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2014 Big Ten Tournament Preview: Can Michigan State turn things around?

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I’m not sure there is a conference in the country where there is more at stake in the conference tournament.

Even with Sunday’s loss at Nebraska, Wisconsin has a chance to play their was into a No. 1 seed if they can win the conference tournament. Michigan probably can’t be a No. 1 seed, but winning the league tournament should lock them into a No. 2 seed. And neither of those teams have the highest ceiling of anyone in the conference. That would be Michigan State, who is a national title contender if they can get their act together. Iowa is also trying to figure their issues out, as the Hawkeyes look like a top 15 team and play like a No. 8 seed.

Then you get to the bubble, where both Nebraska and Minnesota have their NCAA tournament hopes pinned on their performance this week.

The Huskers are probably in a better spot than the Gophers. If Nebraska, who gets a first round bye, lucks out and gets Ohio State in the quarterfinals, they are probably going to get in whether or not they win that game. Minnesota, on the other hand, probably needs to win at least two games if they want to dance. They are on the outside looking in as of today, and beating Penn State isn’t going to change that.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 13-16

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

Final: March 16, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Michigan Wolverines

Despite losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the draft, and with Mitch McGary biding his time on the bench with a back injury, John Beilein somehow managed to do something that he wasn’t able to do last season: win the outright Big Ten regular season title. That’s what happens when Nik Stauskas turns into an all-american and Caris LeVert puts together an all-Big Ten caliber campaign. I’m not sure there is a pair of wing players that were better in conference play than those two.

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Perhaps the biggest difference between Michigan now and Michigan four months ago has been the play of Derrick Walton at the point. He’s not Trey Burke, at least not yet, but as his confidence has grown, his ability to handle the rigors of running an offense at this level of basketball has increased exponentially. He’s become more than just the guy that dribbles the ball up the court. He’s a player, and with defenses keying on Stauskas and LeVert, that makes a major difference.

And if they lose?: Michigan State Spartans

I’m going to ride the Spartan bandwagon until the season is over. All the proof I needed was in that second half against Iowa, when Keith Appling finally played like Keith Appling and Michigan State beat the brakes off the Hawkeyes for 20 minutes. That’s the key to any and all success Michigan State will have this month. Appling just isn’t right right now. I don’t know if it’s the wrist injury itself, the fact that sitting out has killed his conditioning or if it is as simple as Appling’s confidence being in the gutter. Whatever the case may be, if he can find the form that he had in that second half against Iowa, Sparty will be awesome once again. And if he can’t? It won’t be a great month in East Lansing.

Other Contenders:

  • Wisconsin Badgers: Outside of the three-week stretch when the Badgers lost five out of six games, they’ve been nearly unbeatable, with their only loss coming at Nebraska on the final day of the regular season. Wisconsin has quite a bit on the line in this tournament. Win it all, and they could be the last No. 1 seed.
  • Ohio State Buckeyes: Ohio State is as tough as anyone defensively. Their issue is the ability to score the ball. On the nights that guys like Lenzelle Smith and Shannon Scott are scoring, the Buckeyes can beat anyone in the league. On the nights they aren’t, the Buckeyes can lose to anyone. Such is life.

Sleeper: Iowa Hawkeyes

On paper, Iowa looks like one of the best teams in the league. They’re talented, they’re deep and they have two of the best players in the conference in Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White. But they haven’t been able to win close games against elite competition all season long, and they haven’t played a lick of defense for the better part of a month. So which team shows up in Indy?

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Deeper Sleeper: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Tim Miles has done a tremendous job with this Nebraska program, but the question I have about them is whether or not they can beat teams away from home. They did win at Michigan State, but so did Illinois. The Huskers are good — they are the fourth seed after all — so it will be interesting to see what they can do this week.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway is the best player on the Huskers. He’s fun to watch because he has a penchant for hitting ridiculously tough shots in critical moments. And his hair is awesome.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Indiana has struggled this season, but it’s not Ferrell’s fault. He’s had a terrific sophomore campaign.
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky is the latest in a long line of talented Wisconsin big men. His ability to score in the post and be a threat in pick-and-pop actions makes him perfect for Wisconsin’s swing offense.
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan: Nik Stauskas gets all the attention for the Wolverines, but LeVert is actually the most improved player on the roster. He may be the team’s most indispensable player as well.

