Previewing the Big Ten Conference Tournament

Most conferences are wrapping up regular season play this week. The Big Ten, however, conference tournament action begins this week. 14 teams will try to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. If you’re Michigan State, Purdue Ohio State and Michigan, you don’t need to win the tournament to ensure your trip to the big dance. For anyone else, winning the conference tournament is pretty much the only way to guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s break down the Big Ten tournament and see what to expect.

Bubble Teams

Nebraska and Penn State have some work to do if they want to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. The Cornhuskers are the 4th seed in the Big Ten tournament, and were in line with an NCAA bid, until they lost to Illinois ten days ago. Up until then, Nebraska had not had any bad in conference losses. The loss to Illinois, coupled with St. John’s and UCF, leaves Nebraska in need of some wins to make themselves feel more comfortable on Selection Sunday. They’ll have a chance to pick up a big win against Michigan, assuming the Wolverines can beat the winner of Iowa/Illinois.

For Penn State, they can hang their hat on a season sweep of Ohio State. Unfortunately, they have dropped three straight to end the regular season, moving them more off than on the bubble. If the Nittany Lions can beat Northwestern in their first game, they’ll have a chance for a third straight win against Ohio State. A win here would get them back in the discussion, but anything less will probably have them NIT bound.

Can Purdue Regain Form?

The Boilermakers looked like one of the best teams in college basketball for much of the regular season. They owned a 19 game winning streak, including wins over Arizona, Butler, Louisville and sweeps of Maryland and Michigan. Carson Edwards looked fantastic and Isaac Haas was superb in the middle. A three game losing streak, and uninspiring wins against Penn State and Illinois brought the perception of Purdue down a little bit. After such a good season, they amazingly enter the Big Ten tournament a bit under looked as the #3 seed. Can Purdue get back to their midseason form in time for the tournament?


The Big Ten had a down year this season. They didn’t get any help with Minnesota, Maryland and Northwestern not meeting preseason expectations, for various reasons. The top of the conference is strong though. All four tournament locks have a chance to make at least the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four. This could set up for a very entertaining semifinal and final.

There is potential for a Michigan vs Michigan State rematch. The Wolverines topped the Spartans at their place earlier in the year. Ordinarily you would expect a Tom Izzo coached club to get their revenge in March, but this has been such a dysfunctional year that I’m going to pick Michigan to win again. Michigan State looks to be clicking, so of course they’ll lose right before the tournament. That’s just how this season has gone.

The Wolverines I think will meet Purdue in the Big Ten final. I don’t think Indiana, Minnesota or Rutgers will pose much of a threat to Purdue, even though 2/3 of them played them tight this year. It will set up a great semifinal against Ohio State, and this time I expect Purdue to get their revenge on the Buckeyes. A last second put back by Keita Bates-Diop took down the red hot Boilermakers back in early February. I think Purdue takes care of business in the rematch.

And I’m going to predict Purdue to win. I’m buying “low” on this team right now. This was one of the hottest teams in college basketball at one point this year. A mediocre couple of weeks made a lot of people jump off the band wagon. I think Carson Edwards makes a name for himself at MSG and I think Purdue will be your Big Ten champions. Selection Sunday is ELEVEN days away. It’s starting to get real.

Steve Pikiell Agrees to Extension at Rutgers

Rutgers fans rejoice. Head Coach Steve Pikiell has agreed to a long-term contract extension keeping him in Piscataway for the foreseeable future. This is huge news for a program that has been a laughing-stock in college basketball for many years, but is finely beginning to trend in the right direction. The number of years or salary of this extension are unknown right now. The deal is expected to be approved later today.

In 2016, Pikiell left Stony Brook after reaching the NCAA tournament and signed a five-year contract with Rutgers. His average salary on his initial deal was $1.6 million per year. While the school had him locked in until 2021, they were wise to extend him sooner rather than later. Pikiell is certainly moving the program in its most promising direction since 2013, when they were still a part of the Big East Conference.

Pikiell hasn’t turned RU into a powerhouse in two years on campus. He hasn’t made them a tournament team or a threat to win the Big Ten. No coach could have done that in two years with the program he inherited. What Pikiell has done however, was change that attitude within the locker room and outside perspective surrounding the program. In doing so, it’s led to the type of marquee wins that help move a program out of the basement.

In year one at Rutgers, Pikiell went 15-18 and 3-15 in the Big Ten. Those are numbers on par with that of Eddie Jordan in his tenure at RU. This year Rutgers is sitting at 11-6 and 1-3 in early Big Ten play. Only time will tell if this season is much different from last from a record standpoint, but it’s clear this team is different.

