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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

Rutgers adds Class of 2016 wing Eugene Omoruyi

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Rutgers desperately needs scholarship players for new head coach Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights helped address that problem on Wednesday as Canadian Class of 2016 wing Eugene Omoruyi committed.

The 6-foot-7 Omoruyi is described by many as a late bloomer since he just started playing basketball in the 10th grade after previously playing soccer. A versatile wing who spent his senior season at Orangeville Prep, Omoruyi reportedly averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game as a senior.

With Rutgers only having 10 scholarship players before this, Omoruyi gives them some additional depth on the wing and another body in practice. Pikiell’s first class at Rutgers now includes wing Issa Thiam, guard Matt Bullock and juco forward Candido Sa.

Bryn Forbes leads No. 2 Michigan State over Rutgers

AP Photo/Al Goldis
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Bryn Forbes scored a career-high 33 points, hitting a conference record 11 3-pointers, and No. 2 Michigan State woke up in the second half to rout Rutgers 97-66 on Wednesday night, handing the Scarlet Knights their 17th straight loss.

Eron Harris added 15 points, Denzel Valentine 14 for Spartans (25-5, 12-5 Big Ten), who made 16 3-pointers in winning their fifth straight game and ninth in 10. Matt Costello had 10 points and matched his career-best with 15 rebounds.

Forbes’ 11th 3-pointer came on a fadeaway and it broke the single-game record of 10 set by John Diebler of Ohio State against Penn State in 2011.

If Michigan State beats Ohio State on Saturday in its regular-season finale it will earn a double bye in the conference’s upcoming tournament and the No. 2 seed.

Corey Sanders, who was returning from a four-game suspension, had 19 points for Rutgers (6-23, 0-17). The Scarlet Knights have now lost 32 consecutive conference games dating to last season.

Rutgers needs to beat Minnesota, the second worst team in the conference, to avoid a winless season in the league.

For a half, Rutgers had many wondering whether it was going to pull off the greatest upset in program history, topping the win against No. 4 Wisconsin last season.

The Scarlet Knights shot 67 percent from the field, making 16 of 24 shots, with Sanders leading the way with 15.

Only a 3-pointer by Forbes – of course – with 8.4 seconds left in the half gave Michigan State a 43-41 lead, and had many wondering what was going on with the Spartans.

They answered the question in the second half, outscoring Rutgers 20-3 in less than five minutes to take a 63-44 lead. Forbes, who was 11 of 16 from long range, hit three 3-pointers in the run and that was it.

If there was a lowlight in the half for Rutgers, it was Denzel Valentine dunking on a 5-on-none break with 5:55 to go.

Earlier in the half, Spartans coach Tom Izzo walked on the court and screamed at Valentine for something that miffed him.

TIP-INS

Michigan State: The Spartans tied a school record, hitting 17 three-pointers in a 96-62 win against Rutgers on Jan. 31. Coming into this game, they were leading the nation, making 43.3 percent from long range, with Forbes leading the nation individually at 50 percent.

Rutgers: After its hot shooting first half, the Scarlet Knights shot 8 of 28 in the second half in being outscored 54-25.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts Ohio State on Saturday.

Rutgers hosts Minnesota on Saturday.

VIDEO: Michigan State’s Bryn Forbes hits Big Ten record 11 three-pointers

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The odds were certainly stacked against Rutgers Wednesday night, as they were facing a team in No. 2 Michigan State that arrived in Piscataway having won eight of its last nine games. Michigan State moved to 9-1 over their last ten with a 97-66 win, blowing out the Scarlet Knights in the second half after leading by just two at the half.

And in the win, Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes set a Big Ten record with 11 made three-pointers. Forbes, who scored all 33 of his points on three-pointers, shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc against a defense that at times appeared to forget that he’s one of the best perimeter shooters in the country.

After shooting 42.7 percent from three last season, Forbes is knocking down those shots at a 50 percent clip for Tom Izzo and Wednesday night he did his damage in 27 minutes of action. And over Michigan State’s last five games, all wins, Forbes shot 61.4 percent (27-for-44) from distance.

Video credit: Big Ten Network

Jok has a career-high 29 as No. 9 Iowa beats Rutgers

AP Photo/Mel Evans
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Peter Jok scored a career-high 29 points and No. 9 Iowa shook off pesky Rutgers in the second half in posting a harder-than-expected 90-76 victory on Thursday night.

Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons added 20 points apiece as the Hawkeyes (15-3, 6-0) won their eighth straight game and their 12th in a row in the Big Ten Conference, dating to last season.

