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Big Ten Tournament: Saturday Night Thoughts

Saturday was quite the eventful day for the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Wisconsin Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has been a roller coaster throughout 2017 and that trend has once again continued throughout the conference tournament. For tonight’s rundown, we take a look at some of the potential ramifications from what has gone down this weekend in our nation’s capital.

Unpredictable Big Ten continues trend in Washington, D.C.

If I told you in November that Minnesota would go from eight wins in 2015-16 to the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17, would you have believed me? If I said that Northwestern was going to be tourney bound and that the Gopher and Wildcats would be two of the top Big Ten teams, you probably wouldn’t have believed me either. Same with Purdue making a run to win the Big Ten regular season title and a highly ranked Indiana team collapsing down the stretch and likely set for the NIT.

That’s just the way things have been this year in the Big Ten and that trend seems to be continuing throughout the Big Ten Tournament. At one point this season everyone assumed Indiana would be the class of the conference. Then it was Wisconsin and even Maryland, who pieced together a strong run this winter before sputtering down the stretch. Now we have Michigan, a team with plenty of potential, but seemingly stuck in the middle of the pack until their recent surge at the tail end of the season.

While things have been all over the place in the conference this season, at least Wisconsin’s return to form in the nation’s capital has added some level of consistency to the Big Ten. The Badgers had a rough February, going 1-5 over a six game stretch, but after an impressive regular season finale win over Minnesota and a solid showing this weekend, the Badgers are now set to play for a title tomorrow.

How should we read into Michigan and Wisconsin’s tourney run?

The NCAA Tournament doesn’t always see the best teams advancing through the field. Besides the inevitable upsets that happen throughout the opening weekend, there’s a lot of value on how hot (or cold) a team is in March, as well as the matchups a team draws. So even if a team finishes the season rolling through everyone, one bad draw from the bracket makers and it could be a very short postseason.

That creates some questions on what to expect from Michigan and Wisconsin, the two teams set to play in the title game tomorrow afternoon. The Big Ten conference will undoubtedly hope for some better results from their final two teams this year, after both Michigan State (2016 champs) and Purdue (2016 runner-ups) were both knocked out in the first round last year. Of course the question is which Wisconsin and Michigan team will we get next weekend.

With Wisconsin, they are coming off of an impressive destruction of Northwestern and Minnesota, as well as an impressive enough win over the Hoosiers on Friday. But we can’t forget that this team went 1-5 down the stretch, including losing to Ohio State and Iowa. Will we get the Wisconsin team that was struggling on offense and lacking an identity, or will we get the Badger squad that went 17-1 from late November to early February?

The same can be said for Michigan, who finished the regular season strong and are rolling through the Big Ten Tournament. If Derrick Walton Jr. can play to the level he’s been at, Michigan could make some noise in the tournament. That being said, Michigan has always had the weapons at hand, but their inconsistency throughout the season does make them one of your yearly “hot” teams to close the season that could just as easily get knocked out early in the postseason. With the Wolverines currently slotted as either a 7 or 8 seed, that means a more difficult 9/10 opening opponent and then facing a top two seed in the second round. Michigan would benefit considerably if they can knock off the Badgers and try to move up to a 6 seed.

Thursday’s early exit proves costly for John Groce

Illinois was really something this past month. The team spent most of the season completely off the radar, with another sub-par season leading to plenty of John Groce hot seat chatter. Then the program went 5-1 in February, knocking off Michigan State and Northwestern twice, quietly reemerging as a potential NCAA Tournament team. They of course followed that with a dud, losing their season finale against Rutgers.

With one dreadful loss to close the season, Groce fell right back onto the hot seat and after getting blown out by a Michigan team that didn’t even reach the arena until less than two hours prior to tip, the school decided to part ways with the coach. That decision isn’t a huge surprise, especially with a newer AD that didn’t hire Groce, but there was some question if they’d pull the trigger thanks to Groce’s impressive 2017 recruiting class.

The lack of success at Illinois for Groce was definitely more than enough reason to go in another direction, with the program stuck and not making much of any progress throughout his tenure here, but now Illini fans will need to watch and see how his highly touted recruiting class turns out. While all four commits have signed, they could potentially back out with the coaching change. That has already led to some speculation that the jewel of their 2017 class, five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon, could be set to head elsewhere.

Either way, it does create an interesting offseason story to follow over the next few months as the Illini will need to fill their coaching vacancy and make sure they keep their prized recruiting class intact. If Illinois can land a strong hire this spring, and keep their 2017 class in the process, there is a ton of potential in the future for the Illini.