Corey Sanders hoists the Garden State Classic trophy after Rutgers shocks Seton Hall in Piscataway

One of those 11 wins came against in-state rival, Seton Hall. The Scarlet Knights upset the nationally ranked Pirates at home in December, claiming bragging rights in the state of New Jersey for at least one year. The win was followed by a court storming, something junior guard Corey Sanders said he hasn’t seen in his time on campus. And while wins like this are great for the program, Pikiell knows there is still a lot of work to be done.

And that’s another reason Rutgers was smart to lock him up. He’s a good recruiter.

Pikiell was fortunate to inherit Sanders, who has been the team’s leading scorer each of the last three seasons. This year however, Sanders is getting some help from the outside. Freshman guard Geo Baker has been great, averaging 11.6 points a game and leading the team with 3.7 assists per contest. Mamadou Doucoure has also provided solid role minutes in his first collegiate season. These are pieces that Pikiell and his staff brought in themselves. And there’s more help coming.

Pikiell has landed the commitment of John Carroll’s Montez Mathis, ranked the 93rd best player in the Class of 2018 by ESPN. Mathis, along with Baker and Sanders, will give Rutgers a three-headed attack from the outside. Mathis committed to Rutgers because he wanted to be a part in turning the program around. He will hopefully start a trend of top ranked recruits choosing Rutgers as a destination.

This isn’t an article handing out a participation trophy. Pikiell and Rutgers don’t get moral victories for winning one game or landing one recruit. There’s still a lot to be written in the story of Steve Pikiell and Rutgers Basketball. Today’s news told us that this story will be extended a couple of chapters. Based on the early recruitment, change in culture and overall vibe surrounding the program, Rutgers made the right decision in extending that story.

Big Ten Basketball: 2017-18 Season Preview

The Big Ten Conference saw 7 teams receive bids to the NCAA Tournament last season. While getting half your conference into the the Tournament is good, they only saw 3 teams make it to the second weekend, and none of them made it to the Elite Eight. This year is expected to be different. Michigan State is predicted by many to be a Final Four team, and a few others could make a run as well. Let’s look at some of the Preseason nods as voted on by Big Ten coaches.

Projected Finishes

  1. Michigan State – An NCAA tournament season last for what was a very young team, Michigan State had lofty expectations before Bridges announced he would come back. His return and the arrival of talented freshman Jaren Jackson make Tom Izzo’s club the no-brainer favorite in the conference.
  2. Purdue – Despite losing Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers do return a lot of production from last year’s team. Vincent Edwards will be one of the better guards in the conference and Isaac Haas’s improvement will correlate with how Purdue fairs this year.
  3. Minnesota – I think Minnesota has a chance to finish right behind Michigan State in the conference this year. The Golden Gophers return their top four leading scorers, including Preseason First Teamer, Nate Mason. Richard Pitino also brings in talented freshman Isaiah Washington and Jamir Harris to add additional fire power to a team that was a 5 seed in last year’s tournament.
  4. Northwestern – It was a historical year for Northwestern last season. This season won’t be a Cinderella story for NU, as the conference is well aware of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay. Two strong senior seasons from these two could have Northwestern dancing again in March.
  5. Maryland – The Terps have a trio of sophomores that will create a lot of buzz this year. Anthony Cowan will be the primary ball handler, Justin Jackson will lead the team in points and rebounds, and Kevin Huerter will lead them in three pointers made. Any sort of contributions elsewhere and I think the Terps can finish higher than 5.
  6. Michigan – What was a balanced team last season will now not be, as Michigan loses three key pieces. Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will be the one-two punch for John Beilein. I also like freshman Eli Brooks’s game a lot. There’s just not enough after that to compete with the top
  7. Wisconsin – Same story as Michigan. Koening and Hayes are big losses for the Badgers. Ethan Happ is a preseason All-American, but who knows how he will fair without the support he had last season.
  8. Iowa – Iowa has a talented group of sophomores themselves this year. The Hawkeyes will look to Jordan Cook, Jordan Bohannon and Cordell Pemsl to shoulder more of a load with Peter Jok having graduated. The key for Iowa will be their ability to win on the road.
  9. Indiana – The Hoosiers lost a heap of talent and their head coach to a team that did not meet expectations last year. It will be a tough transition year for Archie Miller. Josh Newkirk and Juwan Morgan will get a bulk of the shots. I look for Curtis Jones to have a breakout year after showing glimpses last season.
  10. Penn State – I think Penn State is trending in the right direction, despite being picked by the conference to finish 10. They return their top 3 leading scorers, as well as 5 of their top 6. Tony Carr could end up being one of the best guards in the Big Ten this year. A strong year from him could have them up a couple spots higher.
  11. Ohio State – Jae’Sean Tate returns, who led the team in scoring last season, but not much production returns outside him. A change at the helm also impacted who OSU brought in this year. Rebuilding year to say the least.
  12. Illinois – The Illini struggled last year and lost a strong recruiting class when they fired John Groce. Some Illini fans wanted Groce to stick around and see how he did with the talent he was able to recruit. Brad Underwood does have ESPN Top 100 Da’Monte Williams and Mark Smith, ranked 78 by 247Sports, to start his foundation, so that’s promising.
  13. Nebraska – Isaac Copeland’s transfer appeal was positive news for the Cornhuskers. Unfortunately, they may not have much positive news passed this. Glynn Watson could be the team’s leading scorer, or at least be second depending on how well Copeland adjusts.
  14. Rutgers – It’s been a tough stretch for Rutgers basketball lately. Slowly but surely, Steve Pikiell is changing the program and bringing in recruits that will help change this program. Corey Sanders returns as the team’s leading scorer, and is a good center piece to have for a team that is littered with freshman and sophomores.

