Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 4, 2015

I have sifted through my Big Ten Mailbag to answer your questions. Postseason basketball is on your collective mind.

Aside from front-runners Wisconsin and Maryland, which teams could make a deep NCAA run? Could NU make the NIT? Is Illinois OK for a Big Dance ticket?

All that and more. Read on.


Outside of the top two teams in the conference-Wisconsin and Maryland–which club do you think has the best chance to potentially make serious noise in the NCAA tournament? – Noah Morris

The answer to your question lies with which NCAA-bound teams have the best guard play-because guard play is what matters the most. Having just typed that, I would keep an eye on Ohio State and Iowa. I?d like to include Indiana, which could be deadly if its gains some confidence down the stretch and gets some good matchups in the Big Dance, but they are a very hot and cold team.

Does Illinois need to win out in the regular season and win its Big Ten tourney opener to make the NCAA field? – Mike

Entering this week, Jerry Palm of had Illinois as a No. 11 seed in a play-in game; Joe Lunardi of didn?t have the Illini in his bracket. View the experts' latest bracketology. So, there is some urgency for Illinois, which sits smack dab on the dreaded Bubble. The Illini play host to Nebraska on Wednesday and finish at Purdue on Saturday. They need at least a split, and then at least one win in the Big Ten tourney, I think, to make the Big Dance. They may need two wins in the Big Ten tourney.

I said at the beginning of the year that IU is the smallest team in the Big Ten and the weakest in the paint. It has become more obvious as the season has progressed. Tom Crean has to recruit more big front-line players in order to be competitive. – Richard Starr

It has been an inconsistent season in Bloomington. Since a four-game winning streak ended on Jan. 22, the Hoosiers are 4-7. Even if Indiana loses the finale to Michigan State and drops its opening Big Ten tourney game, the Hoosiers will make the Big Dance-but they will have a bad seed. Their resume is strong enough. But, you hit the nail on the head-this team needs more size. Tom Crean runs a guard-heavy system, though, and the Hoosiers seemed to be at their best with Collin Hartman filling in for an injured Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Too bad Noah Vonleh left after just one season. Indiana also needs to play better defense.

Is it harder to prepare for a game against an opponent with a great offense or a great defense? IU is last in the Big Ten in defense (71.7 ppg). – Jason Wright

Interesting. I would say a great defense, since a great defense typically always trumps a great offense.

Is Purdue big man A.J. Hammons ready to go pro? Will he? – The Dailyindependent

He has impressed as a junior following two mostly inconsistent seasons. Hammons came into the season in shape, has hustled, worked hard and developed a game around the basket. He?s been very good-maybe first-team All-Big Ten good, averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds and leading the league in blocks (2.9 pg). And Purdue has benefited, as the Boilermakers sit on the precipice of the NCAA tourney. Will Hammons turn pro? I wouldn?t be shocked. The fact he?s a 7-footer with some skills will make him an attractive commodity. And, will he ever be hotter than he is now?

Do you think Jim Harbaugh can have THAT big of an impact in his first year? If so why? – Kenneth Gay

Just his presence alone will lift Michigan. Harbaugh has knowledge, but it?s his competitive spirit and swagger that will have the biggest impact on the Wolverines. And, Harbaugh walks into a decent situation in Ann Arbor. There is talent. This team will win 7-8 games and make a bowl in 2015.

If Northwestern finishes at .500, will it make the NIT? – Matt

First, know this: The NCAA announced a revamped selection process for the NIT in 2006. Teams are no longer need to have .500 or better record. Still, all teams receiving invitations have had .500 or greater records. And all teams that win regular-season titles but fail to notch an NCAA bids are guaranteed places in the NIT. Knowing all of that, and looking at NU?s resume, you have to like its chances-but work must be done. Northwestern is 15-15 overall (6-11 in the Big Ten), and it finishes the regular season at Iowa on Saturday. The Hawkeyes are white-hot, winners of five in a row and looking to avenge an earlier loss to NU. Lose in Iowa City, and the Wildcats likely would need two wins in the Big Ten tourney to get serious consideration for a NIT bid.

These stipend numbers are ridiculous. There should be one standard stipend for all schools. Use U.S. government numbers for adjusting to the cost-of-living, excluding room and board (which is already covered). Then cut it in half. Big differences in stipends are going to push kids to one school or give a competitive advantage to some teams. I have lived in Central Pennsylvania and in East Lansing, Mich. The cost of living in both places is almost identical. These numbers are BS. – Richard Britton

I was surprised, like you, to see a big discrepancy in numbers between some of these very similar campus cities. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. In the end, I think you can expect the ?traditional football big boys? to have the highest stipends. It will be just another asset the power schools will have over everyone else in addition to the myriad other assets they already possess-like a massive budget, huge stadium, lavishly paid coaches, spectacular facilities ? . In short, the rich will continue to get richer and further separate themselves from the pack.

It seems a little premature to say Minnesota won't make the NCAA tournament with the Big Ten tournament still to play. – Nolan

Fair enough. Minnesota is 17-12 overall and 6-10 in the Big Ten. But the only way the Golden Gophers will punch a ticket to the Big Dance will be by winning the Big Ten tourney. I guess it could happen. But, the odds seem long. By the way, Rutgers still technically can make the NCAA tourney, too.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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