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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

POSTERIZED: Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy dunks on Rutgers defender

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Sometimes big dunks just sound different than others.

That was the case on Saturday as Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy threw down an emphatic dunk on Rutgers center C.J. Gettys.

This isn’t the first time the 6-foot-6 Murphy has caught a body at the rim this season. Murphy also had a big dunk to open the season against UL-Lafayette.

POSTERIZED: Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy catches a body at the rim

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Minnesota sophomore wing Jordan Murphy put down one of the best poster dunks of the opening night as he caught a body near the rim.

The 6-foot-6 Murphy had a clear path down the middle of the lane and wasn’t afraid to put it down on a UL Lafayette defender. Murphy finished with seven points in the contest as the Golden Gophers won 86-74 at home.

(H/t: Big Ten Network)

Minnesota wing Davonte Fitzgerald to miss the regular season with knee injury

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Minnesota lost a key rotation player this week as the school announced that forward Davonte Fitzgerald would miss the season with a torn ACL.

The 6-foot-8 Fitzgerald is a transfer from Texas A&M who was hoping to contribute for the Golden Gophers after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Fitzgerald injured his left knee during a noncontact drill and will require surgery.

With Fitzgerald missing the season, he’ll have not played in a game in 2 1/2 seasons if he’s healthy enough to see the floor for the 2017-18 season. As a sophomore at Texas A&M during the 2014-15 season, Fitzgerald put up 3.5 points and 1.6 rebounds per game as he saw his role diminish that helped lead to his transfer.

Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Under-pressure Pitino: ‘We’ve got to get this right’

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Richard Pitino’s fourth year as the coach at Minnesota has come with significant pressure to pull up the floundering men’s basketball program from the bottom of the Big Ten and help put an end to the off-the-court problems.

With the university president publicly expressing concern about Gophers players repeatedly getting in trouble, Pitino has begun a make-or-break season. Minutes after his first meeting with just-hired athletic director Mark Coyle on Thursday, Pitino sat down in his office for an interview with The Associated Press about his status and the state of the team.

“Obviously he’s coming in at a time when I’m not the most popular guy right now, and I understand that,” Pitino said of Coyle, who arrives from Syracuse. “But I’ve got to show him my vision. I’ve got to show him what I believe we’re all about. I’ve got to also show him what we need to do differently and how we can do it and make sure people are proud of the product on the court as well as off the court.”

Not only did the Gophers finish with an 8-23 record, but guards Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer were suspended for the final four games after a sex video appeared briefly on Dorsey’s social media accounts. Dorsey has left the program with the intent to transfer. Mason and McBrayer were reinstated.

Then center Reggie Lynch was jailed this week on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. He was released without charges filed, but the investigation is ongoing.

University President Eric Kaler, not yet halfway into his opening remarks at Coyle’s introductory news conference on Wednesday, singled out the team.

“Frankly, this has been a tough week and a tough couple of months for our men’s basketball program. I’m profoundly disappointed in the continuing episodes, poor judgment, alleged crimes, and it simply can’t continue,” Kaler said. “Mark is aware of my concerns and wherever he’s been, Mark’s commitment to integrity is unquestioned. I expect him to set a high bar and make sure this department makes news for winning Big Ten and national titles, and producing admirable and successful student athletes, and not for unacceptable behavior by anyone in the department.”

Pitino said he wasn’t surprised by Kaler’s reaction.

“When you win eight games and you have some off-the-court issues, that responsibility lies on me. It doesn’t lie on anybody else. So we’ve got to get it right,” Pitino said. “I certainly understand where he’s coming from.”

Thanks to an extension and raise granted last year by previous athletic director Norwood Teague, Pitino’s buyout ballooned to $7 million if he were to be fired this offseason. Coyle sounded prepared to play the good cop role in evaluating the coaches he’s now in charge of, including Pitino.

“It’s my job to come in, take a look at it and create accountability,” Coyle said, later adding: “I think I’m patient. No matter what coach you’re looking at or what program you’re looking at, I think it’s important that you understand everything around that program.”

Teague also permitted private jet usage overages for Pitino, who according to a university audit revealed this week spent $325,000 on such travel for recruiting between 2013-16. The coach’s contract only budgeted $150,000 for that period.

“Everything that we did was approved, so we never felt like we were doing anything wrong,” Pitino said. “And if there are things that we need to do differently to get better, we’ll do them.”

Pitino said there has been extra communication between him and his players recently with regard to off-the-court behavior. He said his staff has been making arrangements to advise the team in that area.

“That’s priority number one, making sure our guys are educated properly and understand what’s at stake and what’s expected of them,” Pitino said.