Preseason Awards

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon might be a dark horse to win Coach of the Year, but I think Maryland has the most upside in the conference this season

Player of the Year (Voted) – Miles Bridges (Michigan State)

No surprise here. Bridges is NBA talent and a physical freak of nature. He was Freshman of the Year a second-team All Big Ten member last season. Bridges’s stat line last year was 16 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists a game last year. With Michigan State expected to be much better, a stat line similar to that would be enough to take home POY honors this year.

Coach of the Year (Prediction) – Mark Turgeon (Maryland)

I think Izzo is the easy guess based on the team he is being given. I think Turgeon wins the award similar to how Richard Pitino won it last season. Maryland was voted in the top half of the conference, but there is potential to jump up a spot or two with the team he has. I think Justin Jackson will be a monster this year and Anthony Cowan will look a lot better with Melo Trimble gone. Coaching without huge expectations could allow Maryland to play freely and win a couple games they weren’t expected to.

All Big Ten Teams

First Team (Voted On)

Miles Bridges – Michigan State*

Bryant McIntosh – Northwestern*

Ethan Happ – Wisconsin*

Nate Mason – Minnesota

Moritz Wagner – Michigan

Vincent Edwards – Purdue

Justin Jackson – Maryland

Nick Ward – Michigan State

Amir Coffey – Minnesota

Scottie Lindsay – Northwestern

*unanimous selection

Big Ten Games to Watch for Upcoming 2017-18 Season

Illinois at Northwestern – Dec. 1

In-state foes meet on opening night of Big Ten Conference play. Northwestern is a program still inflated from last season after having its first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. The Fighting Illini can set their season’s tone early with a road win while the Wildcats look to spark the start of their season with a win. Brad Underwood will look to start his Big Ten coaching career with a win on December 1st. 

Purdue at Indiana – Jan. 28

Both Big Ten programs are eager to earn bragging rights of the state as Purdue travels to Indiana. It is the two team’s only meeting of the season. Purdue had Indiana’s number last season in a series sweep, not to mention being 5-of-6 in their last few meetings. Both teams will have new looks however, after losing talent to the NBA.

Michigan State at Maryland – Jan. 28

A favored Michigan State team will come across its toughest road game yet when it travels to Maryland in late January. A winnable early schedule for Maryland could have the Terps hosts inflated with momentum. Look for sophomore Justin Jackson to have a break out campaign for Maryland. It will need to be a win for Michigan State to keep up with appearances.

Expect Justin Jackson to draw a lot of attention from both NBA scouts and opposing teams this season

Purdue at Michigan State – Feb. 10

This game comes at a very deciding time for the state of the Big Ten Conference. Purdue will be hungry to win another conference title, but Michigan State is one of the programs to beat in the NCAA. And the Spartans will have the home advantage down the stretch. This contest may very well be a bTig deciding factor for the final eye test of the season as both programs will be vying for a favorable NCAA tournament seeding.

Wisconsin at Michigan – Feb 11

A rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship game, where Michigan got the best of the Badgers. This game will feature two of the conferences best big men in Moe Wagner and Ethan Happ. Both teams will be hitting their stride in mid-February and we should be in for a tight one with March just around the corner.

Michigan State at Minnesota – Feb. 13

These are two teams that have the potential to win the conference and have a promising 2018 campaign in the NCAA. This will just be a good match-up to gauge where the two programs are at. Minnesota will look to continue their rise in the Big Ten with a win over the conference favorite. 

Michigan at Maryland – Feb. 24

Both programs are missing some key pieces on their rosters, specifically in point guards. The game comes on the second to last day of regular season play. It’s really the final frontier of proving grounds for players alike.

