Inside the Hall’s 2014 Big Ten tournament preview

  • 03/11/2014 10:16 am in

We’ll have our traditional what to expect series previewing Illinois on Wednesday, but first up, Inside the Hall previews the Big Ten Tournament as a whole. The event tips off on Thursday afternoon:

2014 Big Ten Tournament bracket
Location: Indianapolis (Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
Dates: March 13-16
Teams with a bye: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska
Television: BTN, ESPN, ESPN2, CBS

Most friendly path to Sunday: Michigan. The league champs finished the Big Ten regular season 15-3 and their lone loss to a team in the top half of the bracket came at the hands of Indiana at Assembly Hall. The bottom half of the bracket could be tricky for the higher seeded teams as Wisconsin could possibly play a desperate Minnesota team on Friday and Michigan State may be looking at a Friday matchup with Iowa, another team that will be desperate to improve its standing with the NCAA tournament selection committee after dropping five of six to finish the regular season.

Most entertaining first day matchup: Illinois-Indiana. Minnesota-Penn State deserves consideration because of the bubble implications for the Golden Gophers, but the slight edge goes to the tournament’s noon opener. At their best, the Illini and Hoosiers are capable of beating the league’s best teams, but a lack of consistency means both programs are headed to the NIT barring a four-game run in Indianapolis. Both regular season meetings were competitive with each team winning on its home court and a third meeting on a neutral floor should be no different.

Team with the most to prove: Iowa. The Hawkeyes have been considered a lock for the NCAA tournament for quite some time, but after dropping five of six to close the regular season, Iowa is a loss to Northwestern away from major scrutiny from the selection committee. More important for Fran McCaffery is getting his team back on track heading into what would be its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. Once considered a darkhorse for a Final Four run, the Hawkeyes are trending in the wrong direction as the most important stretch of the season looms.

Players to keep an eye on:

· Aaron Craft, Ohio State: In his final Big Ten tournament, does Craft have another run to Sunday in him? The Buckeyes have won two of the last three conference tournaments and their Big Ten-best defense, led by Craft, should translate well to tournament play.

· Nik Stauskas, Michigan: The Big Ten player of the year has played with a chip on his shoulder all season and if the Wolverines are going to win this event for the first time since 1998 (the inaugural Big Ten tournament), they’ll need three great games from Stauskas.

· Gary Harris, Michigan State: We’ve been waiting all season for Michigan State to turn the corner and time is running out. The Spartans will have everyone available, but given that no one truly knows what to expect from Keith Appling or Branden Dawson, Harris has to lead the charge if Michigan State is going to make a run.

· DeAndre Mathieu, Minnesota: The difference between Minnesota winning and losing in Big Ten play has been Mathieu. According to Amelia Rayno of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Golden Gophers are 8-3 with Mathieu scores 10 or more points and 0-7 when he doesn’t.

Bids on the line: Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are NCAA tournament locks. Iowa is likely in, barring a collapse against Northwestern and Nebraska is likely in as well, but can feel certain with a win over the winner of Ohio State/Purdue on Friday. Minnesota is the team with the most on the line in Indianapolis and if the Golden Gophers don’t make it to Saturday at the least, they’re likely looking at a NIT bid. That would mean beating Penn State, a team its already beaten twice, on Thursday and then beating a well rested Wisconsin team on Friday. Even that might not be enough as some have suggested Minnesota needs to win the Big Ten tournament to get in.

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