With the Big Ten Tournament wrapping up over the weekend and Selection Sunday just two days a way, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for another roundtable. They discussed the league’s NCAA hopes and Jim Delany’s decision to put the conference tournament in New York City.
See the full discussion below.
1. Ok, so the Big Ten Tournament wrapped up last weekend. What are your reactions? Good idea? Bad idea? What about New York City?
Thomas Beindit: Since the Tournament wrapped up on Sunday afternoon, many have been praising the Big Ten’s decision to play in the Big Apple. And to some degree, I think they’re right. It was certainly a lot of fun this weekend and it mixed things up.
But it’s also important to remember that a substantial portion of the weekend’s success came as a result of some great matchups and not, as many have claimed, because of the environment itself. To me, that’s a crucially important distinction.
I mean, maybe somebody could argue that Rutgers making a run had to do with some home-town feel, but it’s not like Michigan vs Michigan State or Michigan vs Purdue were suddenly great games because they were in NYC. Those matchups would have been great regardless of their location.
Additionally, many have ranted about the Big Ten Tournament being “sold out” last weekend. There were certainly fans there for the games, but it’s important to note that Michigan vs Michigan State was sold out. The rest of the Tournament did not. It also didn’t hurt to have teams like Michigan and Rutgers surprisingly advance.
It was a fun weekend and something I expect we will see again, but I’m not ready to jump on the NYC train just yet. I think the Tournament is still better suited for Chicago and Indianapolis.
Eric Leisure: Having already talked at length about this previously, I’ll keep my thoughts here brief. Having the tournament in New York City was a potential trainwreck turned happy accident. The execution was flawed, but the end result justified the means. There’s been rumblings of an 80-20 split between Midwest and East Coast sites for future Big Ten Tournaments, and assuming that comes without playing mad scientist with the schedule, seems like a decent compromise to keep the experience fresh for fans each year.
AMH: I thought NYC was a terrible idea, then I attended in person. It was incredible. I wrote an article arguing that we have to go back.
2. Of course, beyond the New York comments, the big story of the weekend was Michigan’s surprising run to the Big Ten Tournament title. What are your thoughts on the Wolverines right now? Can they make the Final Four?
Beindit: Michigan can absolutely make this year’s Final Four. The Wolverines are up to ninth on KenPom and just beat two top fiveish teams (Michigan State and Purdue) over the weekend by double-digits on a neutral court. Add in that Michigan has played like a top five team over the last month and it’s easy to think the team has a shot at the Final Four.
The issue, though, is Michigan’s free throw shooting and it’s practice of going extended stretches with horrific offensive production. If the Wolverines can avoid falling victim to those two issues, the team will be fine. Unfortunately, it’s hard to think Michigan can win four tournament games without one of those two things popping up.
Leisure: I’m not sure there’s another team in the country right now playing better basketball than the Wolverines. In New York, Michigan backed up its impressive statistical rankings (No. 6 in KenPom defensive efficiency, No. 9 overall) by emphatically passing the eye-test. It’s tough to say if they’ll make the Final Four without seeing how the brackets shake out, but as things stand right now, I’d make John Beilein’s team the odds on favorite to advance the farthest of any team out of the Big Ten.
AMH: They almost lost to Iowa. The Wolverines have had a history of playing down to their competition. That said, in the NCAA tournament, there aren’t many games like that outside of the first round. Michigan is more likely than any other Big Ten school to make the Final Four.
3. Which Big Ten teams do you see making the NCAA Tournament? Who has the capability of making it past the first weekend?
Beindit: Last fall, I wrote about how the Big Ten could seriously be at risk of being a three-bid league this season. While I don’t think that will happen this season, I don’t see how the Big Ten ends up with more than four teams in this year’s bracket. The good news is that all four are more than capable of moving into the second weekend.
Leisure: I’ve been on my soapbox advocating for a 5th team to qualify for the field of 68 since midseason, but after last week’s tournament, I’m finally prepared to concede that the Big Ten is only a four-bid league. But what the conference will lack in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Each of Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State are extremely well coached and have at least one player capable of taking over a game. That recipe is usually one that leads to NCAA Tournament success, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see all four teams advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
AMH: The four obvious candidates and no one else. All four are plausible Elite Eight teams.
4. The Big Ten had a few bubble teams heading into New York City, but they only saw mixed results. Do you think any of them did enough to get into the field? And, if not, how do you think they will do in the NIT? Should fans be happy with that?
Beindit: Heading into New York City, I thought Nebraska needed to beat Michigan to have a shot and that Penn State needed to get to Sunday to get in the discussion. Unfortunately, the Huskers face planted and the Nittany Lions fell short against Purdue. As such, I don’t think either is going to make the cut. I do think Nebraska is poised to do some damage in the NIT, however, and I expect Husker fans to show up in force.
Leisure: It looks like when the dust settles following the final week of the college basketball season both Nebraska and Penn State will find itselves lacking an invitation to dance. The Cornhuskers needed at least one win at the conference tournament, a task it did not accomplish, while the Lions will most likely fall one Purdue win short of earning an at-large bid. And while Tim Miles and Pat Chambers are sitting around this week hoping a few other bubble teams play their way out of the tournament, I’m not quite sure either of their respective teams have the resume to sneak into the dance should that even occur.
