3 or less. Ten teams won at least ten conference games, setting a new Big Ten record. This can be interpreted in two ways. The Big Ten is very balanced and competitive. Or the Big Ten has a lot of mediocre teams. Either way, it sets up a thrilling tournament.

Big Ten Tournament Preview

Regular Season Recap

Before diving directly into the tournament, let’s recap the regular season briefly. Zach Edey, using his 7’4″ 285 lb frame, dominated the conference from start to finish. He led the conference with 21.9 PPG, 12.8 RPG, and a shooting percentage of 61.1%, while also adding 2.3 blocks per game. It’s no coincidence his Purdue Boilermakers went 26-5 overall and won the Big Ten regular season. Edey easily won Big Ten POTY and is a finalist (and presumed favorite) for the Wooden Award.

Northwestern came out of nowhere to go 21-10 and snag the 2nd best record in the conference. Coach Collins and star Boo Buie were originally predicted to finish 13th. This was the Wildcats’ best season since 2016-17 when they went 24-12 and made their only NCAA Tournament ever. Coach Collins won Big Ten Coach of the Year thanks to this miraculous turnaround.

The pre-season favorite, Indiana Hoosiers, got off to a slow start at 10-6 but turned it on in the 2nd half to finish 21-10. The Hoosiers are led by the 2nd best player in the Big Ten in Trayce Jackson-Davis. In the backcourt, Jalen Hood-Schifino took home Freshman of the Year honors after a stellar season in Bloomington. Additionally, Indiana managed to sweep Purdue in the regular season, but got swept by Northwestern.

Many teams also failed to meet their lofty preseason expectations. Illinois was picked to finish 2nd, Michigan was picked 3rd, and Ohio State was picked 6th. All three teams finished well below expectations after opening the season as threats to win the Big Ten. The conference is so congested in the middle of the standings, but if any of these teams win the tournament it will be shocking.

Big Ten Tournament Preview

Big Ten Tournament

The Big Ten tournament format favors the top four seeds as they receive the double-bye and only need to win three games to be crowned champions. However, last year that did not matter at all. In 2022 the semi-finals consisted of the 3-seed, 5-seed, 7-seed, and 9-seed, with the 5-seed Hawkeyes winning it all. Furthermore, the semi-finals have consisted of at least one team seeded five or higher since 2016. The tournament tips off from Chicago later today as the two games in the first round get underway. The championship will take place on Sunday and lead directly into the selection show.

The Favorite

Purdue is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten tournament. They led the regular season standings essentially wire-to-wire and have been the most consistent team. Between Edey and his supporting cast of freshman guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith, the Boilermakers are well-equipped to hold off the field. Purdue also plays well away from West Lafayette as they went 12-3 on the road and in neutral games (no other Big Ten team has more than 8 wins). The key to beating Purdue is to shut down or slightly limit Edey, with the latter much easier, but still very challenging.

The 2nd Tier

Indiana, as mentioned earlier, was Purdue’s kryptonite this season. That alone gives the Hoosiers a chance this week in Chicago. Indiana has been a very streaky team this year where they’ll win a few games in a row and then lose a few games in a row. If Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino can win their first game and build some momentum this team could go all the way.

Northwestern is also included in the 2nd Tier simply because they have the double-bye and potentially avoid Purdue until the finals. Additionally, Evanston is a short 15-mile drive to Chicago which could help boost the Wildcats. In March every possession matters, so potentially having some more fans in the crowd could benefit them drastically.

Could Make Some Noise

The obvious team here is the Iowa Hawkeyes. They clinched the 5-seed for a 2nd straight season and that worked out well for them last year. They’re led by first-team All-Big Ten, Kris Murray who was on the team last year as well. Iowa played well throughout the season as they swept Indiana and split their two games with Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have a deep team behind Murray as four other players average over 10 PPG. If Payton Sandfort gets hot from behind the arc, Iowa can beat anyone.

Michigan State and Maryland could also make some noise but things would have to fall their way. Maryland only won one road game in Big Ten conference play (2/4/23 vs Minnesota), but if Jahmir Young finds his groove he can be a difference-maker. The Terps lack bench scoring, but four of their starters average over 11 PPG to make up for the lack of depth. Michigan State has a very well-rounded team with Tyson Walker at the helm, but they’re missing the one true game-changer that Purdue and Indiana have. They also fall into tough matchups with potential games against Iowa and Purdue.

Michigan has been a team of destiny the past few years in March so they must be accounted for here. Hunter Dickinson has been on an insane three-game stretch (26 PPG, 13.3 RPG) however, all three games went to overtime and the Wolverines lost the final two. He’s one of the few guys that could match up with Edey, but they would need to beat Rutgers first.

Mediocre Teams but Great Players

If Terrence Shannon Jr. and Jalen Pickett weren’t mentioned then this article wouldn’t be complete. Shannon’s Fighting Illini and Pickett’s Nittany Lions matchup in the second round for their team’s first games. Both players were named All-Big Ten First-Team and carried their teams to the finish line. Illinois has struggled to find a rhythm all season long and enter the postseason 5-5 in their last ten games. Penn State has clawed their way to 10-10 in the Big Ten with wins in five of their last six. This game has extreme NCAA Tournament implications as Penn State is borderline eliminated from the big dance if they lose.

Official Prediction

The top of the bracket will see Purdue matchup with Iowa in the semi-finals as the Hawkeyes continue the magic of the 5-seed. Purdue gets a little scare in their first game against Rutgers but is able to overcome the Scarlet Knights. Iowa wins big against Wisconsin and then squeaks out a win against Michigan State. Iowa will also provide a scare for Boilermaker fans but Purdue wins this game, ultimately ending the 5-seed magic.

The bottom of the bracket will see the Wildcats and the Terps battling in the semi-finals. Maryland went a perfect 4-0 in the regular season against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Indiana, giving the 6-seed a great chance to make a surprise semi-final appearance. Northwestern should be able to handle business against Illinois after the Illini play a physical first game the prior day. The Terps’ surprise run continues as they upset Northwestern and win their third game in three days. It’s March, anything can happen.

The Championship game on Sunday at 3:30 PM EST will be a clash between the Purdue Boilermakers and the Maryland Terrapins. The teams split their regular season games with Purdue winning in West Lafayette 58-55 and Maryland winning in College Park 68-54. Maryland will be running on empty as they attempt to win four games in four days. After scares the prior two days, Purdue comes out and dominates from wire to wire to claim their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2009. This win would also give Purdue a chance at the top 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament with their main competition being Kansas, Houston, and Alabama.