The regular season is winding down and the Big Ten tournament bracket is taking shape, but there is time for one more BT Powerhouse roundtable before the postseason. Here the BTP staffers pick the biggest surprise from this season, the best seniors and draft prospects, and decide if the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball.
1. Is the Big Ten the best conference in the country?
Drew Hamm - I mean, *looks over shoulder and sees a scowling Jim Delaney,* YES THE B1G IS THE BEST CONFERENCE IN THE COUNTRY! Even though the Big 12 is slated to get one more team in the Tourney than the B1G and even though we only have one team (barely) in the top-10, I do think the B1G is the best conference in the country. Michigan was the second best team in the country last year and won the B1G this year, Wisconsin looks like (KNOCKS ON ALL THE WOOD) a legit contender this year, and if MSU can stay healthy (he says knowing full well they probably won't) they're a Final Four contender as well. Throw in Nebraska (!), Iowa, and sometimes Ohio State? That's a pretty lethal, and best, conference.
Nick Moyle - The question here only has two legitimate answers: B1G or the Big 12? In terms of conference RPI the B1G is ranked second in the nation, a few percentage points behind the Big 12. The B1G is projected to get 6 teams into the dance, with the Big 12 sending 7 teams dancing. Then again, the Big 12 has TCU and Texas Tech in their conference, who have combined to go 5-29 in conference play, generously handing out wins to the more competent teams they have faced. Kansas has the most tantalizing team in either conference (Ok. St. is in the conversation too), but I like the depth and experience from top to bottom in the B1G just a little more. Michigan, Wisconsin and a healthy MSU all have the ability to make a deep tournament run.
Jason Dorow - Yea, duh! The Big Ten's biggest strength is its depth. Even the worst teams in the B1G have 5 conference wins. Illinois and Indiana are 8th and 9th in the conference, and they still have some tourney hopes. The top of the conference would be higher in the rankings if they didn't beat up on each other all season. Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and even Ohio State are contenders in the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten's depth and top-end talent make it the best conference in the country.
Thomas Beindit - The Big Ten is the best conference in America and frankly, it isn't even close. Just take a look at KenPom for a second. The Big Ten has the most teams in the Top 20, in the Top 75, and in the Top 100. What does this mean? This means the Big Ten has the most really good teams, decent teams, and quality teams. In my opinion, the major reason that so many teams have been "upset" this year in conference play is that there are no nights off. Northwestern is the conference's worst team (statistically speaking) and frankly, if they were in another conference, they probably wouldn't be in last place. Maybe the Big Ten doesn't have that one team that can dominate, but overall, it is the best.
Andrew Holmes - Top to bottom, the Big Ten is the obvious choice to me. The only team in the conference with an overall losing record is Northwestern. The B1G-ACC Challenge was a tie this season, but the ACC got to leave three teams at home, including lowly Virginia Tech. The Big 12 has some strong teams, but with two of their ten teams being TTU and TCU, you can't say they have dangerous teams at the bottom.
2. Biggest surprise this season?
Chris Kay - Nebraska. They're winning... Like a lot. A 4 seed right now? NCAA Tourney appearance possible? The apocalypse is coming right? In all seriousness, the Cornhuskers have gone from 12th in preseason to 4th as of now. Petteway has been great. Tim Miles has done an unbelievable job. I thought Beilein would win the Coach of the Year, but Miles is giving him a real run for his money and might deserve it more.
Jason Dorow - Who would've guessed that Nebraska would get a bye in the Big Ten Tournament? The Cornhuskers have got 10 conference wins and are positioned to go dancing. I remember being at Big Ten media day and hearing Tim Miles joke around about the media picking his squad to finish last in the conference. Obviously, he knew something that we didn't.
Drew Hamm - Nebraska is most certainly the correct answer to this question, but allow me to present you with the second best answer: from January 29th to February 1st Northwestern went on the road and beat Wisconsin and Minnesota in back-to-back games. Yes, the same Northwestern that is in last place in the conference, the same Northwestern that lost to DePaul earlier this year, and the same Northwestern that scored 32 points in a full game, at home, on Senior Night, against Penn State. HOW DID THEY WIN THOSE TWO GAMES!?!?!?
Nick Moyle - Ohio State has been maddeningly, and surprisingly, inconsistent. After starting the season 15-0 the Buckeyes have sputtered to a 7-8 record (9-8 overall in the B1G) in their past 15 games. After being ranked as high as #3 in the nation they have stumbled completely out of the AP rankings. The Buckeyes were inexplicably swept by Penn State for the first time since the 1997-1998 season, handing the Nittany Lions 33% of their total B1G conference wins on the year. For Aaron Craft (who I think was actually there during the 1997-1998 season) can't have been the senior sendoff he had envisioned. (yes I did pick OSU because everyone else picked Nebraska...#REBEL)
Thomas Beindit - Nebraska. I think people forget how bad they have been in the last few years and how far they have come. I wrote an article near Christmas time about whether Nebraska had an outside shot to make the NIT. Remember, that's midway through the season. Now, we're talking about a potential #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and an NCAA bid. That is just incredible.
