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March Madness 2017: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big Ten Player of the Year: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

A no-brainer for this award, Swanigan posted a ridiculous 25 double-doubles this season while averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Nearly unguardable in the post without a double team at the college level, Swanigan has expanded his offensive game as he hurts defenses from every level of the floor. A 44 percent three-point shooter who also makes 79 percent of his free throws, Swanigan has rare touch for a player his size.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

Minnesota looked like they might be in serious trouble entering this season but Pitino has done a remarkable job of helping turn things around while saving his job. After only eight Big Ten wins the last two seasons, the Golden Gophers finished with 11 Big Ten wins this season as they finished in fourth place. Mixing veterans, transfers and true freshmen, Minnesota has a top-15 defense and the future looks solid.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (POY)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: The Terps lost four starters but Trimble (16.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.4 rpg) was once again one of the nation’s most clutch players. Trimble scored Maryland’s game-winning points five times in the final 30 seconds this season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ clearly emerged as Wisconsin’s best player this season, putting up 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Defensively, Happ is perhaps the Big Ten’s best player.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: One of the nation’s best offensive players, Jok scored in bunches (2o.2 ppg) but also improved his all-around game (5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg) while leading the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 92 percent.
  • Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan: Finally healthy for a full season, Walton was brilliant in his senior season as he gets a slight nod over Nate Mason. Walton had good numbers (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg) and was very efficient (43% FG, 41% 3PT, 85% FT)

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Nate Mason, Minnesota
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Tai Webster, Nebraska
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Big Ten Tournament moves east to Washington D.C. for the first time this season as it will be very intriguing to see which fanbases travel to catch this event.

As for the tournament action itself, this has been a strange year for the Big Ten.

Since the committee didn’t give the Big Ten a top-four seed during February’s early bracket reveal, we know that the conference likely has work to do to get even one top-four seed. With the way Purdue has played lately, they have the best chance to win this event and gain a respectable seed, but the Big Ten is going to have to prove itself in March with some pretty undesirable seeds.

The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

Final: Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m. EST

Favorite: Purdue

The Boilermakers are the easy favorite for this event as they won the Big Ten regular season by two full games and enter this week as winners of eight of their last nine games. With the Big Ten’s best player in Caleb Swanigan and a great supporting cast that was built to play around Swanigan’s unique skillset, the Boilers are motivated to earn a better NCAA tournament seed by winning this event. Matt Painter made that clear in the postgame interview following the Northwestern win.

And if they lose?: Wisconsin

Based solely on recent play, Wisconsin has no business being in the title conversation this week. The Badgers had lost five of six games before Sunday’s win over Minnesota as they went into a freefall. But the rest of the Big Ten is still very mediocre and Wisconsin has a veteran group that knows how to win in tournament settings. The win over the Golden Gophers was convincing enough that Wisconsin might have figured things out just in time.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Maryland: As long as Melo Trimble is on the floor, you can’t count out Maryland. One of the nation’s elite guards is still great in close games and he has plenty of talent around him.
  • Minnesota: The Big Ten’s biggest surprise has an elite defense anchored by Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, and an offense led by breakout guard Nate Mason.

Sleeper: Iowa

The Hawkeyes have quietly crept into the bubble picture by winning four straight — including impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. The Big Ten Tournament draw also happens to lay out very nicely for Iowa. Potential matchups in the first three rounds come against Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland — three of the four teams Iowa just beat. With something to play for, a potent star senior scorer in Peter Jok and a favorable draw, Iowa could be a team to watch in D.C.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Illinois: A shocking road loss to Rutgers might leave Illinois out either way. A win over Michigan in the first round has to happen at the very least and Illinois might even have to beat No. 1 seed Purdue to get in.
  • Iowa: If Iowa beats Indiana and gets the best of the Badgers again in the quarterfinals then they might be dancing.

Defining moment of the season: The Big Ten didn’t have a lot of great moments this season but Purdue clinching the Big Ten title against rival Indiana on Senior Day was pretty cool.

CBT Prediction: Purdue over Wisconsin

Peter Jok will return to Iowa for senior season

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Iowa received some big news on Friday as junior guard Peter Jok will return for his senior year, the school confirmed.

The 6-foot-5 Jok was an effective No. 2 scorer for the Hawkeyes last season and is capable of being an All-Big Ten player as a senior because he’ll be asked to be a go-to scorer. As a junior, Jok averaged 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game as he shot 40 percent from three-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line.

With Jarrod Uthoff exhausting his eligibility, Jok will be asked to take over next season and he could be the type of player to average 20 points per game. Jok only averaged 27.7 minutes per game last season, so he could be in line for a big season if he can get to the free-throw line a lot and play some more minutes overall.

