Before Selection Sunday rolls around, there is one last chance for bubble teams in the Big Ten to impress the NCAA Selection Committee – the conference tournament. While teams like Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue are virtual locks for the tournament, teams such as Minnesota and Indiana need a strong showing in this weekend’s tournament to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
With the parity in the league, almost any team – with the possible exception of Penn State – has a chance, however remote, of walking off with the Big Ten tournament crown and into the NCAA tourney.
“I think every team that steps on to the floor is going to think they can win,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “I don’t think confidence has ever been a problem with players in the Big Ten, in believing that they can get something done.”
Ryan has once again coached his team to a regular season conference title. This year, the Badgers are the No. 1 seed, and the biggest concern for Ryan is keeping his players motivated throughout the weekend.
“I’m just hoping that our guys don’t lose that edge,” Ryan said. “We are going to play hard and go out and play as well as we can.”
In the short history of the Big Ten Tournament, no No. 1 seed has ever won the conference tournament. While upsets inevitably happen in a tournament, Ryan attributes that to the desire of the underdog to make it to the NCAA tournament, not to a higher seeded team slacking off or holding back for March Madness.
“I think it is because the other team is going to play better,” Ryan said. “I don’t think any team is ever off its game or going to save anything for the NCAA tournament if they are the top seed. Every time they go on the floor they are going to give everything.”
One of the greatest challenges the tournament poses for any team is the back-to-back-to-back games a team – even one with a first round bye – needs to play to have a chance of winning the tournament. This grueling schedule wears down even the strongest of teams and makes bench management even more important. A coach must find the right balance of minutes to play his starters to earn one win, but not to play them so many minutes that they cannot play in the next game. Whether that means shorter practices or longer minutes from the players off the bench, a coach must ensure that his players are rested enough to compete in their next game.
“You may cut practices back coming into the tournament to save your legs,” Illinois coach Bill Self said. “You have to use your bench wisely. That’s the biggest thing from a coaching standpoint. You’ve got to have enough confidence in your bench and hope your bench is deep enough to get three wins in three days.”