CBT Prediction: Michigan State over Michigan

Best [name of league] Tournament Memory:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Denzel Valentine claims the top spot

Denzel Valentine
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1. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: I mean, is this really a surprise for anyone at this point?The kid is averaging 19.9 points, 8.9 boards and 8.6 assists and shooting 42.6 percent from three. He has two triple-doubles where he scored 29 points. His “off night” came when he went for 17 points, six boards and five assists in a win over Providence. And he’s doing all this as Michigan State has climbed their way into the top three. This decision was not difficult.

2. Kris Dunn, Providence: He was the best player in the country entering the season. He’s probably still the best player in the country at this point in the season; his fall from No. 1 has less to do with him than it does what the other guy has done this season. Dunn’s number are about what you would have expected this season — 19.0 points, 6.7 assists, 6.1 boards, 3.7 steals — but what solidified him in this spot was what he did down the stretch in the win over Arizona, notching 11 points and two assists as the Frairs used a 15-7 run in the final 4:30 to win.

3. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse: There hasn’t been a more surprising team in the country than Syracuse this season, and their best player has been the former Duke transfer, Gbinije. Through the 6-0 start for the Orange, he is averaging 19.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.8 steals while shooting 51.6 percent from three on a team that is relying on the three-ball to win them games. He played his best ball last week during the Battle 4 Atlantis, where he led the Orange to the title with wins over UConn and Texas A&M. The Orange look like they are the real deal this year, and Gbinije’s emergence as a full-fledged star at the point guard spot is the biggest reason why.

4. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: We saw how good Ulis is when he went for 18 points, six assists, four boards, two steals and no turnovers in the win over Duke in the Champions Classic. But we saw just how valuable he is to this Kentucky team on Monday night when he sat out with an elbow injury. The Wildcats and 15 turnovers and eight assists while struggling to put away Illinois State at home. With point guards, you don’t usually understand their impact until they aren’t available..

5. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen cooled off a bit last week after his torrid start to the season, “only” averaging 18.0 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists as the Blue Devils rolled over Utah State and Yale. On the season, he’s posting numbers that are positively J.J. Redick-ian: 22.5 points while shooting 48.6 percent from three. If he wasn’t atrocious when Duke lost to Kentucky at the Champions Classic — their biggest game of the season — he might actually be the Player of the Year at this point.

6. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield has lived up to the hype that he had entering the season, averaging 22.0 points and 5.5 boards while shooting 52.4 percent from three to start the season. The Oklahoma star struggled in the win over Wisconsin, but he went for 30 points as the Sooners went into Memphis and knocked off the Tigers earlier this season.

7. Wayne Selden, Kansas: Is Wayne Selden — dare I say it — starting to live up to his potential? Through six games this season, the answer is, unequivocally, yes. He’s averaging 17.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 boards. He’s shooting 58.6 percent from three. He was the best player for the Jayhawks in their come-from-behind win over Vanderbilt in the Maui Invitational. He’s playing with confidence. He’s playing like a go-to guy. He’s playing like the Wayne Selden that was supposed to show up on campus two years ago. If he can do this consistently, the Jayhawks are a different team.

8. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Iowa State is in a bit of an interesting situation. They’re rolling over their opponents, having beaten three high-major teams in their first five games, but their best win is probably over Chattanooga of the SoCon. In other words, they really haven’t been tested like, say, Kansas or Michigan has been. That said, Niang’s numbers under new head coach Steve Prohm are as good as they ever were under Fred Hoiberg: 16.8 points, 5.6 boards, 4.0 assists, 2.0 turnovers with shooting splits of 51.6/41/2/92.9. We should still be in a holding pattern with Niang — and the Cyclones in general — until we see them play some stronger competition, but the early returns on the Prohm era have been terrific.

