The Big Ten Tournament:
Lindsey Says…The Michigan State University Spartans
The Spartans finished the season strong (13-4 in the Big Ten and 24-6 all season) and dominated the Big Ten for the past couple of weeks. But momentum won’t be the only thing propelling them to a win in the tournament.
While the East Lansing lads may not have as ostentatious an offense as the Ohio State Buckeyes or Indiana, their defense will shut anyone down. The Spartans held Ohio State to fewer than 50 points on Feb. 11, a feat no other team has been able to accomplish this season. Plus, MSU leads the conference in defensive rebounding and is a close second behind the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions in offensive boards.
And don’t forget senior forward Draymond Green. A candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, he averages 15.6 points per game and 10.3 rebounds.
Sure, they lost to the University of Michigan earlier this season and were upset by Indiana close to the tourney, but the last U of M matchup win Feb. 5 was decidedly all Spartan. The Wolverines, the Buckeyes and maybe even the Indiana University Hoosiers are good enough to come up with upsets, but MSU’s hard play and defensive pressure will be enough to beat any star-studded offense they may come across come tourney time.
Nader Says…The University of Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines (12-5 in conference play and 22-8 on the season) are not the flashiest team in the Big Ten. The team doesn’t have a Jared Sullinger and its head coach is not Tom Izzo, but they will take home the Big Ten Tournament title.
The Big Ten is arguably one of the toughest conferences in Division 1 basketball, especially with the league’s top five teams, each having more than 20 wins, yet they still had a chance to split the regular season conference up until the last game of the season.
The Wolverines split their two matchups with both the Michigan State University Spartans and the Ohio State University Buckeyes, the only other team that currently sits ahead of them in the standings. The Spartans may not be the top stats team, but they have some intangibles in their favor.
The team is among the top three for turnover margin and 3-point shots made by Big Ten teams this season.
So, realistically, this tournament is up for grabs, and I look forward to a bunch of upsets this March, specifically U of M defeating MSU in the finals.
Other teams to watch out for…
The Ohio State University Buckeyes:
Record*: Conference 12–5, Season 24–6
Players you should know: Jared Sullinger (SO, F), William Buford (SR, G)
Strengths: Rebounding, shooting
Weaknesses: Second half fatigue, end-of-season slump
Summary: The Buckeyes are losing momentum this season and tiring out in the second half. They ended a six-game winning streak with a loss to Michigan State Feb. 11 and have since been shaky.
The University of Wisconsin Badgers:
Record*: Conference 11–6, Season 22–8
Players you should know: Jordan Taylor (SR, G), Ryan Evans (RS-J, G/F)
Strengths: Defense, winning on the road
Weaknesses: Scoring, schedule
Summary: With Ohio State and Michigan State upsets, the Badgers are serious contenders. They have solid defense, but their shooting may cause problems against similarly-minded teams. Their schedule is tough before tournament time, too.
The Indiana University Hoosiers
Record*: Conference 10–7, Season 23–7
Players you should know: Cody Zeller (FS, F), Christian Watford (JR, F)
Strengths: Scoring, outside shooting
Weaknesses: Defense, lack of leadership
Summary: The Hoosiers have a hell of a player in Zeller, who has carried their offense. The problem is that the freshman isn’t ready to lead the team. Indiana is also significantly lacking defensively. But they did upset top-pick Michigan State Feb. 28.
The Purdue University Boilermakers:
Record*: Conference 10–7, Season 20–10
Players you should know: Robbie Hummel (SR, F), Lewis Jackson (SR, G)
Strengths: Lineup, outside shooting
Weaknesses: Kelsey Barlow drama, defense
Summary: With the departures of Kelsey Barlow and the suspension of D.J. Byrd, Hummel will have to step up. If the Boilermakers want a real chance, they’re going to have to step up the shooting and prevent second shots by rebounding on defense.
The Big East Tournament:
Lindsey Says…The Syracuse University Orange
Surprise! I’m picking the Orange to win. They’re probably the best all-around team in the tournament and maybe even the NCAA. I mean, the Orange have only lost one game all season.