 

VIDEO: No. 7 Iowa beats No. 10 Temple in overtime on Adam Woodbury buzzer-beating putback

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Iowa was able to hold off No. 10 seed Temple as the Hawkeyes escaped with a 72-70 overtime win as senior center Adam Woodbury tipped in Mike Gesell’s miss at the buzzer for the win. The win means No. 7 seed Iowa will advance in the South Region in Brooklyn.

Woodbury was in the right place at the right time (and might have given a little bit of a push?) on the putback as he finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

Temple tied the game to end regulation as senior Quenton DeCosey was fouled shooting the tying 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. DeCosey drained all three free throws to end regulation tied at 63.

The No. 7 seed Hawkeyes (22-10) had lost six of its last eight games entering the tournament but led for most of the game thanks to 23 points from senior Jarrod Uthoff. Junior Peter Jok also chipped in 16 points and Iowa made a lot of little plays to secure the victory.

Senior point guard Mike Gesell (four points, five assists) made a key strip after an offensive rebound that gave the Hawkeyes possession with a minute left while the Hawkeyes had a key tapout for an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession to get fouled and making the clinching free throws.

Iowa only shot 34 percent (24-for-69) from the field and 25 percent (7-for-28) from the field but they were able to win a grind-it-out game, which is a positive sign for them. The Hawkeyes only had one turnover for the game though, which helped them overcome a lot of other difficulties.

Temple (21-12) was led by Quenton DeCosey, as the senior finished with 24 points. Josh Brown finished with 16 points and Jaylen Bond chipped in 14 points for the Owls as they went 22 percent (4-for-18) from 3-point range.

Iowa moves on to face No. 2 seed Villanova in the second round of the South Region on Sunday as these two teams will play in Brooklyn. The Hawkeyes have won NCAA tournament games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1996-97.

2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: Matchups we should root for

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Now that the 68-team field has been revealed, it’s time to get into the conversations about how the teams match up. There’s also the chance to talk about which games we hope to see happen in the second and regional semifinal rounds. Below are some choices with the obvious caveat that, just to offer up one example, a Stony Brook or Chattanooga fan won’t be rooting for a possible Kentucky/Indiana matchup in the second round since that means their team would be eliminated.

An exercise geared more towards the casual viewer who latches onto attractive individual match-ups and storylines, here are our choices.

SECOND ROUND GAMES YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR

No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed Indiana (East Region)

By now you know all about the recent history of this series, as the two programs haven’t met since the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The committee can say whatever about not purposely matching the Wildcats and Hoosiers, but either way both are one win away from making it happen. The point guard matchup alone (Tyler Ulis vs. Yogi Ferrell) will be worth the price of admission, and given the hopes and expectations of both fan bases the atmosphere should be intense.

No. 3 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 6 seed Texas (West Region)

The longtime rivals have already met once this season, with Texas A&M winning the quarterfinal matchup in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the stakes this time around would be much higher, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The question for Texas going into this week is whether or not big man Cameron Ridley (foot) will be able to play; a return to the court would help the Longhorns deal with the front court tandem of Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones. Also there are talented guards, led by Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and A&M’s Danuel House.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

No. 2 seed Villanova vs. No. 7 seed Iowa (South Region)

Some of the individual match-ups on the court, most notably how Villanova would defend Jarrod Uthoff and how the Hawkeyes would account for Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, will be interesting if these two teams meet. What also makes this interesting is the pressure on both. Villanova’s failed to get out of the first weekend in each of the last two tournaments, and Iowa’s had issues with late-season tailspins of their own. Which “streak” comes to an end?

No. 4 seed California vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

These are two of the most talented teams in the field, with both receiving the label of “team capable of making a Final Four run” before the brackets were revealed. The Golden Bears have a rotation that includes possible first round picks in Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace, and Maryland counters with a talented freshman big man of their own in Diamond Stone and sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. Whoever wins has a shot at knocking off top seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 9 seed Providence (East)

The Tar Heels and Friars met in the NCAA tournament two years ago, with North Carolina surviving an outstanding 36-point performance from Bryce Cotton. This time around the ACC champs would face the task of corralling Kris Dunn, with forward Ben Bentil being a test for Brice Johnson and the rest of the North Carolina front court. The Friars will need more from their supporting cast, but this is the kind of game that could churn out an excellent individual effort viewers won’t soon forget.

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest Region)

The Bulldogs will clearly have their work cut out for them against No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round, so who knows if they even get to this point. But a matchup of three of the top big men in the country would be fun to watch. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, and both Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were in the conversation for WCC Player of the Year. Would also give NBA types the chance to evaluate these three against quality interior competition.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

THE BEST POTENTIAL SWEET 16 GAMES

No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

You could also put Cal in this spot, as either team has the ability from a talent standpoint to challenge the top overall seed. But Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon vs. Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham and Wayne Selden Jr.? Would be entertaining, that’s for sure.

