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Point/counterpoint: Which team will win the Big Ten Tournament?

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ohio State

The Ohio State Buckeyes are the best team in the Big Ten.

And the best team in the Big Ten is going to win the league’s tournament.

With first team All-Big Ten forward Jared Sullinger leading the way, the Buckeyes are poised to make a run at the Final Four. And for these Buckeyes, the road to Houston will begin with the defense of their conference tourney title.

Ohio State has rolled through the Big Ten, claiming the outright conference title by two games over second-place Purdue. The Buckeyes also boast road nonconference victories over Florida and Florida State, both of which will probably play in the Big Dance.

Coach Thad Matta — one of the league’s best — boasts the most talented roster in the Big Ten. Along with Sullinger, William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and conference sixth man of the year Aaron Craft make up a group that will more than likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Buckeyes have historically had success in the Big Ten Tournament — Ohio State is the only school to claim three tournament titles.

Bad losses? Ohio State has none. The 29-2 Buckeyes’ only losses came in two of the hardest places to play in the nation: Wisconsin’s Kohl Center and Purdue’s Mackey Arena. They also beat both the Badgers and Boilermakers by more than 20 points in Columbus, so despite the fact both season series were split, Ohio State’s two most likely opponents in the final will be underdogs to the top-ranked Buckeyes.

In short, the Buckeyes are the best team in the country. Putting together three-straight wins in Indianapolis will be no problem.

— by Ryan Murphy

Purdue

The Boilermakers’ recent loss to Iowa can do one of two things: Completely obliterate their rhythm and wipe out player morale or serve as fuel to boost the team through a trying tournament bracket.
I’m going to predict the latter for Purdue.

Before March 5’s loss to Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Boilermakers were the hottest team in the conference. They had won seven straight, including victories over Ohio State and Wisconsin.

The loss in Iowa City is most damaging to Purdue’s NCAA Tournament résumé. Earning a No. 2 seed is going to be tough with a late-season stall like that. But the silver lining in the defeat is that the Boilermakers have plenty of time to rest, get their heads on straight, and use the defeat as motivation.

Injury-prone Robbie Hummel is gone for the season again, but Matt Painter’s lineup still features two of the top talents in the Big Ten — JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, who average a combined 38.4 points per game. The tandem is arguably the best duo in the conference, alongside Wisconsin’s one-two punch in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor.

The quarterfinal matchup between Purdue and Iowa or Michigan State will be a blowout win. The semifinals will likely pit the Boilermakers against the Badgers, a team they should be able to beat on a neutral site.

They will likely face the Buckeyes for all the marbles, and if Moore and Johnson can continue to put up big numbers, they should be able to pull off a championship which will absolve them of their season-closing loss to the Hawkeyes.

— by Jon Frank

Wisconsin

The winner of the 2011 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament will not be the No. 1 seed Ohio State Buckeyes nor the No. 2 seed Purdue Boilermakers. Instead, it will be the No. 3 seed — the Wisconsin Badgers.

The Badgers’ best players are set at the two most important positions of point guard and center.
Junior Jordan Taylor has blossomed into a big shot-taking point guard who plays within himself and is the floor general of coach Bo Ryan’s slow-it-down offense.

This season, Taylor has been better as the games have gotten bigger. In conference play he is averaging almost 21 points per game along with five assists. The true sign of the floor general lies in his nation-leading 4.13 assist-to-turnover ratio.

By keeping the ball safe on offense, the Badgers are able to slow their opponents down and plod through games.

Senior big man Jon Leuer is also a key component of Wisconsin’s intimidating frontline. Standing a towering 6-10 with long arms, Leuer is a force who is averaging 19 points per contest to go with more than seven rebounds a game.

He is also a 3-point threat and is hovering around 40 percent shooting from downtown.

Wisconsin has two of the best players in the entire conference on its team heading into the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers also possess one of the country’s most underrated and successful head coaches in Ryan and a slew of tough defenders and 3-point shooters.

Few teams boast the frontcourt size of Wisconsin, and the Badgers are masters of controlling the pace of the game. In late-game situations there are no bigger stars in the Big Ten than Taylor and Leuer, who both shoot over 80 percent from the free-throw line.

This season the Badgers have earned a first-round bye in the tournament and will face the winner of Penn State and Indiana, two teams they defeated in the regular season.

The Badgers will face stiff competition, but if they are able to dictate the flow of the game they will win the Big Ten Tournament and secure a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

— by Ben Wolfson

Iowa

It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll — or win the Big Ten Tournament.

But Iowa just might have what it takes to shock basketball fans everywhere and sneak into the Big Dance with the conference’s automatic bid.

I’m not saying it will be easy (even I’m not that dumb), but I do think it’s possible. Stranger things have happened, after all.

The beauty of sports is that every team has a chance at a positive result on any given night. We saw this in the 2010 World Cup, when lowly New Zealand tied defending champion Italy. We saw this in last year’s NCAA Tournament, when Northern Iowa shocked No. 1-seeded Kansas.

Most importantly, though, we saw it last weekend, when Iowa handed then-No. 6 Purdue its most embarrassing loss of the decade. While lightning has a reputation for not striking twice, the Hawkeyes’ upset proved they have the means to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament. If nothing else, the win instilled the Black and Gold with some all-important confidence and momentum.

The path won’t be easy, and will more than likely require more than a little luck. After all, Iowa will probably have to get through Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State — and that’s if the Hawkeyes can defeat a sporadically excellent Michigan State team.

If Iowa beats the Spartans, though, don’t be surprised if the wins keep coming.

— by Seth Roberts


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