But Syracuse is slowing down. They’ve had a couple of close calls against West Virginia and Georgetown universities and the Universities of Louisville and Connecticut. But the Orange still won.
The Big East has been a tumultuous rise-and-fall conference all season but has produced some good teams. The conference is projected to have more teams in the NCAA tournament than any of its counterparts, and that may spell trouble for the Orange.
With a senior and several sophomores leading the team, Syracuse can both handle and defend the ball. Sophomore center Fab Melo can block shots all day, then turn around and put up a field goal. Sophomore guard Dion Waiters can rob you of the ball. And senior forward and team leader in scoring Kris Joseph isn’t afraid to put up a shot. Their roster diversity is definitely a plus.
The Orange does, however, have an Achilles heel: rebounding. The only teams with worse defensive rebounding stats are St. John’s and DePaul Universities.
Syracuse is solid and may even go far into the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean the team should be complacent. The competition is stiff, and the Orange will have to play every game to their full potential to pull of the Big East title.
Nader Says…The Marquette University Golden Eagles
The DePaul University Blue Demons are far from winning the Men’s Big East tournament, so I’m left with Marquette’s Golden Eagles as my pick.
Despite falling to the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, Marquette should land the second seed in the tournament, which will benefit them dearly.
The Orange, which wrapped up the Big East regular season title, had little conference trouble during the season, but I expect them to hit a bump in the long road through March, specifically in the Big East Finals.
The Golden Eagles had a successful February and have won 12 of their last 14 games, even without forward Davante Gardner. He gives Marquette a big push off the bench when he’s in the lineup, averaging 10 points and five rebounds during his 20 minutes of the floor.
But don’t fret because of the great play by forward Jae Crowder, the team has shown it can win without depth.
Crowder is leading the confident Golden Eagles into the tournament with major performances in four of his last six games, averaging 26 points and seven rebounds.
That leaves the Big East down to two possible champions in the end, and I refuse to pick the favorite in Division I athletics.
The Golden Eagles will rock Madison Square Garden and Lindsey Woods.
Other teams to watch out for…
The Georgetown University Hoyas:
Record*: Conference 12–5, Season 22–6
Players you should know: Henry Sims (Sr, C), Jason Clark (Sr, G)
Strengths: Defense, shot selection
Weaknesses: Turnovers, offensive rebounding
Summary: If anyone is going to overthrow Syracuse, it’s Georgetown. They may not be leading the conference in scoring, but if they put up a field goal, chances are they’re going to make it. If the Hoyas can control the ball better and put up second shots on the rare occasions that they miss, they have a chance to win.
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish:
Record*: Conference 13–5, Season 21–10
Players you should know: Tim Abromaitis (Grad Student, F), Eric Atkins (So, G)
Strengths: Beating ranked teams, defense
Weaknesses: Scoring, rebounding
Summary: The Fighting Irish gave top-ranked Syracuse their only loss of the season, beating the Orange by 9 points
Jan. 21. Since then, they’ve also upset Marquette in a 76–59 decision. In most aspects, Notre Dame is pretty average—if not below —but if there is going to be a Cinderella story this year, it will be due to the luck of the Irish.
The University of Louisville Cardinals:
Record*: Conference 10–7, Season 22–8
Players you should know: Kyle Kuric (Sr, G/F), Russ Smith (So, G)
Strengths: Gorgui Dieng’s shot blocking, in-the-paint defense
Weaknesses: Shot selection, defensive rebounding
Summary: If Head Coach Rick Pitino gets the referees he wants … just kidding. But the Cardinals need to focus more and put pressure on their opposition. If they can do that and take better shots outside, they could be in the Big Ten running and the NCAA tournament.
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats:
Record*: Conference 11–6, Season 21–9
Players you should know: Sean Kilpatrick (So, G/F), Dion Dixon (Sr, G)
Strengths: Outside defense, 3-point shots
Weaknesses: Rebounding, field goal shots
Summary: The Bearcats have the best 3-point shooters in the conference, but it seems the closer they get to the hoop, the more they miss. If players down low can sink shots and the Bearcats box-out in the paint, they may have a chance to make it further in the Big East tournament than they’re expected to.
*All records as of March 2, 2012