Big Ten tournament
Where: United Center, Chicago
TV: Thursday (Big Ten Network/ESPN2), Friday (Big Ten Network/ESPN), Saturday-Sunday (CBS)
Favorite: Indiana (26-5) – The top-seeded Hoosiers have never won the Big Ten tournament and never been its No. 1 seed. After winning its first outright regular-season title since 1993, IU should come away with a tournament title as well.
Dark horse: Purdue (15-16) – Boilermakers were rebuilding this season and will need to win the tournament to reach the NCAA tournament for a seventh straight season. No. 7-seed Purdue won three of its last five games and gave Michigan a run for its money in the second-to-last game of the season. The Boilers may have put it all together just in time.
Résumé builder: Iowa (20-11) – The Hawkeyes won 20 games for the first time since the 2005-06 season and secured the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten tournament. But Iowa is likely on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament, unless it gets a couple of wins this week. The expected return of point guard Mike Gesell from a foot injury should help Iowa beef up its NCAA résumé.
FORT WAYNE — The Big Ten tournament has a lot to live up to after one of the conference’s most competitive seasons.
The league has four teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 poll – No. 3 Indiana (26-5), No. 6 Michigan (25-6), No. 8 Michigan State (24-7) and No. 10 Ohio State (23-7) – and has a fifth team in the poll with No. 22 Wisconsin (21-10).
The conference is so strong that Michigan is only the No. 5 seed in the tournament, which opens Thursday at the United Center in Chicago, even though the Wolverines missed out on getting a share of the regular-season title with Sunday’s 72-71 loss to Indiana.
Michigan opens play at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against No. 12 seed Penn State (10-20).
“It says a lot about the strength of this league,” Michigan coach John Beilein said during Monday’s coaches teleconference. “I’ve only been in it six years, it’s the toughest I’ve seen it.”
After a grueling season, the teams will battle it out again with an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament on the line.
Indiana enters as the No. 1 seed for the first time in the 16-year tournament’s history after winning the outright Big Ten for the first time since 1993. The Hoosiers will play the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 8 seed Illinois (21-11) and No. 9 seed Minnesota (20-11) at noon Friday.
“I honestly think that competition always helps you,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m looking at us playing Michigan and Indiana and Ohio State and Minnesota and Wisconsin … I can say to my players, ‘Who haven’t you played? Who haven’t you played that’s been ranked?’ I think there is a comfort level, knowing you can play with everybody.”
The Big Ten is projected by ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi to have Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois in the NCAA tournament.
There is a fear that the competition Big Ten teams face this week could leave squads spent when the NCAA tournament begins.
“You certainly have to plan for it. You can’t start planning for it this week; it’s too late,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of avoiding fatigue in the postseason. “I think it’s a culmination affect. What you do is, you continue to pace your team the right way. You put them in situations that will make them better but not wear them down. … But to me, you have to go in with the intention of winning every game that you play.”