As for how the conferences three likely NIT teams (I’m including Maryland in this assessment) should feel about a trip to March’s far less revered tournament? It’ll be a bit of a mixed bag. Each team had the talent to make the NCAAs this year, but barring an unforeseen loss or shake up, they all will return a bulk of its rosters and can use the NIT as a springboard to more success next season.
AMH: Nebraska had the possibility of playing themselves into the Dance, and they looked worse than any other team in NYC. Penn State needed that Purdue game. Both are NIT-bound. Of the two, I think Penn State is most likely to make it back to the Garden, assuming they get Mike Watkins back.
5. One of the biggest criticisms of this year’s Big Ten Tournament was the fact that it led to a “bye week” for the league leading up to the Selection Sunday. Well, we’re in that week right now. Do you have any thoughts about it?
Beindit: Personally, I’m not a fan. The Big Ten Tournament has historically been the lead in to the NCAA Selection Show, which is one of two moments (the other being the Final Four) when the entire college basketball world is watching the same thing. I think giving that up is a huge loss for the league. Outside of that, though, I don’t necessarily have any strong takes on the bye week. I don’t expect it to have any real impact on the Big Ten’s NCAA teams.
Leisure: As an unabashed Penn State alumni and fan, this week has already been torture. At this point I just want Sunday to get here so I can be put out of my misery. Outside of that, I’m interested to see if the extend layoff will impact the conferences postseason participants come next Thursday and Friday. It goes without saying, but a long break between meaningful games has proven to be a bit of a double edged sword.
AMH: I love it. I get to watch all of the rest of the conference tournaments and just enjoy them for what they are. Does that mean it was worth having to play Wednesday-Friday in January? Probably not.
6. There were also a number of teams who weren’t in NCAA Tournament contention who had their seasons end last weekend. Anything stand out to you about those programs and where they might be headed?
Beindit: Two teams that I found particularly interesting last weekend were Maryland and Wisconsin. Both had rough years, but do seem poised to do some damage next season. Don’t sleep on the Terps or the Badgers heading into next season.
Leisure: Aside from Michigan’s back-to-back conference titles, the highlight of last week’s Big Ten tournament was Rutgers’ refusal to go quietly into the night. I’m not ready to anoint Steve Pikiell the savior of Scarlet Knights basketball quite yet, but with Corey Sanders and Geo Baker both slated to return in 2018-’19, Rutgers will have its best chance to make some noise (i.e. finish better than last) since joining the conference in 2014.
AMH: Only two teams from the bottom half of the league impressed me: Rutgers and Wisconsin. Rutgers is a good shooter away from being a decent team, and I’d be surprised if we see them as the 14 seed again next year. I’m not sure if you can attribute all of Wisconsin’s bad year to injuries, but you can attribute a decent portion. Greg Gard is not Bo Ryan, but it’s clear there is still a very good basketball culture in Madison.
As for Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, not all of those programs are going to be better next year, but they all have fans who feel like they will be, and I’m not sure there’s a clear favorite for the 14 seed in next year’s tournament.
7. Does the Big Ten end its national championship drought this year?
Beindit: Maybe this makes me sound crazy, but I think all the signs are there for this to be the year that the Big Ten gets the job done. There may only be four Big Ten teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament, but all are capable of doing some major damage.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the best team in the country resides in the Big Ten. For my money, Villanova is the best team out there with Duke and Virginia close behind. KenPom indicates this as well with those three teams occupying the top three spots in its ratings.
But the Big Ten has three teams in the top nine on KenPom and is anybody really intimidated by the others occupying the top spots? Again, those top three are scary, but Cincinnati and Xavier look beatable and North Carolina already lost to Michigan State this season. Add in Villanova and Virginia’s mixed NCAA success over the last decade and I think there’s a decent chance one, if not both, are out long before the Final Four.
Look, I can’t sit here with a straight face and act like somebody like Michigan or Michigan State is going to blowout Villanova. But this is March. And I don’t think there’s any league out there with a better top three than the Big Ten. That has to count for something.
Leisure: The Big Ten homer in me wants to say yes, but I don’t think it’ll be the case. While each of the conferences NCAA participants are talented groups with a variety of skill sets, I could point to another team elsewhere in the country that does what they do just a littleee bit better. As of right now, my favorites to win it all would be Virginia, Xaiver, and Duke with Arizona being a little bit of a longer shot to keep an eye on.
AMH: It’s been months since anyone in the Big Ten has played a non-conference opponent. I’m not sure if the majority of the games in the BTT being entertaining speaks to the quality and depth of the league or the weaknesses of the best teams. Computers and the eye test tell me that the latter is more likely. The conference most likely to bring home the title is the ACC, who has both Duke and Virginia as favorites. You could say the Big East does, too, but I’ve seen Xavier play too many close games against bad teams to believe in them.