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As we sit on the cusp of postseason play for nine Big Ten teams, it feels an appropriate time to revisit where we were just four short months ago, previewing a season that was about to unfold before us. Did we nail it, or do we need to turn in our Geek cards?
Illinois is a tough team to read. On any given night, John Groce’s club is capable of beating any team, evidenced by signature wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. Then, on other nights, they look like they can lose to just about any team. Which Illinois team will show up when the tourney tips off? That’s the question.
Seven Big Ten teams made the NCAA tournament, and now it’s time to look at one key player from each team who could help fuel a tourney run. I’m not talking about the obvious stars, such as Trey Burke, Deshaun Thomas or Cody Zeller, here. Instead, these are guys who either have struggled lately or have heated up down the stretch.
Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, the fourth time that Thad Matta’s team has taken home the crown. While the Buckeyes won largely on the strength of its defense—holding Wisconsin to under 0.8 points per possession—this Ohio State team has been offensively excellent over the back half of its Big Ten schedule:
The NCAA bracket features seven Big Ten teams and that’s no shock to anyone following the conference. And the Big Ten’s power was reflected in four teams being seeded No. 4 or higher—No. 1 Indiana; No. 2 Ohio State; No. 3 Michigan State; No. 4 Michigan. Wisconsin just missed as a No. 5 seed.
If it’s highlights you’re looking for, the Big Ten tourney was the place to be. From Brandon Paul’s buzzer-beater in Thursday’s opening round to Keith Appling’s drive and posterizing dunk on Friday, there was no shortage of highlight-reel plays. Watch some of our favorite Big Ten tourney plays from the first three days in this post.
Scouting matters. Have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t know your opponent, you’ll get sliced up. So credit Indiana for blowing up Illinois’ offense by stretching its defense well out to the perimeter in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. There was no space to breathe for Illinois’ shooters, and consequently just 6 of Illinois’ 27 field goal attempts were three-pointers in the first half.