The Big Ten's "Big 5": Tournament Resumes

         With just a few games before the league tournament, there are quite a few teams still fighting for the regular season championship in the Big Ten, five to be exact. All five, Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin, are within 1 games of each other, and ranked in that order according to team win percentage.

        With that being said, who would get the highest seed if the season ended today? We have to take into account Ohio State's record without Evan Turner (3-3), while they clearly play much better with him (17-4). Ditto for Wisconsin's Jon Leuer. The Badgers are 13-3 with him and 6-3 without him. Turner is back and producing at his pre-injury numbers while Leuer is set to return before the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State's point guard, and last season's conference player of the year, Kalin Lucas, missed time in three Spartans' games, all losses, for an ankle injury. Even Purdue lost starting point guard, Lewis Jackson, for the first 19 games of the season and is back now, playing limited minutes off the bench. So how do we account for all of these injuries and team play?

        Credit must be given to Michigan State for compiling the Big Ten's best record at 11-3. But at the same time, Purdue is just a half-game behind the Spartans and edge them in the overall season standings. When we dive into the season a bit more, we find that Michigan State is just 2-4 against AP Top 25 teams, while Purdue is 5-1, Wisconsin is 5-2, Illinois is 4-3 and Ohio State has played 9 games against top teams, the most in the nation, winning four of them. All four of Michigan State's losses were on the road, including a loss to the non-NCAA Tournament bound North Carolina Tar Heels. Ohio State's worst loss came at the hands of Michigan, when Evan Turner was out, and Minnesota, which was just Turner's second game back. Illinois has played the most inconsistent basketball of the five, losing to Utah (on a buzzer-beater) and Bradley in the Las Vegas Invitational in November, and then Georgia and Missouri in December. But their recent hot play has led them back to contention.

        If the season ended today, I would be led to believe that Purdue would be looking at the last one of the Tournament's #1 seed, Michigan State's title of Big Ten champs would likely give them a 2-seed. While Ohio State's rigorous schedule, and accounting a dismal record without its start would give the Buckeyes a 3-seed. Wisconsin could potentially grab a 3-seed as well with its bevy of quality wins. Illinois will likely be the lowest rated of the bunch  because of their letdowns throughout the season, and should be somewhere around the 7- or 8-seed range.

        As a side note, Northwestern has a chance at gaining the first ever bid to the NCAA Tournament in school history. Wins over Notre Dame, Purdue and Illinois help, but their latest loss to Penn State could be the last straw for the 17-9 Wildcats. They'll need to finish strong and make a bit of a run in the conference Tournament in March.

By Corey Ruff - President - 2-18-10