Iowa used a zone defense late in the first half in a 16-7 run that gave it a 45-37 lead, and it opened the game up in the second half with its long-range shooting.

Mike Williams had 17 points to lead Rutgers (6-14, 0-7), which was coming off a 50-point loss to No. 22 Purdue on Monday, its worst home loss.

Jonathan Laurent, who was returning after missing four games with a concussion, added 14 points and Corey Sanders had 12 for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost their last 22 conference games, including tournament play.

Jok, who is the conference’s reigning player of the week, hit 10 of 19 from the field, and matched his season-high with five 3-pointers. He scored 10 of the Hawkeyes first 13 points and his last basket cut short Rutgers final rally.

His previous high was 24 points against Florida State earlier this season.

The Scarlet Knights put up a much better fight than against Purdue on Monday as they rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit and took a 30-29 lead on a basket by Williams with 4:26 to play.

Iowa soon switched to a zone and it opened a 45-37 lead as Clemmons scored six points and Jok and Uthoff added five in the 16-7 run.

The Hawkeyes were never threatened in the second half as Uthoff hit three 3-pointers in helping build a 19-point lead with 7:23 to play.

TIP-INS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes No. 9 ranking is the highest since Fran McCaffery took as the head coach in 2010, and the lowest since a No. 7 in November 2001. It also marks the first time Iowa has had its football and basketball teams ranked in the top 10 in the same season.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights picked up their board game just days after Purdue outrebounded them 69-23. Iowa only held a 38-33 advantage with Adam Woodbury leading the way with 11. D.J. Foreman had nine for Rutgers.

UP NEXT

Iowa hosts No. 22 Purdue on Saturday.

Rutgers visits Michigan on Wednesday.

Online:

AP college basketball website: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/

BIG TEN CONFERENCE RESET: Michigan State reigns, questions abound after top three

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Big Ten.

BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Valentine isn’t only the best player in the Big Ten this season, he’s been the best player in college basketball, period. He’s slowed a bit the last two weeks — and he’ll be out for at least another week with a knee injury — but as of today, and with all due respect to the likes of Melo Trimble and Caris LeVert, there really isn’t a discussion to be had. Valentine should be the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year right now.

That certainly doesn’t mean things can’t change by March. If Trimble leads Maryland to an outright Big Ten title he’ll have a strong case, as will LeVert or Jarrod Uthoff if they can find a way to steer their team to a tournament berth and a top 25 ranking come the end of the year. And all of that is assuming Valentine comes back from his knee injury totally healthy. But we’re talking today, and as of today, this is an easy pick.

ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue

[2015 REVIEW: Best Dunks | Best Games]

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. Maryland will be challenged: Entering the season, the Terps were the clear-cut favorite in the Big Ten race. With Melo Trimble returning and getting flanked by newcomers Rasheed Sulaimon, Robert Carter and Diamond Stone, they a trendy pick to be preseason No. 1. And while they haven’t quite been as dominant as many thought, they will head into Big Ten play with their lone loss coming at North Carolina in what was arguably their best game of the season. But here’s the kicker: the Terps are not the favorite to win the Big Ten at this point. Michigan State is. If fact, it’s safe to say that, right now, there is a …
  2. … clear cut top three: Michigan State is the No. 1 team in the country, and deservedly so. Maryland still looks like a team that could end up winning the conference if things break their way. And then there is Purdue, a team with the biggest and best front line in the country and arguably the best defense in college basketball. The Boilermakers were considered, at best, a borderline top 25 team entering the year, but with the way their guards have been able to shoot and the sheer dominance of their front line, it’s not a stretch to call Matt Painter’s club Final Four caliber. But beyond that …
  3. … the drop-off right now is huge: Indiana has not been as good as we thought they would be. The same goes for Michigan. Wisconsin is in full-on rebuilding mode, which has included a midseason coaching change. Ohio State did beat Kentucky, but they also lost at home to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech and are just 7-5 on the season. Iowa has looked really good at times this season, but they also looked like the same old Iowa when they blew a 20-point second half lead at Iowa State. Nebraska? Illinois? Someone is going to emerge from the pack. The question is who?
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

[CONFERENCE RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | American]

