With only one team truly on the bubble, the 2012 Big Ten Tournament has fewer implications on the NCAA Tournament field than last year.

The Michigan Daily basketball beat’s predictions for the Big Ten Tournament.

The conference is top heavy, and this weekend’s tournament in Indianapolis will have more to do with how the Big Ten’s elite will position themselves for an NCAA seed, rather than which teams will get into the tournament.

Only Northwestern is on the brink — hoping to reach its first tournament in school history — and is facing perhaps the most pressure of any Big Ten team this weekend.

Looking out for No. 1

Michigan State picked a bad time to hit the skids. After being in control of the conference for most of the season, the eighth-ranked Spartans lost two straight games to close the year, and Ohio State and Michigan won their last two to draw even and tie for a conference championship.

This slide could be cause for worry, as the postseason is not an ideal time for a team to head south (except for this year, when the Final Four is in New Orleans), but it might not be so bad. The back end of Michigan State’s schedule included a visit to Indiana — which had beaten now-No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 1 Ohio State in Assembly Hall — as well as a contest with the Buckeyes.

To add injury to insult, freshman guard Branden Dawson — the team’s third-leading scorer — was lost for the season (and likely next season) to a knee injury last weekend. Still, the Spartans have the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament and are looking to vault themselves to the top of the NCAA field.

First game: Plays winner of Iowa and Illinois on Friday afternoon.

Best case: No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Ohio State was the runaway favorite to win the conference at the start of the year, and though the Buckeyes did win a share of the title, they performed well below expectations.

Whether because of a reduced supporting cast or simply for lack of improvement, star forward Jared Sullinger leveled off this season and lacked dominance at times. It’s been Deshaun Thomas that’s stepped up and carried the Buckeye offense for much of the year.

Still, No. 7 Ohio State has the toughest frontcourt in the conference, and when guard William Buford’s shot is on, the Buckeyes can be the most dominant team in the Big Ten. A No. 1 seed is still within reach if Ohio State wins the tournament this weekend, but the Buckeyes will likely settle for a two-seed.

First game: Plays winner of Purdue and Nebraska on Friday evening.

Best case: No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Not much to lose, not much to win

A year ago, Michigan had to sweat out Selection Sunday, but this year’s team can rest easy. The Wolverines won a share of the Big Ten and look to be headed for a No. 3 seed.

On Feb. 25, the Wolverines’ title hopes seemed to be dashed when Purdue came in on senior night and gave Michigan its first home loss of the season. At that point, the Wolverines needed to win out and would need a lot of help to attain their goal of winning a conference championship.

In a series of games that usually are left to fantasy, the breaks went Michigan’s way and a soft late-season schedule brought the Wolverines their first banner since 1989.

Michigan would likely jump to a two-seed by winning the Big Ten Tournament, while a winless weekend might bump the Wolverines down a notch.

First game: Plays winner of Northwestern and Minnesota on Friday evening.

Best case: No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin looked like it might be headed for the NCAA bubble early in the Big Ten season. Following a blowout loss to Michigan, the 14th-ranked Badgers had lost three straight and were uncharacteristically shaky at home.

But order was restored and Bo Ryan took the Badgers to a fourth-place finish. Senior Jordan Taylor regressed from last year, but Wisconsin is still able to grind down games against top competition.

The Badgers don’t seem to have peaked this season and the postseason may treat them very well.

First game: Plays winner of Indiana and Penn State on Friday afternoon.

Best case: No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Worse case: No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Indiana has masqueraded as an elite team, beating three top-10 opponents this year, but it has also had trouble away from Assembly Hall.

This weekend will provide something in-between home and the road, as the tournament will be held in Indianapolis. But the 15th-ranked Hoosiers could surprise as a five-seed, especially if its hot-and-cold shooters start boiling.

First game: Plays Penn State on Thursday afternoon.

Best case: No. 3 seed in NCAA Tournament.
Worst case: No. 6 seed in NCAA Tournament.

In and around the bubble

Purdue should ease into the NCAA Tournament, but a first-round loss to Nebraska could shake things up.

Robbie Hummel has been on fire lately, and the Boilermakers may be nearing their peak.

First game: Plays Nebraska on Thursday night.

Best case: No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament
Worst case: Barely sneaks in.

Northwestern is ever-so-close to letting coach Bill Carmody answer questions about something other than the fact that the Wildcats have never reached the Big Dance.

One win will put Northwestern square on the bubble and a second win against Michigan should put the Wildcats in.

First game: Plays Minnesota on Thursday evening.

Best case: In the NCAA Tournament
Worst case: NIT


Fran McCaffery has brought Iowa back to respectability in the Big Ten, but a few ugly non-conference losses early took the Hawkeyes out of contention for an NCAA bid.

A devastating injury at the start of the year to Trevor Mbakwe doomed Minnesota, and hard-luck coach Tubby Smith will have to wait out another offseason thinking about what could have been.

Whenever Illinois bows out of the Big Ten Tournament, it will likely be Bruce Weber’s last game. Weber’s career started promisingly, but when he began to lose Chicago’s best players to other programs, he fell out of favor in Champaign.

Welcome to offseason

Nebraska was not welcomed kindly to its new conference this year, and some are calling for coach Doc Sadler’s job.

Guard Tim Frazier didn’t have much support this season for Penn State, but the Nittany Lions showed flashes of promise in Patrick Chambers’s first season at the helm.

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