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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

VIDEO: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges puts down two monster alley-oops in return

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Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges returned to action on Wednesday night and he made his presence felt with some monster plays against Rutgers.

After missing seven games and the full month of December, Bridges finished with six points and six rebounds in his return as the Spartans ran past the Scarlet Knights.

(H/t: Big Ten Network)

Michigan State lands five-star 2017 forward Jaren Jackson Jr.

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Michigan State hauled in another important commitment on Thursday morning as five-star forward Jaren Jackson Jr. pledged to the Spartans.

The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Jackson is currently regarded as the No. 15 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2017 national rankings. A member of the gold-medal winning USA Basketball U17 World Championship team, Jackson was a breakout national performer on the Nike EYBL this spring with Spiece Indy Heat.

Jackson is the type of versatile forward who can knock down three-pointers but he also has some upside as a defender and rebounder. Not many players his size shoot 39 percent from three-point range and average nearly 2.0 blocks per game like Jackson did on the EYBL this spring and summer.

Michigan State’s Class of 2017 is now underway with Jackson and it gives the Spartans four five-star prospects in the last three classes after Deyonta Davis in 2015 and Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford in 2016. Tom Izzo has done a great job of adjusting his recruiting approach to targeting elite players and he’s been able to reload every year with potential one-and-done players the last few classes.

Jackson is an intriguing long-term prospect because he’s very young for his class (he committed on his 17th birthday today) and has a lot of skills that don’t come together too often in frontcourt players.

Michigan State gets on the board with Class of 2018 big man commitment

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Michigan State landed an in-state target on Thursday night as Class of 2018 big man Thomas Kithier pledged to head coach Tom Izzo.

The 6-foot-8 Kithier is currently regarded as a four-star prospect on Rivals as he comes in as the No. 90 overall prospect in the 2018 national rankings.

Recruiting in-state guys has always been a focal point for Izzo and Kithier comes from Macomb, Michigan. Attending Dakota High School, Kithier is a traditional big man with post moves who is trying to hone his face-up skills and perimeter abilities.

Kithier is Michigan State’s first commitment in the Class of 2018. The Spartans haven’t picked up anyone in the Class of 2017 yet and we’ll likely see both 2017 and 2018 be recruiting classes with plenty of scholarships to work with.

VIDEO: Miles Bridges throws down between-the-legs dunk

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When Miles Bridges made the decision to sign with Michigan State, the Spartans knew that they were getting one of the top prospects in the stacked Class of 2016. And as Bridges has shown during the summer, he’s going to bring some serious excitement to the Breslin Center this winter.

Thursday night at the Moneyball summer league Bridges threw down a between-the-legs dunk…in game action. Bridges had a clear lane with no one between he and the basket, and he took advantage of the situation to give the fans in attendance a show.

Not expecting Bridges to try this during a game this winter (imagine Tom Izzo’s reaction if he did), so getting the opportunity to see this skilled wing do so during the summer is adequate.

College names surface in reports regarding Lakers coaching vacancy

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With some NBA head coaching jobs opening up, it’s that time of year when the names of prominent college basketball head coaches get mentioned for such opportunities. Of course we’ve all become used to the annual rumors involving Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who has yet to move away from one of the top jobs in the sport.

His name is one that has come up in recent reports surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers’ opening, with Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie and Villanova’s Jay Wright among those being mentioned by various outlets as well.

Ollie, who led his alma mater to a national title in his second season at the helm, was mentioned in reports by both Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.

Ollie told ESPN’s Andy Katz on Monday that he has had no contact with the Lakers. He said he will always listen if called but it would take “something very special” to pull him away from UConn.

Ollie’s contract, which was signed after he led the Huskies to the national title in 2014, has a clause that would allow him to terminate his contract without penalty “on or after the one-year anniversary” of the departure of either athletic director Warde Manuel or UConn president Susan Herbst. Manuel left UConn in January to take over as athletic director at Michigan (his first official day was March 14), so a departure now would not meet the one-year requirement.

The buyout to leave for an NBA job would be $4 million until May 31, with the buyout amount dropping to $1 million after that date.

The latter report also named Wright, Calipari, Tom Izzo and Roy Williams as names the Lakers could consider for their opening. Wright led Villanova to its second national title earlier this month, and his Wildcats have won the last three Big East regular season titles.

NBA franchises have been more willing to look at successful college coaches in recent years, with Fred Hoiberg and Billy Donovan making the jump to the pros last season. Hoiberg took over in Chicago, but things didn’t go as planned for the Bulls as they missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. As for Donovan, he’s running the show in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are up three games to one on the Mavericks.

Both coaches took jobs with (at first glance) the talent needed to be successful, which is a far cry from the jobs Calipari and Rick Pitino took with the Nets and Celtics respectively during the mid-1990’s. Does the Lakers job fit that mold? Having won a total of 38 games in their last two seasons, not to mention needing to fill the hole left by the retirement of Kobe Bryant, one can argue that this would not be an optimal job for a college coach to take.

But with the Lakers being a franchise that’s won 16 titles, the appeal of leading such a storied franchise can’t be denied even with the recent struggles.