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Izzo’s greatest season ever?: Tom Izzo has coached a long time in the collegiate ranks. He’s been the head man at Michigan State for 20 years, long enough to get himself nominated for the Naismith Hall of Fame. And there is a chance that this could end up being the best season that Izzo’s ever had in East Lansing. Not the best team, mind you. The best season. He’s currently sitting at 13-0 and No. 1 in the country in both polls. He will only face a currently ranked team twice during the rest of the regular season. The current favorite for National Player of the Year is on his roster; the only time Izzo has coached a Player of the Year was win the NABC somehow gave their award to Draymond Green over Anthony Davis in 2012. Oh, and he could end up enshrined in the Hall of Fame during Final Four weekend. Can it possibly get any better than that?
  2. Indiana’s defense: This is a drum that has been beaten over and over again, but the bottom line is this: Indiana has one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks, but their defense has been impressive for a grand total of about five minutes — the comeback against Notre Dame — all season long. It’s not time to throw in the towel on them just yet. Remember, Duke was a disaster on the defensive end of the floor for much of the season prior to last year’s NCAA tournament, and the Blue Devils ended up making a run to the national title because they suddenly started to defend at an elite level. If the Hoosiers can find a way to start stringing together stops on a consistent basis, this is a team with top 15 talent and the ability to make a Final Four if they get hot in March.
  3. Michigan’s health: The issue with the Wolverines entering the season was whether or not they were ever going to get healthy. Through the first month and a half of the season, they haven’t been. Zak Irvin took awhile to get back into a rhythm after September back surgery. Derrick Walton has been dealing with an ankle injury. Spike Albrecht’s Michigan career may have come to an end because of a hip problem. Their second-leading scorer is a kid that played at Division III Williams two seasons ago. Michigan’s issues in the paint — how about this stat: their three leading rebounders are LeVert (5.4), Walton (4.7) and Irvin (3.6) — essentially ensure that they won’t be competing for a Big Ten title, but without a healthy back court, they won’t be making a run at the NCAA tournament regardless of how good Caris LeVert is.

[NEW PODCAST | NEW TOP 25]

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: Everyone knows what the issue is with Indiana. Are they going to be able to consistently get enough stops to beat good teams and win enough games to get into the NCAA tournament. I’m of the belief that they’ll figure it out, and the way they were able to defend down the stretch against Notre Dame is what, more than anything, has me convinced. They’re never going to be great on that end of the floor, but with that offense, they don’t need to be to be good.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: Slowly but surely, Northwestern is reaching a point where we need to start talking about them. They’re 11-1 on the season. They’ve beaten Columbia, who is one of the better mid-major teams in the country. They’ve beaten Missouri. They’ve won at DePaul. Their only loss is to North Carolina. Chris Collins’ club has gotten our attention. Now they need to go out and beat someone other than a high-major cellar dweller.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Tom Crean entered the season as the Big Ten coach with the most on the line, and after a disappointing trip to Maui, an awful performance at Duke on national television and a defense that hasn’t addressed the issues that plagued them last season, the Hoosier faithful have never been more fed up.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Michigan State (13-0): Losing Denzel Valentine might cost them a win or two in January, but getting Eron Harris on track and lighting a fire under Bryn Forbes is going to be better for this team in the long run.
  • 2. Maryland (11-1): Melo Trimble is the best closer in college basketball, but I think they’re one guard away from being the best in the Big Ten. I worry about Trimble and Sulaimon having dead legs come March.
  • 3. Purdue (11-1): The combination of A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan is impossible for just about anyone to matchup with, and their defense will keep them in every game. If their guards are hitting threes, they can beat anyone in the country.
  • 4. Indiana (10-3): I don’t think that the Hoosiers will ever truly be a contender for the league title, but I think they’ll be a top 25 team by the end of the season, one that can get to the Sweet 16.
  • 5. Iowa (9-3): Jarrod Uthoff is awesome and the Hawkeyes have looked great at times this year. But, to be frank, I just don’t trust this team to be able to win games.
  • 6. Michigan (10-3): Getting healthy will make them good. The lack of any presence on the interior keeps them from being anything more than that.

NIT teams

  • 7. Wisconsin (8-5): Yes, Wisconsin has issues. They also have two of the ten best players in the conference in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.
  • 8. Ohio State (7-5): The Buckeyes’ win over Kentucky is going to look really good on Selection Sunday, but I’m not convinced this team can add enough filler to their résumé.
  • 9. Illinois (8-5): Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have actually been really good this season, but I just can’t see them overcoming the injuries this season.
  • 10. Northwestern (10-1): The injury to Alex Olah is a tough blow and their record is inflated because of a weak schedule, but I’ll go ahead and buy-in … at least for an NIT bid.

Autobid or bust

  • 11. Nebraska (8-5)
  • 12. Penn State (9-4)
  • 13. Minnesota (6-6)
  • 14. Rutgers (5-7)