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Big Ten Tournament Preview: The Top Four Arrive

The top four teams in the conference will take the court throughout the day.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterfinals tip off tonight with the top four Big Ten teams all finally in action.

Maryland Terrapins vs #4 Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 11:30 AM ET BTN

In the first game today Michigan will look to bounce back from a loss to Michigan State in the last game of the regular season. These two teams met twice this season, with the Wolverines winning by double digits in both games. Maryland would like to pick up another win, but they locked up a postseason bid by beating Michigan State in the second round. As for Michigan, they’re likely a lock at a one seed but would prefer to not head into the NCAA Tournament on their first two game losing streak of the year.

Michigan has looked a bit more human as of late, getting blown out at home by Illinois and splitting the series against Michigan State. The Maryland win yesterday actually helps Michigan as now they don’t have to play the Spartans a third time in a row, and likely gives the Wolverines a better pairing today. Maryland is a guard oriented unit and will likely struggle to slow down Hunter Dickinson inside. Even more problematic is Maryland isn’t a great perimeter shooting team, something that could prove costly against a dangerous Michigan backcourt.

In their loss to the Spartans Michigan hit only 7 of their 22 three pointers. It could be the grind of the Big Ten season, or the fact that the Wolverines had to make up a number of games to close the season, but Michigan has looked a bit more human as of late. Having almost a week to recoup is big for the Wolverines and they should be fresh and ready when they tip off early Friday.

Can Maryland find a way to finally beat Michigan? The Terps haven’t shown they can offensively, but if they can find a way to slow down Michigan from outside it’s a definite possibility. I’m still under the impression Michigan will look like the Michigan of old and take care of business, though.

Pick: Michigan

#9 Ohio State Buckeyes vs #20 Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET (25 Minutes After Game 1) BTN

Can Purdue beat Ohio State for a third time this season?

In the first outing between these two teams the Boilers won by seven at home in a game where Ohio State was without EJ Liddell. In the rematch a healthier Buckeyes lost at home by two points thanks to a key Jaden Ivey three pointer. The freshman added 15 points from the bench and Trevion Williams scored 16 points. Will they be able to replicate that success again?

Trevion Williams has been a bit out of sorts as of late, not completely taking control of the game like he did earlier in the season. Part of that is foul trouble, the other part is it hasn’t been necessary. The recent success of Zach Edey has been huge, with the 7’4” center scoring 20.5 points per game this past week against Indiana and Wisconsin. Between the two centers Purdue has been able to dominate inside against most opponents.

There’s a lot of young talent for Purdue but there has been some consistency issues shooting the ball. Jaden Ivey has emerged as a future star, but at times he struggles with efficiency. That’s also something that has happened for Purdue from deep, struggling at times from three. When Purdue can find their stroke from outside they’re usually going to win, especially as the team has cleaned up inside on most nights.

If Ohio State comes out sloppy like they did closing out Minnesota they’re going to have problems. Even more problematic is Ohio State went 33.3% from three yesterday, scoring most of their points in the paint. Against a Minnesota team without Liam Robbins that isn’t the most difficult thing in the world. Against a Purdue team with Williams and Edey that is a completely different story.

On paper Ohio State might be a more consistent team talent wise, but the skill set Purdue has should make them the favorite here. That becomes even more true if Sasha Stefanovic can continue to return to form after his COVID-19 absence and if Aaron Wheeler continues his recent hot streak. The Boilermakers should probably win this game today, but it’s hard to win in the Big Ten, let alone beat the same team three times in a row. As a traditionally pessimistic Purdue fan I’m calling for Ohio State to steal a win today.

Pick: Ohio State

Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs #3 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET BTN

Rutgers made it to the quarterfinals after getting past an Indiana team that put in one of the ugliest offensive performance of the Big Ten season. They’ll need to do considerably more if they want to beat the Illini offense tonight.

Back in December these two teams squared off and Rutgers actually picked up the win 91-88. Ron Harper Jr. was popping off, scoring 28 points, and the Scarlet Knights took advantage of a 36-15 free throw advantage. Since then the Scarlet Knights have come back down a bit offensively, not being a particularly great three point or free throw shooting team. With Ayo Dosunmu back in the mix for the Illini that will likely prove to be an issue for the Scarlet Knights.

The Illini closed the season on a four game winning streak, including wins at Michigan and Ohio State. They are 11-1 over their last 12. They got Dosunmu back from a facial fracture and still managed to beat the snot of Michigan without him. Illinois is the best shooting team in the Big Ten, third best three point shooting team and make the second most free throws per game. In other words, their offense is good.

Rutgers has an experienced team, great head coach and a pretty solid defense. But their inability to shoot means they’ll need today’s game to be a slugfest if they want to land an upset. Illinois will kick up the pace and shoot their way to the conference semifinals.

Pick: Illinois

Wisconsin Badgers vs #5 Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET (25 Minutes After Game 3) BTN

For a good portion of their win against Penn State the Badgers looked fantastic. The offensive spark they had earlier in the season was there, thanks to a barrage of three pointers, and Wisconsin looked like a team that could beat Iowa. Then they went ice cold, let Penn State close out the game on a 17-2 run and were honestly incredibly lucky they didn’t lose a fourth game in a row.

Since the end of January the Badgers have won four games. Two of those games came against Penn State, while the other two have came against Nebraska and Northwestern. Their best conference win is either Michigan State or Rutgers. This was ultimately a team that was expected to compete for a Big Ten Title and they’ve looked like a middle of the pack team basically all season.

Now they get to face an Iowa team that has beaten them twice already this season, including a four point defeat to close out the regular season. I don’t know what exactly happened, especially as this Badgers team is high on experience, but they definitely don’t look like the top five team they were at one point earlier this season. Part of that likely stems from a fading offense that has struggled throughout conference play. In 20 games the Badgers are 11th in field goal percentage, 10th in three point percentage and shoot the second fewest amount of free throws per game. They make up for their 66.8 points per game by having one of the better defenses in the league, but when they face teams that are good offensively they struggle keeping up.

Iowa is fourth in field goal percentage, first in three point percentage and shoot about 20 free throws per game. Their 80.3 points per game in league play is first in the conference. Luka Garza has cleaned house inside, averaging 23.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Joe Wieskamp is shooting 48.9% from three. CJ Fredrick is hitting 50% from deep. Even Jordan Bohannon is hitting just under 40% from beyond the arc. Iowa has had one of the most efficient offenses in the nation and outside of the occasional hiccup has consistently scored with ease.

If Wisconsin can match what they did earlier in the Penn State game they very well could find a way to beat Iowa on their third try. But considering how the Badgers have played down the stretch and the their offensive struggles, Iowa will move on.

Pick: Iowa