Half of the Michigan Daily men’s basketball beat provides you with a preview of the Big Ten Tournament. The games begin with a matchup between Northwestern and Minnesota on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Below, the Daily analyzes what the top-five seeds must do at Conseco Field House in Indianapolis to win it all and garner the coveted automatic berth to the Big Dance.
No. 1 OHIO STATE WINS IF … everything goes to plan. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the country and are expected to not only win the Big Ten Tournament but make a push for the national championship. Freshman Jared Sullinger has replaced superstar Evan Turner, who left the Buckeyes last year.
Sullinger has practically beaten teams by himself. The 280-pounder averages 17 points and 10 rebounds a game. When they need a 3-pointer, Sullinger will take it as he did in the final minutes against Wisconsin (it was also a fadeaway) and when Ohio State needs some horse power in the post, he can clearly do that as well. Sullinger recently captured the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award and has the ability to take Ohio State deep into the tournament.
No. 2 PURDUE WINS IF … Big Ten Player of the Year, senior JuJuan Johnson, plays a few average games. Mind you, average for him is 20 points and eight boards per game. And if Johnson’s partner in crime, senior E’Twaun Moore plays like he normally does — 18 points per game — the pair will be hard to stop. Purdue wins if these two show up to play. Purdue runs away with it if Johnson and Moore catch fire.
The two comprise the most dynamic duo in the conference this year, and beyond that, the Boilermakers know how to play team basketball, averaging 16 assists per game.
No. 3 WISCONSIN WINS IF … Badger coach Bo Ryan has anything to say about it. Or if Josh Gasser comes up big (hey, it’s happened before). The Badgers just got spanked by Ohio State in Columbus (their worst loss of the season), so Ryan most likely has had them envisioning a rematch with the Buckeyes in the championship game.
The Badgers won the tournament in 2008 and senior Jon Leuer and junior Jordan Taylor, both All-Big Ten first team selections, are looking to get back there. And winning it over the top-seeded Buckeyes would only make it sweeter.
No. 4 MICHIGAN WINS IF… it plays as hot as it has in its last 11 games. But that means the Wolverines need to continue to get production from its big three: Darius Morris, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan. The trio has combined for more than a third of Michigan’s scoring this season. Morgan has to stay out of foul trouble — something he struggled with for the first half of the season — so the Wolverines will at least have one big man on the floor. Hardaway Jr. must produce like he has — averaging 14 points a game. And Morris must continue to make intelligent decisions and be the effective floor general he has been for much of the season.
No. 5 ILLINOIS WINS IF … Evan Smotrycz takes a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But really, the Fighting Illini could walk away with the game against Michigan if its two big men, 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale and 6-foot-9 Mike Davis, control the paint. The two will be a formidable opponent for any Big Ten big man.
The pair would be thrilled to face off against Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger again — he scored 27 points the first time the two teams played, but only 12 points the second. This team is on the NCAA bubble and its four seniors are ready to fight.
THE MOST LIKELY DARK HORSE IS… Penn State. The Nittany Lions are led by senior guard Talor Battle, who has never been to an NCAA Tournament. Joining Battle are three other senior starters: Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones.
These four seniors make up a very consistent, veteran squad that has kept it close or beaten every team in this conference. The last chance for these old timers to garner a bid to the tournament is to win the Big Ten Tournament and receive an auto berth. If not, the Nittany Lions will probably end their season in the NIT.