No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 3 seed West Virginia (East)

If you were to put together a “pound for pound” ranking of the toughest teams in the field, the Musketeers and Mountaineers would definitely be in the conversation; neither team is backing down from anyone. Having Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton (WVU), Jalen Reynolds and James Farr (Xavier) all in the paint would be fun, as would seeing how the Musketeer guards deal with the West Virginia pressure.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (East)

Two of the sport’s most storied programs meeting with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line? Cool. There would be quality match-ups across the board but especially on the perimeter, with Ulis and Jamal Murray leading the way for Kentucky and Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige doing so for the Tar Heels.

No. 2 seed Oklahoma vs. No. 3 seed Texas A&M (West)

Two prolific scorers on the court in Buddy Hield and Danuel House, and both teams have more than just one headliner in their respective perimeter rotations. The question for Oklahoma would be whether or not they’d have enough in the post to counter Texas A&M’s deep front court.

No. 2 seed Michigan State vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest)

Two of the nation’s best players would be on the same court in Chicago, with Michigan State being led by Denzel Valentine and Jakob Poeltl doing so for the Runnin’ Utes. Utah’s backcourt has made strides throughout the course of this season, but that would be put to the test against the Spartans with Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris also in the fold.

No. 1 seed Virginia vs. No. 5 seed Iowa State (Midwest) 

The difference in styles would provide some entertainment here, with the Cavaliers having their version of the pack line defense and one of the nation’s best guards in Malcolm Brogdon. Iowa State doesn’t lack for talent but there are depth issues, especially if Jameel McKay isn’t fully engaged. Would make for an interesting chess match.

No. 20 Iowa loses to Illinois, suffering fifth loss in its last six games

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Having lost four of their last five games of the regular season, No. 20 Iowa looked to establish some positive momentum at the Big Ten tournament this weekend. A team that some believed to be the best in the conference at the end of January has fallen on hard times of late, and that continued Thursday afternoon as they lost to Illinois 68-66 in Indianapolis.

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have now lost five of their last six games. And even with their efforts to fight back from double-digit deficits on multiple occasions Thursday, one has to wonder if this team has the confidence needed to turn things around ahead of the NCAA tournament.

Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, who have led the way offensively all season long, combined to score 50 points for Iowa. But, as has been the case in multiple games during this streak of losses, they didn’t receive much help from the supporting cast. Remove the eight points scored by Nicholas Baer off the bench, and the other Hawkeyes combined to score a total of eight points. It’s incredibly tough to win games when that’s the case, whether it’s against another NCAA tournament-caliber team or one in Illinois that’s playing simply to keep its season alive.

Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell combined to dish out 14 assists, but they also combined to score just three points (all from Gesell) on 1-for-13 shooting from the field. And center Adam Woodbury shot 1-for-7 from the field, scoring two points and grabbing ten rebounds.

During their 2-6 run, with the wins coming over Minnesota and Michigan, the lack of production from the “supporting cast” has been a major issue for Iowa. And given how long this has been the case, does Iowa have what it takes to turn things around? It would be unfair to hold the last two seasons against Iowa because this is a different group, but given past setbacks that’s going to be a question that asked quite often between now and next week.

The NCAA tournament is about match-ups, but a team’s mindset is also an important factor. And in the case of Iowa, they’re mired in a slump at the worst possible time.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 5 Xavier, No. 8 Iowa suffer road losses

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GAME OF THE DAY: Ohio State 68, No. 8 Iowa 64

Ohio State now has 11 Big Ten wins, but only three have come against teams not in the bottom five of the conference standings. That’s what made this result, with Marc Loving scoring 25 points, so important for a team that still has work to do when it comes to getting into the NCAA tournament. As for Iowa, they’ve now lost four of their last five games with their offensive struggles being the big reason why. This result also means that Indiana has clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, which they can earn outright with a win at Iowa Tuesday night.

IMPORANT OUTCOMES

Seton Hall 90, No. 5 Xavier 81: The Pirates likely punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with this win, leading by as much as 21 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Desi Rodriguez was sensational for the Pirates, finishing with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, and Isaiah Whitehead added 22 to go along with five assists. Seton Hall’s turnover count was a bit high (18), but they did more than enough to ensure that the followed up Thursday’s win over Providence with another quality result.