9. Ben Simmons, LSU: Look. I get it. The Simmons hype train was out of control in the first week or two of the season. And while the numbers that he’s putting up are insane — 16.8 points, 15.0 boards, 5.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks — he’s doing it on a team that hasn’t beaten anyone, lost to two middle-of-the-pack power conference foes and just fell at Charleston on Monday night in a game that Simmons shot 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers. That said, he’s still one of the three best players in college basketball and he’s going to be the first college player taken in the draft. He still deserves to be on this list, but that will eventually change if his — and LSU’s performances — don’t.

10. Isaac Haas, Purdue: Haas may be a strange name to have on this list because so few people have heard of him. He’s a 7-foot-2 sophomore that only stepped into the starting lineup this season because A.J. Hammons was in Matt Painter’s doghouse, but he embraced the role and made it his own. On a team that’s winning because of their dominating front line, he’s been the best of the bunch: 15.0 points and 6.5 boards while shooting 75.6 percent from the floor and 73.7 percent from the foul line. Here’s the kicker: he’s doing all of that in just 19 minutes per game! He’s averaging an insane 31.6 points-per-40 minutes! He’s going to come back to earth eventually, but for now, let’s celebrate how utterly dominant the big man has been.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Maryland/North Carolina highlights ACC/Big Ten games

Marcus Paige
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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Marcus Paige makes his season debut as these former ACC rivals match up as top-ten ranked opponents for the first time since 1999. The return of the senior guard for the Tar Heels gives them more consistency when it comes to perimeter shooting and Paige should help North Carolina’s spacing. Maryland gets a great early-season road test as they’ve had to come from behind late in a handful of games early this season. The Terps remain unbeaten at 6-0 as Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon has looked good and sophomore point guard Melo Trimble has played well.

CBT’s Rob Dauster is covering this game and will have more on it tonight.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Purdue at Pitt, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Both teams enter this one undefeated as the tough and balanced Boilermakers give the Panthers a legitimate test. Sophomore center Isaac Haas has been tremendous for Purdue and he’s complimented by senior center A.J. Hammons and freshman power forward Caleb Swanigan. Michael Young and Jamel Artis are off to big starts for Pitt, who hasn’t been tested much in their 4-0 start. This home game gives Jamie Dixon’s team a chance to prove they’re for real before ACC play begins. Purdue will likely be without senior guard Rapheal Davis, who is recovering from a sprained MCL.


  • No. 8 Villanova stays within Philadelphia and travels to Saint Joseph’s as they try to stay unbeaten against the 4-1 Hawks. Josh Hart is having a great season and the Wildcats look good early.
  • Ohio State has really struggled early this season with three losses, but they have a big chance to correct things at home against No. 10 Virginia. The Cavaliers are playing at a faster pace this season, but their defense has still been very good. The Buckeyes have lost three straight games, including home games to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech.
  • It will also be the season debut for Cheick Diallo tonight as No. 4 Kansas hosts Loyola (MD) in their return home from a title at the Maui Invitational. Wayne Selden is playing tremendously and we’ll have to see if his hot shooting continues.
  • No. 5 Iowa State is trying to remain unbeaten as they play at home against North Dakota State. The Cyclones return as champions from the Emerald Coast Classic as their offense is rolling.
  • After an impressive showing at the Puerto Rico Classic, No. 21 Miami lost at home to Northeastern and has a tough road game against Nebraska. Pinnacle Bank Arena will be load and the Huskers are unbeaten at home this season as Andrew White has stepped up nicely.
  • Other ACC/Big Ten Challenge games going on include Michigan visiting N.C. State and Northwestern playing at Virginia Tech.


  • Wofford at Georgia Tech, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Richmond at Florida, 7:00 p.m. (SEC)
  • Oakland at Georgia, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • UMES at Georgetown, 7:00 p.m.
  • UT-Arlington at Texas, 8:00 p.m. (Longhorn)
  • Northwestern State at Arkansas, 9:00 p.m. (SEC)
  • Louisiana Tech at Memphis, 9:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • Arkansas State at Missouri, 9:00 p.m. (SEC)
  • Seattle at Cal, 10:00 p.m. (PAC12)