2021 Big Ten Tournament Preview
Of all 31 conferences that took to the court this basketball season, the Big Ten has undoubtedly been the best conference and the toughest conference in the country. With so much talent and depth in the conference, this tournament is anything but predictable. The Big Ten beat up itself throughout the season, but will earn the most bids out of any conference to the NCAA Tournament.
The championship game will be the last treat before the brackets are revealed, but the games leading up to March 14 will be entertaining and will provide last minute chances for teams to improve their standing within the bracket.
Juwan Howard’s coaching job this season has been second to none. Amid a global pandemic and through extensive pauses and delays, he has his team well positioned to be one of the four one seeds on Selection Sunday. Michigan has a balanced attack offensively, spearheaded by their outstanding freshman big Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson has an array of moves inside and has the physicality of a veteran college player. Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner are the other leading scorers who average 14.4 and 12.4 points respectively. Michigan is an excellent defensive team and holds their opponents to roughly 39 percent shooting from the field.
Another coach who has done an outstanding job this season has been Chris Holtmann at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were picked 7th in the Big Ten preseason media poll but are now fighting for a top seed. The Buckeyes have been road warriors this season, notching wins at Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Rutgers. While the atmosphere of these games is different without fans, the Buckeyes have shown they can beat national contenders away from home. EJ Liddell and Duane Washington Jr lead the scoring for this team, averaging around 16 points per game each.
Illinois has hit their stride at the right time. Since losing to Ohio State in January, the Fighting Illini have lost one game. Ayo Dosunmu leads Illinois with his tremendous scoring, capable of getting buckets in all phases of the game. He is the type of guard that can lead a deep run in March and will not back down when the game is on the line. Dosunmu’s compliment inside, Kofi Cockburn, is a seven-foot sophomore with outstanding size that inhibits opponents’ ability to score around the basket. Illinois is a very complete team and will be a final four favorite for many who choose to fill out a bracket.
Considering the best player in college hoops wears black and gold, it's hard to argue that the Hawkeyes are not favorites in the Big Ten. Luka Garza is a gifted offensive player for Iowa. Garza is very patient and will work his defender to find a shot he likes inside. Garza can also step outside and hit the three pointers, a common trait for all players on this team. The Hawkeyes make 40% of their shots behind the arc, and several players can catch fire in any given game. However, Iowa is a lackluster defensive team, and while their scoring is elite, stopping opponents from scoring will determine their postseason success.
The Boilermakers do not have a guy making national headlines, as they did in the Caleb Swanigan and Carsen Edwards days, but they do have a team capable of busting the Big Ten Tournament bracket. Purdue has surged in the closing weeks and now projects as a top four seed. Trevion Williams is the player to watch for the Boilermakers, but Purdue has a solid squad around him.
While Wisconsin has not maintained some of the hype that surrounded the team in the preseason, the Badgers are still very good and capable of moving up the seed line with a run in Indianapolis. Greg Gard’s team plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation and boasts the best defense in the conference, only giving up 64.0 points per game. Although they fell short against some of their better opponents, the Badgers will be a nuisance for whoever they draw in the bracket.
A remarkable turnaround from Sparty has them as a near lock into March Madness. A win against Maryland on Thursday would surely put them in for good, but wins against Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State already have them sitting comfortable as Selection Sunday nears. Watchout for Aaron Henry, who leads Michigan State in points, assists and steals.
One of the more notable victims from last year’s tournament cancellation was Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were set to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. They had to wait another year, but Steve Pikiell’s team should be dancing in a few weeks. Rutgers is led by Ron Harper, a 6’6’’ guard averaging 15.5 points per game this season.
After a shaky season on the bubble, the Terrapins looked like a solid tournament team, but finished the season with terrible losses against Northwestern and Penn State. At least one win in the Big Ten tourney would be advised to secure their spot in the NCAA tournament.
I am a firm believer in Illinois. I think Ayo Dosunmu is a perfect player for this time of year and Brad Underwood has the best squad he has ever coached. The Fighting Illini will take the auto-bid in Indy and prepare for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.