Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview

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I’m not sure I can remember a more anticipated conference tournament than this year’s Big Ten.

Maybe the 2009 Big East tournament, the year that UConn, Pitt and Louisville all got No. 1 seeds and Villanova made the Final Four.

But even that Big East can’t compare to this year’s Big Ten in terms of excitement. The league is loaded this season, and while there were top ten and top 20 matchups seemingly twice a week, it felt like every single one of those games lived up to the hype. Over and over and over again, the Big Ten provided us with a Game of the Year candidate, as the heavyweights that dominate the top of the conference took turns beating up on each other.

And frankly, there’s no reason that can’t happen again this week. Look at some of the early round matchups: the Illinois-Minnesota winner gets a rematch with Indiana in the quarters, with the winner of that game to play the winner of Michigan-Wisconsin for the right to go to the title game. When an NCAA tournament Final Four contender has to be eliminated before the Final Four of the conference tournament, you know it’s going to be exciting.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: United Center (Chicago)

When: March 14-17

Final: March 17th, 3:30 p.m. ET CBS

Favorite: Indiana

If the Hoosiers aren’t the best team in the country, than they are right there in the conversation. Indiana has a couple of the most impressive wins that anyone has notched this year, going into Ann Arbor and East Lansing and to sweep both Michigan schools. In fact, Indiana went 5-2 against the other top five teams in the Big Ten. When they are focused and ready to play, there may not be a team in the country better than them.

If there is a reason to be concerned about the Hoosiers winning the Big Ten title, it’s that their path there is going to be quite difficult. They’ll need to beat either Minnesota or Illinois in the quarterfinals and Wisconsin or Michigan in the semifinals before they even get to the title game.

And if they lose?: Michigan State

How confident are you betting against Tom Izzo this month? I’m not, especially when Adreian Payne is playing hard and Gary Harris is hitting shots from the perimeter. The key for Michigan State comes down to the play at the point guard spot: which Keith Appling is going to show up this week? The one that looked awful in losses to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, or the one that took over in the second half against Wisconsin? Appling missed 17 straight threes at one point. He also had a couple of games this season where he looked like the best point guard in the conference not named Trey Burke.

Other contenders: I never thought that I would be saying this, but Ohio State looks like a serious challenger for the Big Ten tournament crown. They get either Purdue or Nebraska in the quarters before a potential rematch with Michigan State in the semifinals. I think the Spartans are a better basketball team, but with Aaron Craft’s ability to shut down Appling, they are a hot shooting night from their role players away from a trip to the finals.

And the, obviously, there is Michigan and Wisconsin. As impressive as the Badgers have been this season, I just can’t see them winning the Big Ten tournament, but that’s the thing about Bo Ryan’s program: they are always lurking just below the surface, waiting for someone to overlook them. Michigan was this close to beating Indiana on Sunday, and there is no question they have the talent to win this tournament. The problem? They have to win four games in four days, with the final three eventually being Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan State or Ohio State. That’s tough.

Sleeper: Purdue

The Boilermakers played really well late in the season, winning at Wisconsin and blowing out Minnesota to sandwich a loss to Michigan in a game that they probably should have win. Purdue has some quality guard play and an underrated youngster in the paint in AJ Hammons. If Matt Painter can get them to get stops, they have a favorable draw — relatively speaking — to the title game.

Deeper sleeper: Illinois and Minnesota

We’ve seen how good these two teams can be when they play well. Both were ranked in the top 15 at one point. Both have wins over Indiana. And both have also lost to Northwestern. They play in the 8-9 game. Someone has to win that before getting a rematch with the Hoosiers.

Studs:

– Trey Burke, Michigan: He’s our National Player of the Year.

– Cody Zeller, Indiana: This year’s national love affair has been with Victor Oladipo, but I have a feeling that Zeller is going to put on a show in the United Center this week.

– Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: He shoots a lot, but when he gets into a rhythm, he’s a lot of fun to watch. And he can carry the Buckeyes.

CBT Prediction: I’d love to pick something out of the ordinary here, but I just think that Indiana is going to flex their muscles. They’re the best team in the conference. I think they leave no doubt.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

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Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

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We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.