Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 5, 2016

Time for me to reach into my mailbag and answer your pressing queries. And basketball is on your mind. How good is Indiana? Is Purdue big man A.J. Hammons a legit Big Ten Player of the Year candidate? Let?s go!

No men's basketball games Friday night. Reminder: Four games on Saturday and another one on Sunday – Iowa at Illinois on BTN (watch live on BTN2Go, too). We also have the latest stat leaders and standings.

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Why is it that everything about Indiana is about the schedule? The Hoosiers didn't make it, you know. I think it's unfair for the season. If they lose, the world is ending. But when they win, it's the schedule. – Sam

I hear what you are saying. But people often cite Indiana?s schedule as a reason for their prosperity. True, the Hoosiers have not had a lot of heavy lifting yet in the Big Ten. It?s about to begin. No doubt, IU sent a message on Tuesday with an impressive win at Michigan. Let's see if Indiana can keep it rolling. There are two games left vs. Iowa (How great are those gonna be?), a game at Michigan State and visits from Purdue and Maryland. If IU can go 3-2 in those five toughies, it would be good. This may end up being a special Hoosier squad.

Is Greg Gard doing a good enough job to satisfy Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez? – Ken Pell

It?s difficult to tell. But there is no doubt that Gard is auditioning for the job after Bo Ryan stepped down abruptly earlier this season. Ryan wants his long-time assistant to have the job, but you get the feeling Alvarez wants to see him perform. I mean, if Alvarez was sold on Gard, don?t you think Ryan would have followed through on retirement plans in the offseason if he knew Gard was going to get the job? By stepping down during the season, Ryan landed Gard the job – for now. Gard is doing well. He has this team improving and making a push for the Big Dance, as the Badgers have won five in a row.

How many Big Ten teams do you see reaching the NCAA Tournament? – John

As I type this, it looks like the league will get six teams for sure: Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Indiana. In fact, these teams look like cinches to make it, barring a colossal collapse. Iowa appears to be in line for a No. 1 seed. And maybe Maryland could reach the one-line, too. Wisconsin has a shot to sneak into the Big Dance, but it has work to do. The Badgers have won five in a row to push their record to 14-9 overall and 6-4 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has some nice wins (Syracuse, Michigan State, Indiana) but may need to reach 9-9 in the Big Ten and win at least one game in the league tourney to make the Big Dance. Let?s go ahead and put Ohio State ?on the bubble,? too, but the Buckeyes have a bigger hole to dig out of than Wisconsin.

I think you've nailed it. I do believe that Iowa and Maryland are the best teams in the Big Ten and further believe that both of them should be No. 1 seeds in the Big Dance. Both are capable of running the table until they possibly meet again in the B1G tournament championship. What do you think? – Bruce Maurer

I agree. Iowa already is a No. 1 seed, according to Jerry Palm of and Joe Lunardi of ESPN. Its only league loss was last week, falling 74-68 at Maryland. That?s the only scheduled meeting between the teams this year. But, as you say, if both the Hawkeyes and Terps win out and then meet in the Big Ten tourney title game, both teams may be in line for No. 1 seeds no matter who would win the game.

A.J. Hammons certainly deserves some consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year. I predict he will be the first Big Ten player drafted this spring. He is a force on the interior who can block and alter shots with his massive 7-foot frame. He also has a nice touch around the rim with either hand. The guy is just a load. – Andy

The other top contenders for player of the year are Maryland?s Melo Trimble, Iowa?s Jarrod Uthoff, Michigan State?s Denzel Valentine and Indiana?s Yogi Ferrell. All worthy, in my opinion. If Purdue wins the Big Ten-or at least finishes second or third-Hammons will merit strong consideration for league player of the year honors. As the week dawned, the senior was averaging 14.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. As for being the first Big Ten player taken in the 2016 NBA draft, I don?t think so. Mock drafts show underclassmen like Maryland?s Diamond Stone and Melo Trimble, Michigan?s Caris LeVert and Michigan State?s Deyonta Davis going in the first round if they were to declare early. And Valentine is a senior and is projected to go ahead of Hammons, who looks like a second-round pick.


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