Purdue is not only the best team in the Big Ten, but one of the best in the country. A Final Four is absolutely in reach for the Boilermakers in the coming weeks.
Getting out of the Big Ten tournament, however, isn’t going to be easy.
The conference is preparing to send the most teams to the NCAA tournament, and just about any of them have what it takes to get past Purdue in Chicago.
Big Ten tournament basics
Big Ten tournament bracket
10 teams are NCAA tournament-bound
The top of the Big Ten standings is incredibly tight, which opens up the tournament this week to just about anybody.
Outside of Purdue, which still claimed the regular season title despite its stumbles at the end, nine different teams were within just two games of claiming the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Nine.
The conference is looking like it will get 10 different teams into the NCAA tournament, which would be the most of any this season. Purdue can still make a play at a No. 1 seed, too, depending on how things shake out. With Wooden Award frontrunner Zach Edey, who averaged 21.9 points and 12.8 rebounds this season, it’s easy to see why the Boilermakers are the favorites in Chicago. But teams, especially Indiana, have figured out how to shut them down. They lost four of their final eight games, and just barely snuck past Wisconsin and Illinois to close out the regular season.
The door is open for just about anyone this week in Chicago, from the Hoosiers down to even Penn State or Iowa if things work out in their favor. That is, as long as they can get past Edey and Purdue.
On the bubble: Michigan needs the most help
Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan are all right on the edge of making the NCAA tournament outright, but the Wolverines probably need the biggest run in Chicago to do so.
Michigan ended its season with a pair of overtime losses, which dropped the Wolverines down to eighth in the Big Ten standings. They went just 11-9 in conference play and didn’t beat a ranked opponent all year. Their first game against Rutgers in Chicago is a must-win, though it will probably take an upset over Purdue in the quarterfinals to get back into NCAA tournament contention.
Penn State is trending the right way. The Nittany Lions rallied back to beat Maryland in their final game on Sunday, which ended their season with five wins in their final six games. An opening-round win over Illinois, who they’ve beaten twice already this season, might be the last push they need.
Wisconsin has been slipping recently too. The Badgers haven’t won back-to-back games since early January, and ended the year losing three of their last five games. Without at least a win over Ohio State on Wednesday night, the Badgers are probably on the outs.
Sleeper Pick: Northwestern
Northwestern is the No. 2 seed, which by default shouldn’t make them much of a “sleeper.” But the Wildcats are having one of their best seasons ever, and it still doesn’t seem like many people are backing them as real contenders in Chicago.
Northwestern’s second-place finish in the Big Ten was its best in 64 years. It racked up the most conference wins ever, and the Wildcats earned their highest-seed in tournament history — which came with a double-bye. They beat Purdue earlier this season and swept Indiana, so they’ve already proven they can run with anyone in the Big Ten.
One of the biggest potential issues here is how they finished the season. Northwestern lost three of its last four games, and only beat Rutgers after an incredibly slow start in New Jersey.
But hey, Northwestern is going to its second-ever NCAA tournament. Why not embrace them in the Big Ten tournament too?
Our Pick: Purdue over Indiana
This is the matchup I want to see after Indiana’s two upset wins over Purdue already this season. A third battle at the United Center is the perfect spot for Purdue to finally get the Hoosiers.