Andrew Holmes - Has anyone said Nebraska yet? Everyone? Oh...well I'm still going to say the Huskers. I'll talk about what I consider the second biggest though, the inconsistent play of the two Indiana teams. Purdue may not have been considered a lock for the NCAA tournament preseason, but they were definitely supposed to be better than this. Now the Boilers are now looking at another possible trip to the CBI. IU may have lost two NBA-quality players to the draft, but an impressive incoming class had Hoosier fans thinking that a return to NCAA and blue-blood status. Instead, Tom Crean's team is not even on the bubble going into the BTT.
3. Best senior in the Big Ten?
Drew Hamm - Adreian Payne is going to be the first B1G senior taken in the draft, but I don't think that makes him the best. I'd like to take a moment to recognize Drew Crawford and Tim Frazier, two seniors on two terrible teams, that still managed to have great careers and didn't quit sports forever even though who would blame them? Crawford (15.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) and Frazier (15.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.7 spg) are tied for the league lead in minutes played. They play more minutes, for the two worst teams in the league, than anyone else in the B1G and they've done so for their entire careers. I tip my cap to you two. Also Ben Brust, because On Wisconsin, that's why.
Nick Moyle - Adreian Payne has managed to take on a larger offensive role without sacrificing much of the efficiency he has been so used to over his career. He has really improved his range, knocking down three-balls at a 41% clip on almost three tries a game. With a finally healthy Spartan squad Payne (and Appling) look to avoid the unfortunate distinction of being the first class of Izzo seniors to to make a Final Four appearance. Tip of the cap to Keith Appling, Ben Brust (simply because he rains threes on opponents with no remorse), Drew Crawford (great player, horrible team) and Tim Frazier (see: Crawford, Drew).
Jason Dorow - Adreian Payne has a presence on the floor unlike any other player in the conference. He's so big and physical in the post, but he also stretches the floor and can knock down mid-range jumpers. Payne has missed a lot of time this year to injury, but in March he will prove his worth. Drew Crawford deserves some credit for returning to Northwestern for his fifth year and being a leader on a team with little hope. One guy is getting looked over here, Roy Devyn Marble. He's one of the best, if not the best, pure scorer in the conference, and Iowa's backcourt would be mediocre without him.
Thomas Beindit - I'm not 100% sure on what "best" means in this question. If you're talking about the best senior player and prospect, I think you have to go with Payne. He is an elite player and should be a 1st round NBA pick. If you're talking about the most valuable to his team, I'm going to go out with Drew Crawford. Frazier would have been a good choice here as well, but Crawford is one of the few bright spots on that Northwestern team. Finally, if you're going to go with the guy who has been the most underrated, I'm going to go with Jordan Morgan from Michigan. He has quietly been a solid 4 year player for Michigan, despite the Burkes, Hardaways, and McGarys. He has led the Wolverines to 2 Big Ten titles as well.
Andrew Holmes - Payne is the right answer, no question. If he and Appling can get back to 100% for the NCAA tournament, Izzo and MSU could easily make another tourney run.
4. Best NBA prospect in the Big Ten?
Drew Hamm - It has to be Noah Vonleh. He is 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan. He weighs 242 lbs, which is big, but not so big that his knees will turn to Greg Oden, I mean dust. He's athletic, can run the floor, leads the conference in rebounding, and is making 56% of his three pointers. He is only 18 years old, though, and turns the ball over a...LENGTH, LONG, LENGTH! Get out of here, Jay Bilas! A team will be willing to spend a top-10 pick on Vonleh (if he comes out) due to the potential oozing out of his pores.
Nick Moyle - Noah Vonleh is far and away the best NBA prospect in the B1G. Listed at 6'10", 240 pounds with a Stretch Armstrong wingspan, Vonleh is a monster on the glass. He leads the B1G in rebounding, hauling in 9.1 a game and snatching 27% of all available defensive rebounds while he is on the floor (14th in the nation). He is raw offensively, but a lot of that has to do with IU's lack of a true point guard and an offense that is stagnant at times. Even with an undeveloped post game, Vonleh has managed to dominate for stretches. Vonleh has shown the ability to stretch the floor, knocking down 55% of his three-point tries, albeit in an admittedly limited sample size (15-27 overall). If he enters the draft, he could be off the board as early as pick 5, depending on where the lottery balls fall.
Jason Dorow - Drew and Nick covered the Noah Vonleh profile pretty well, and yes, he's easily the best prospect in the Big Ten. So, let's take a look at the second best prospect, Gary Harris. If he comes out, Harris should be a lottery pick. This year's draft is as deep as the Pacific though, and normally Harris could even be top 5. He's simply an all-around player. Harris is sound defensively, a strong rebounder, sees the court well, can score from everywhere on the floor, and is a proven leader. And he can pass!!! Basically, Gary Harris is the Boobie Miles of college basketball.
Thomas Beindit - On raw potential, you have to go with Vonleh here. The guy is a true freshman and frankly, is going to be a pretty high draft pick if he decides to go this year. When he gets to play more at the 4 spot, I think he will do even better as well. Outside of Vonleh, how about going with some guys who aren't ready this year, but have crazy potential? Nigel Hayes and Caris LeVert both strike me as guys that are going to blow up next year and considering both are already pretty good, that's saying something. Both have size, can shoot, and have the ability to play defense when needed.
Chris Kay - Not Glenn Robinson III. That is all.
Andrew Holmes - Vonleh, he is the only sure lottery pick in the league.