Despite the unexpected loss against Nebraska (10-21, 4-16 Big Ten), Wisconsin (24-6, 15-5 Big Ten) still owns a share of the Big Ten regular-season title while holding the No.2 seed heading into the league’s tournament.
The Badgers have a legitimate chance to make some noise in March led by Big Ten Player of the Year, Johnny Davis, Big Ten Coach of the Year, Greg Gard and Big Ten All-Freshman team honoree, Chucky Hepburn. Let’s take a closer look at some of the competition attempting to derail UW’s season-long success:
Illinois Fighting Illini (22-8, 15-5 Big Ten)
After winning four of their last five games to conclude the regular season, Illinois earns a share of the regular-season title with Wisconsin while punching their ticket to the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. This powerhouse of a squad has three All-Big Ten players including the 7-foot, 285-pound Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer.
Cockburn is among the finalists for the NCAA Player of the Year award, averaging 21.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. His massive frame creates a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, allowing him to dominate and set the tone every time he steps on the court.
The Fighting Illini strive to repeat last year’s conference tournament results after defeating Ohio State 91-88 in overtime.
Purdue Boilermakers (25-6, 14-6 Big Ten)
Quite possibly the most well-rounded team in the Big Ten, Matt Painter’s Boilermakers enter the league tournament with the No. 3 seed and a surplus of playmakers. This unit contains four All-Big Ten players including Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey, Trevion Williams and Eric Hunter Jr..
With a team-leading 17.2 points per game, Ivey is projected to be a top-five selection in the 2022 NBA draft. His freakish athleticism and stellar defense make the sophomore guard a serious problem come tournament time.
In addition to a top-five draft prospect, Purdue possesses a 7-foot-4-inch, 295-pound monster in Edey who is averaging 14.7 points in just over 19 minutes per game. Combine that with one of college basketball’s most experienced and knowledgeable coaches, not to mention Sasha Stefanovic, the certified sharpshooter who knocked down at least four 3-pointers in eight games this season, and Purdue is a force to be reckoned with.
When firing on all cylinders, this is a scary unit that can hang with any team in college basketball.
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Rutgers (18-12, 12-8 Big Ten)
Rutgers sits in the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament thanks to substantial victories against Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue. With help from three All-Big Ten players, this club is capable of taking down top-tier programs.
Ron Harper Jr., Geo Bake and Caleb McConnell look to guide the Scarlet Knights to their first Big Ten Championship appearance since joining the conference in 2014.
Harper Jr. is shooting an efficient 40% from three-point range while accounting for 15.7 points and six rebounds per game. On the other end of the floor, McConnell irritates opposing offenses by snatching a league-leading 2.2 steals per game — enough to receive the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award. In 30 games this season, McConnell registered six steals twice and failed to record a takeaway just three times.
Steve Pikiell’s squad is a poised, determined group that cannot be overlooked by anyone in Indianapolis this week.
Iowa Hawkeyes (22-9, 12-8 Big Ten)
Perhaps the hottest team in the Big Ten right now, Iowa clinches the No. 5 seed after winning eight of their last 10 contests. The Hawkeyes live and die on the shoulders of their only All-Big Ten player, Keegan Murray.
Murray sits atop the conference in scoring with 23.3 points per game, ranking him fourth in all of Division-I. He also leads Iowa in minutes (31.4), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (2.1) per game. The sophomore forward is a projected top-10 draft pick who has the ability to take over any given game.
With the Hawkeyes catching fire at the right time, this team is a competitive, resilient force to be reckoned with barring an injury to the league’s leading scorer.
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Ohio State Buckeyes (19-10, 12-8 Big Ten)
The No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament belongs to Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes. This team resembles traits similar to those of Iowa, meaning Ohio State leans heavily on the First-team All Big Ten and All-defensive forward, E.J. Liddell. The 6-foot-7-inch phenom leads the Buckeyes in minutes (33.0), points (19.4), rebounds (7.9) and blocks (2.6) per game and is currently projected to be taken in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft.
But, Ohio State owns the league’s best freshman in Malaki Bradham. The newcomer flourished in Columbus, earning All-Big Ten third and freshman team honors en route to acquiring the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. Bradham shoots a respectable 43.6% from beyond the arch, contributing to his 13.2 points per game.
The Buckeyes anticipate redemption from last year’s tournament results after falling to Illinois in heartbreaking fashion in overtime.
Big Ten Tournament Schedule
The conference tournament takes place at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers. Games begin Thursday, March 10 and conclude with the championship Sunday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m. Central.