Mar 7, 2023 - Sports

Guide to the Big Ten men's basketball tournament

Photo of a basketball player cutting down a net

Michigan State Spartans guard Matt McQuaid cuts a piece of the net after the Big Ten tournament championship game at Chicago's United Center in 2019. Photo: Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big Ten men's basketball tournament begins Wednesday at United Center, the first time it's been in Chicago since 2019.

Why it matters: The tournament brings students and spectators from all over the country together to compete for the conference title and a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Be smart: We asked our Axios Local colleagues to give us a quick cheat sheet for the schools playing in what is considered an unpredictable, wide-open tournament.

Purdue (No. 1 seed)

Photo of a basketball player shaking hands with fans.
Purdue's Zach Edey celebrates with fans at Mackey Arena. Photo: Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Boilermakers easily won the Big Ten season title — securing it by a rare three games, Axios Local editor Lindsey Erdody writes. Plus, Zach Edey has the highest points-per-game average — 21.9 — in the conference, and he leads the Big Ten in rebounds and field goal percentage.

Yes, but: After starting the season strong, Purdue lost four of its last eight games. And their first tournament game could be against Rutgers, which beat Purdue by one point in early January.

Northwestern (No. 2)

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Northwestern's Boo Buie in action. Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The experienced Wildcats beat Purdue and Indiana this season and were at one point ranked No. 21 in the country. It's been fun to watch fans pack Welsh Ryan Arena for a change.

  • Regardless of how they do this weekend, Chris Collins' crew looks to be headed back to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history.

Indiana (No. 3)

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Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Arguably under-seeded in the tournament, don't ever count the Hoosiers out, Erdody writes. IU is the only Big Ten school that swept Purdue this year and might be the No. 1 seed's biggest competition. Plus, IU has the second-highest scorer in the conference in Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.

Yes, but: The Hoosiers can be unreliable (see: losing to Northwestern twice and being bumped to the No. 3 seed).

Michigan State (No. 4)

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Michigan State's Tyson Walker. Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Michigan State showed the offensive firepower of a high school JV team at times this season, Axios Detroit's Joe Guillen writes. But coach Tom Izzo is known for peaking in March, and the Spartans have found their shooting stroke lately.

  • Don't be surprised if the fourth-seeded Spartans sneak into the final for a shot at Izzo's seventh Big Ten tournament title.

Iowa (No. 5)

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The Iowa Hawkeyes mascot during the 2022 NCAA Tournament: Photo: Bill Wippert/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Hawkeyes' recent home loss cost them their standing in the Big Ten tournament, writes Axios Des Moines' Linh Ta.

  • Now that they're pushed down the bracket, a win against Ohio State or Wisconsin doesn't mean much, but a loss could be devastating to their NCAA Tournament prospects.

Maryland (No. 6)

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Maryland's Donta Scott celebrates with fans after a victory against Northwestern in February. Photo: G. Fiume/Getty Images

They could've been the No. 2 seed. They almost had a double-bye. But that's not happening, thanks to a last-second road loss days ago, Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil writes. Now the Terrapins are set to play against either Minnesota or Nebraska in the second round of the tournament on Thursday night.

Illinois (No. 7)

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Illini head coach Brad Underwood during last year's first-round game of the 2022 NCAA Tournament: Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

This team has underachieved this year, but it is currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Guard Terrence Shannon Jr. has a chance to put this team on his back and prove he's a legit star since transferring from Texas Tech.

Yes, but: Shannon and the rest of the team are erratic. It's getting hard to watch postgame interviews with coach Brad Underwood, who uses the word "disappointing" way too much.

Michigan (No. 8)

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Jace Howard and Jett Howard hold back their father, Michigan coach Juwan Howard, during a recent game. Photo: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Wolverines have made five straight Sweet 16s — the 2020 COVID-19 season notwithstanding — and had big expectations this year, especially with star center Hunter Dickinson returning for a third season, Axios Local editor Everett Cook writes.

What (actually) happened: Dickinson didn't get better and a supporting cast of young players, transfers and coach Juwan Howard's two sons has looked overmatched all season. The Wolverines will likely need to win at least two Big Ten tournament games — including over Purdue on Friday — to even make the NCAA Tournament, much less get to the Sweet 16.

Rutgers (No. 9)

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Clifford Omoruyi of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Scarlet Knights started the season strong with huge wins over Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern.

Yes, but: They have lost six of their last eight games. They'll need to win a game or two to be considered for the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State (No. 10)

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Penn State's Camren Wynter drives against Ohio State. Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Duds or dangerous? It's like a game of "knock, knock" with Penn State, Axios Philly's Isaac Avilucea writes.

  • Nittany Lions fans will be watching to see which version of the team shows up at the Big Ten tournament — the one that bracketologists say is knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years or the one that blew a 19-point lead against Rutgers a couple of weeks ago.

Nebraska (No. 11)

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Guard Sam Hoiberg of the Nebraska Cornhuskers celebrates against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Photo: Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The Cornhuskers' biggest win came last weekend over Iowa in Iowa City. If Nebraska can get past their first-round opponent Wednesday (Minnesota), they will play Maryland.

  • They shocked Maryland in the regular season with a 70-66 win less than a month ago.

Wisconsin (No. 12)

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Chucky Hepburn of the Wisconsin Badgers. Photo: John Fisher/Getty Images

It has been a down year for the Badgers in Madison. They will need to win a few games to even be considered for the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, but: They've been competitive all season and pulled off quality wins against Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, while losing to Purdue by one point.

Ohio State (No. 13)

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Justice Sueing of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Ohio State has had a disastrous 2023, with five- and nine-game losing streaks leading Buckeye fans to call for head coach Chris Holtmann's firing, Axios Columbus' Tyler Buchanan writes.

  • But they've shown flashes of brilliance, and Holtmann may feel extra motivation in coaching for his survival.

The bottom line: If things go south, we'll see you all during football season.

Minnesota (No. 14)

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Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Ta'lon Cooper in action. Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

View the Gophers as a bye, Axios Twin Cities' Nick Halter writes. They finished last in the Big Ten and went 2-17 in tournament play, eking out wins over Rutgers and Ohio State.

  • If your team loses or struggles with Minnesota, you're in trouble.
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