What to watch:

Michigan State is ranked No. 2 in the early polls, and the Spartans bring back talent and then some. With Miles Bridges returning to play another season with the program, key players around him will include Nick Ward and newcomer Jaren Jackson, along with Cassius Winston and Josh Langford. This is a talented Michigan State team.

Teams and Players to Watch in the BIG Ten

big ten

The Big Ten showed up in a big way last year. Even while perennial powerhouse Michigan State struggled, the Big 10 was one of the most solid conferences through and through. This year should be more of the same as we preview some of the best teams and some of the best players you should watch this season.

Talented Teams

michigan state, big ten

Michigan State

The Spartans had an uncharacteristically average season last year, finishing 10-8 in conference play, placing them directly in the middle of the pack at 7th place. Much of MSU’s struggles can be chalked up to inexperience. The Spartans were loaded with underclassmen last year and even a coach like Tom Izzo cannot be expected to do much with such a green roster. However, since Izzo is one of the best to ever do it, one year of growth for his young squad will be all they need. Look for the Spartans to be back on top of the Big 10 this year.


While a first round exit in the NCAA tournament was not what Minnesota was hoping for, the Golden Gophers will return a bunch of key players that carried them to the postseason. Minnesota is returning 4 of their 5 starters. Nate Mason, last year’s leading scorer and floor general, will return for his senior season Look for the Golden Gophers to be one of the most complete teams in the country, as they will exhibit strong guard play paired with 2 veteran big men.


The Boilermakers may have lost Caleb Swanigan to the NBA Draft, but almost everyone else from last year is back. Like last year, Purdue’s success will largely come from their dominant inside presence. Issac Hass’ 7-2 frame will be more than enough for Purdue to continue their recent trend of winning by dominating the paint and boards on both ends of the floor.


Teams on the Downswing

maryland, big ten


The Terrapins had a very underwhelming season last year. Expectations were high and they did not quite meet them. They managed to finish 3rd in the Big 10 but did not necessarily impress en route to doing so. They also got bounced in the first round of the Big Dance by Xavier. Justin Jackson will return, but I doubt this will be enough to cover up for the loss of Melo Trimble, who was the face or Maryland basketball for the past couple of years. Besides Jackson, the only player returning who averages double-digit points per game is Anthony Cowan. So unless some like Kevin Huerter or Jared Nickens can help carry the load, expect a very pedestrian showing from Maryland this year.


The Badgers are coming off of an incredibly hot ending to the season, in which they went all the way to the Big 10 Championship and kept the momentum going, knocking out the #1 overall seed Villanova. However, like Maryland, the Badgers are also losing two key players in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Ethan Happ is the only returning starter from last year’s squad, as Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown are also gone. With so many question marks and such a high level of competition, I wouldn’t count on the Badgers to be much of a force this year.

Ohio State

The departure of Thad Matta signals a culture shock for the Buckeyes. After a couple of mediocre seasons, change at the top was needed and now Chris Holtmann is leading the charge with 10 toes in. Ohio State returns leading scorer Jae-Sean Tate, but there is a major drop off after that. It could be a tough year in Columbus, but hey, it’s always darkest before the dawn right?


Big 10 Player of the Year Candidates

miles bridges, big ten, michigan state

Miles Bridges

You can’t talk about talent in the Big 10 without talking about Miles Bridges. Many are shocked to him return to school after averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds after his freshman year at Michigan State. Bridges is the ideal wing player, as he shoots well inside and beyond the arc. He shot an incredible 55% from inside the arc last year thanks to his pure stroke and magnificent finishing abilities. Pair that with a 39% percentage from deep and add in a year of development under Tom Izzo, the results could be insane. Not only will Bridges be one of the best players in the conference, he will be one of the best players in the nation.

Nate Mason

The senior floor general is coming off a solid 2016-2017 campaign where he averaged 15 points and 5 assists per game. Mason is crafty with the ball and has above average awareness and vision, as he turned the ball over under 2 times per game as well. Mason will also have a strong supporting cast around him, including Amir Coffey, who many think will have a breakout year. Mason is an experienced and proven leader surrounded by a familiar, and talented, team so there is no reason he cannot improve upon his stellar performance from last year.

Moe Wagner

The stretch 4 should have a huge year for the Wolverines, especially with the departure of Derrick Walton. Wagner will be the go-to man for Michigan this year so expect his production to sky-rocket. Wagner perfectly fits the trend we are seeing from contemporary European big men. He is tall, long and can score from inside and out. Many believe that Wagner made the right decision in leaving the NBA Draft, as he will now have another year to prove his worth. He averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds last year, but look for him to pump those numbers up and perform similar to another European of recent memory, Lauri Markkanen.