Can Indiana validate what it did in the regular season?
The Hoosiers seemingly have been underestimated all season but they ended up winning the Big Ten regular-season championship by a two-game margin. They did it in style, winning the last five games, three of them over teams that tied for third place. Now they’re playing the conference tournament just 51 miles up the road from their campus, giving coach Tom Crean and his team something of a homecourt advantage.
Can Michigan State live up to expectations?
It’s hard to find anyone outside the state of Indiana who doesn’t believe Michigan State is, in actuality, the best team in the Big Ten. Many feel the Spartans are the best team in the country. Denzel Valentine was voted the league’s player of the year and he’s already won one national player of the year award. Now the Spartans, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, have a chance to prove what everyone is saying and, in the process, nail down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Can Iowa be the team it was in January?
Once upon a time, the Hawkeyes were looked upon as the team to beat in the Big Ten. They defeated both Michigan State and Purdue twice in the first few weeks of the conference season and were 10-1 in league play before stumbling to five losses in six games. They bounced back to win a road game at Michigan in the regular-season finale, showing glimmers of the toughness they displayed in January. If the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes can win their first game on Thursday (probably against Illinois), they will play Purdue for a third time on Friday. If they can reach the semifinals or finals, they may have a shot at a No. 4 NCAA tournament seed, which could get them placed in Des Moines for the opening round.
Can Michigan and Ohio State get off the NCAA bubble?
Neither the Wolverines or Buckeyes are considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament despite finishing with more Big Ten wins than losses. Both have lost arguably their best player to injury, neither will have a senior in uniform this week and both probably need more than one victory in the tournament to enter Selection Sunday with any sort of assurance. Michigan opens Thursday against Northwestern, then would face a battle with Indiana on Friday. Ohio State must defeat Penn State on Thursday to get another crack at a Michigan State team that routed the Buckeyes last Saturday.
Do any of the four teams that play today have a prayer?
Realistically, no. Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and Rutgers have the 11th through 14th seeds because of their shortcomings during the regular season and they would need to win five games in five days to win the championship. The team in that group that has the best chance of surviving to the weekend is No. 12 seed Illinois, which has a couple of the league’s most explosive players in Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn, and held up very well against the first few teams it would play. The Illini swept Minnesota, played Iowa tough and defeated Purdue.