As the league tournament gets underway, the Big Ten is short on storylines and long on locks. The conference will send three teams to the NCAA Tournament as top seven regional seeds (Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin). One other team (Minnesota) appears a lock to make the field, regardless of their performance in the league tournament. There are only two other teams (Indiana and Iowa) that are looking to play their way into the tournament this week.
Let's break down the Big Ten's possible NCAA Tournament teams:
Illinois (29-1 overall, 15-1 Big Ten, #1 seed)
-->The Illini are the heavy favorite in the league tournament, and they're one of the top five teams in the nation. A loss between now and the Final Four would probably be considered an upset, regardless of the opponent. A potential conference championship matchup with Wisconsin could be a doozy, as the Badgers beat up Illinois in last year's Big Ten title game, and Illinois beat Wisconsin twice during the regular season. Unless they lose to Northwestern on Friday, Illinois will be a #1 regional seed, and could end up as the tournament's #1 overall seed.
Michigan State (22-5 overall, 13-3 Big Ten, #2 seed)
-->Michigan State has the talent to win the league title, but they are inconsistent on the outside. As March rolls on, guard play becomes more and more important. That'll put more and more pressure on Maurice Ager, Chris Hill, Shannon Brown, Kelvin Torbert, and Drew Neitzel. They have to be consistent, both in ballhandling and outside shooting, for this team to get by Wisconsin and Illinois in the later rounds of this tournament. The Spartans have a chance to go far if the guards get on a roll.
Wisconsin (20-7 overall, 11-5 Big Ten, #3 seed)
-->Bucky is an NCAA lock with 20 wins and a pretty good non-conference resume. Wisconsin is going to be considered a major target for a first-round upset because of their inconsistent guard play. Last year, they had Devin Harris at the point, but they didn't have much at the two-guard spot. While Kammron Taylor has played well at times, the Badgers no longer have a truly reliable point guard, and they've also been unable to find a reliable shooting guard. Mike Wilkinson and Alando Tucker are a nice one-two punch inside, but the Badgers won't go far without improved outside shooting and better defense down low.
Indiana (15-12 overall, 10-6 Big Ten, #4 seed)
-->Playing good non-conference teams is nice, but it usually helps if you can beat one or two of them. The Hoosiers have an impressive strength of schedule, but their winning percentage isn't good, and they only won three games away from Bloomington. To make the Dance, Indiana needs to beat Minnesota on Friday, and they can't afford to be blown out by Illinois in the semifinals. The Hoosiers are in a lot of trouble, and a loss to the Gophers will probably send them to join Notre Dame in the Not Important Tournament.
Minnesota (20-9 overall, 10-6 Big Ten, #5 seed)
-->The Gophers have surprised many this season, thanks to the performance of Vincent Grier, who was named to the all-conference team. If it weren't for the season Illinois put together, Dan Monson would have received serious Coach of the Year consideration. The Gophers, like many, don't have great guard play, and their defense hasn't been very good for most of the season. However, their work ethic, along with the play of Grier, has them a virtual lock to make the national tournament. A win over Indiana would be great, but the Gophers probably don't need it to go dancing.
Iowa (20-10 overall, 7-9 Big Ten, #7 seed)
-->Once Pierre Pierce was dumped at midseason, Iowa was written off as a possible contender for the NCAAs. Down the stretch, though, they were impressive. Iowa has now won four straight after waxing Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday. With 20 wins, four straight down the stretch, two close shaves against Illinois, and non-conference wins over Louisville, Texas, Texas Tech, and Iowa State, Iowa should probably get in, regardless of the result Friday against Michigan State in the quarterfinals. However, if Iowa wants off the bubble, they'll beat Michigan State. Not having Pierce will leave the committee in a tough spot, because Iowa is allegedly a lesser team without him, despite recent results.
Ohio State is ineligible for the NCAAs because of self-imposed sanctions.
The Big Ten has at least four right now (Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota), and there are two teams have a chance to play their way in this weekend. For a conference that has been ripped left and right, getting six teams in the Dance would be a great accomplishment.