Pittsburgh 76, No. 15 Duke 62: The Panthers added a needed quality win to its résumé, as they punished the Blue Devils on the glass. Pittsburgh grabbed better than 55 percent of its available misses, with Chris Jones and Sheldon Jeter combining for seven of the team’s 16 offensive boards. Jamel Artis led five Panthers in double figures with 17 points, and James Robinson celebrated “Senior Day” with 14 points and seven assists.

STARRED

Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson, Memphis: Both posted double-doubles in the Tigers’ win over Tulsa. Goodwin finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds, and Lawson racked up 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall: 27 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in the Pirates’ 90-81 win over No. 5 Xavier.

Damyean Dotson, Houston: 22 points, 14 rebounds and three assists in Houston’s 75-68 win at Connecticut.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso: 25 points and 15 rebounds in the Crusaders’ two-point win at Green Bay.

STRUGGLED

Brandon Taylor, Penn State: Taylor shot just 1-for-6 from the field, scoring two points before fouling out of the Nittany Lions’ 88-57 loss at Michigan State.

Derryck Thornton, Duke: Five points on 2-for-9 shooting, two assists and three turnovers in the Blue Devils’ 76-62 loss at Pittsburgh.

Sterling Gibbs, Connecticut: Five points (1-for-5 FG), three assists and three turnovers in the Huskies’ 75-68 home loss to Houston.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 6 Michigan State took care of business in East Lansing, beating Penn State 88-57. Denzel Valentine led the way with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Spartans, who have won four straight games.
  • No. 13 Oregon completed an undefeated season at home and also maintained sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 with an 86-73 win over Washington. Elgin Cook finished with 26 points and seven rebounds and Dillon Brooks added 19 points for the Ducks, who close out the regular season at the L.A. schools next week.
  • No. 24 SMU moved back into a tie for first in the American with a 74-53 home win over Tulane. Ben Moore led a balanced offensive effort with 16 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots, and Sterling Brown added 15 points and four assists.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • While Connecticut is well-positioned to return to the NCAA tournament, they did themselves no favors with a 75-68 home loss to Houston. UConn’s defense was the issue, as the Cougars managed to shoot 51.9 percent from the field.
  • Saint Joseph’s avoided what would have been a bad loss, pulling away in the second half to beat Saint Louis 77-63. DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles combined to score 45 points, with Bembry adding eight rebounds and six assists to his game-high 27 points.
  • Creighton, which has a lot of work to do to get back into the bubble conversation, steamrolled St. John’s 100-59 in Omaha. Seniors Geoffrey Groselle and James Milliken combined to score 41 points for the Bluejays, and St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin was ejected in the second half.
  • Tennessee State picked up a confidence boost of sorts with an 87-72 win over OVC regular season champion Belmont. Keron DeShields scored 25 for the Tigers, who will be the four-seed in next week’s OVC tournament and could face Belmont in the semifinals.
  • Monmouth locked up the outright MAAC regular season title with a 77-68 win over Niagara. Next up for King Rice’s Hawks will be either the Purple Eagles or Quinnipiac in Friday’s MAAC quarterfinals.
  • Iona will be the two-seed at the MAAC tournament, and they capped their regular season with an 86-78 home win over Canisius. Tim Cluess’ Gaels will play either Canisius or Marist in their quarterfinal matchup Friday.
  • Tulsa suffered a damaging loss as it looks to earn an NCAA tournament bid, falling 92-82 at Memphis. Shaq Goodwin led the Tigers with 28 points while also grabbing 11 boards, and Dedric Lawson finished with 27, 12 and six assists.
  • Valparaiso, already the Horizon League regular season champion, moved to 26-5 on the season with a 70-68 win at Green Bay. Alec Peters finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Wisconsin won for the tenth time in the last 11 games, beating Michigan 68-57 in Madison. Nigel Hayes and Vitto Brown combined to score 30 points and grab 11 boards for the Badgers, who are now part of a four-team logjam for second place in the Big Ten.
  • Nevada, which went 5-13 in Mountain West play a season ago, moved to 10-6 under first-year head coach Eric Musselman with an 87-80 overtime win over Colorado State. D.J. Fenner and Tryon Criswell combined to score 47 points and Cameron Oliver, who’s been the conference’s best freshman, finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Wolf Pack.
  • Oregon State took care of business in its home finale, beating Washington State 69-49. Gary Payton II (who brought his father’s number out of the rafters for Senior Night), Tres Tinkle and Drew Eubanks scored 13 points apiece for the Beavers.
  • Virginia Tech locked up a first-round bye in the ACC tournament with an 81-74 win at Wake Forest. Justin Bibbs led four Hokies in double figures with 22 points.
  • California extended its win streak to seven straight games with an 87-65 win over USC in Berkeley. Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown scored 18 apiece for the Golden Bears, who went 18-0 at Haas Pavilion this season.