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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

Middle Tennessee loses four returnees during the week

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Middle Tennessee has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country over the last few years but now the Blue Raiders will be facing a major rebuild.

With former head coach Kermit Davis taking the Ole Miss job and new head coach Nick McDevitt coming over from UNC Asheville, the program experienced some major roster turnover this week as four returnees left the program.

Earlier in the week, junior guard David Simmons opted to transfer out of Middle Tennessee after he averaged 17.9 minutes per game for the Conference USA regular-season champions last season.

On Friday, the losses continued, as three more players left the team. Rising junior point guard Tyrik Dixon announced his intention to transfer while the program dismissed guard Antwain Johnson and forward Davion Thomas. Dixon was a valuable floor leader for Middle Tennessee the past two seasons while Johnson, a rising senior guard, would have been the team’s returning leading scorer after putting up 10.3 points per game last week.

Since so much of the successful core of the past three seasons is now gone from Middle Tennessee, it will be on McDevitt to bring in new talent to sustain the recent great stretch of play. The Blue Raiders made two Round of 32 appearances in a row before missing the NCAA tournament last season after winning C-USA’s regular season crown.

Now, with Western Kentucky making a power play by bringing in five-star big man Charles Bassey, and the power has shifted very quickly in one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in the country.

Report: One-and-Done rule could be eliminated for 2021 NBA Draft

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The NBA is reportedly exploring the possibility of ending the infamous one-and-done rule that forces many potential professional basketball players to head to college for at least one season.

According to a report from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, citing a league memo sent to NBA teams late this week, the league office is indicating that “eligibility rules” for the NBA draft could change as soon as 2021 or 2022 — but not earlier. The league is currently trying to figure out how the FBI’s investigation into college basketball will play out while also trying to navigate the player development changes that would be needed for high school players to once again potentially enter the NBA. Recently, the NBA has started to allow its teams and front-office personnel to attend elite summer high school events as the Pangos All-American Camp and the NBPA Top 100 Camp both had an NBA presence to watch elite Class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 prospects.

Lowe’s report mentions that the one-and-done rule is not mentioned directly by name, but the NBA is trying to warn its teams before the 2018 NBA Draft. These future changes could be on the horizon and teams need to understand what they are doing with future draft picks in potential trades.

The scenario of a 2021 NBA Draft in which high school players might be eligible is a fascinating subplot for college basketball, and the sport at-large, over these next few years.

As Lowe pointed out in his report, whenever the rule is eventually opened up, it will create one large mega draft in which two elite classes of high school players would be draft-eligible in the same year. With potentially double the lottery-level and first-round talent of a typical NBA draft, it would force a lot of elite college recruits to exam the possibility of reclassifying up in order to get ahead of that mega draft and be in a pool with fewer elite prospects.

It also gives the high school players themselves a unique decision with regard to their potential college futures. If an elite high school prospect is one year away from entering the NBA draft out of school, would some go to college or would they try to go for a postgrad year and follow in the footsteps of players like Thon Maker and Anfernee Simons?

The expanding presence of the NBA’s G-League is also a factor in all of this as salaries for the league are increasing and becoming more respectable — giving high school players a viable professional option in the United States instead of college for one year before moving on to the draft.

There are still way too many moving parts to truly speculate how this will all go down. But at least we know that the NBA appears to be viewing 2021 or 2022 as the potential change to the one-and-done rule. We’ll have to see how elite high school prospects start potentially adjusting to reclassify while colleges also might have to adopt some new and unique recruiting strategies if they rely on one-and-done players to fill out their roster.

Five-star guard Ashton Hagans enrolling at Kentucky after graduating year early

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Kentucky received additional reinforcements for the 2018-19 season on Friday as five-star guard Ashton Hagans graduated high school a year early with the intent to head to Lexington for next season.

The 6-foot-4 Hagans is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a top-ten national prospect in the Class of 2019 as he gives the Wildcats three five-star recruits at lead guard for next season. The Georgia state Player of the Year as a junior this past season, Hagans joins a crowded Kentucky backcourt that includes sophomore Quade Green and fellow incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley.

While the juggling of minutes is going to be a major storyline for head coach John Calipari this season, the addition of Hagans gives Kentucky even more lineup flexibility than they had before. Because Hagans has good size and defensive ability, he could be used to play alongside the smaller Green, giving the Wildcats a two-guard look that would have more defensive intensity. Playing Quickley and Hagans together would give Kentucky a bigger two-guard lineup that would have a chance to be pretty strong defensively.

And, of course, Calipari could opt to go with some three-guard lineups with other off-guards like Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a tough perimeter attack.

Handling minutes and egos will be something to watch for in Lexington this season, but Calipari has handled this sort of situation with a Final Four appearance before. It’s hard to say if the Wildcats will try to play another platoon type of system like we saw in 2014-15, but if they end up getting graduate transfer forward Reid Travis, they might have the personnel to give it a shot.

Villanova lands late commitment from four-star prospect

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Villanova made a late addition to their 2018 recruiting class on Friday afternoon as they landed a commitment from four-star prospect Saddiq Bey.

Bey was originally committed to N.C. State, but he asked out of his Letter of Intent in mid-May as the Wolfpack ended up over the scholarship limit. The versatile, 6-foot-7 forward is a good fit for the way that Villanova likes to play, as he can guard different positions, plays with the toughness you expect out of a kid from Washington D.C. and is a capable scorer.

Bey is also a product of Sidwell Friends, the same high school that produced former Villanova star Josh Hart.

He will joined a recruiting class that also includes five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four star prospects Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo.

The news was first reported by 247 Sports.

Marvin Bagley III, a ‘Nike kid’, to sign endorsement deal with Puma

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In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Marvin Bagley III will reportedly sign an endorsement deal with Puma in the NBA.

It’s a five-year deal, according to reports, that will pay Bagley and his family quite a bit of money and will allow them to fund an AAU program for Bagley’s younger brother. That program will be coached by Marvin Bagley Jr., and that gets to the heart of what makes this decision so surprising.

Bagley III has always been considered a “Nike kid”. He played for Nike AAU programs throughout his high school career. The last two years, his father ran the program that he played for, originally called Phoenix Phamily but eventually changed to Nike Phamily. That meant that Nike was able to legally pay Bagley Jr. a significant amount of money to fund that program. Eventually, Bagley would up enrolling at Duke, one of Nike’s flagship college basketball programs.

This is not the way that it is supposed to go for a shoe company like Nike. The reason they spend as much money as they do in the youth ranks is to keep as many kids as possible loyal to the brand. It’s fairly easy to figure out who will end up having a chance at being an NBA player as early as 15 years old, but what’s harder to do is to predict who will actually be able to move product. Did anyone think James Harden or Damian Lillard would be worth a signature shoe? So these shoe companies will spend a relatively small amount of money to fly those kids around the country during their high school years, keep them decked out in their gear and hope that lottery ticket eventually pays off.

What is a couple hundred thousand dollar investment when the payoff is hundreds of millions of dollars in shoe sales? All you need to do is land one Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant to make the math work.

But that isn’t all that the shoe companies are looking for here.

With the amount of money that they have invested in sponsorship deals with these schools, they need to protect that investment. We saw it with Adidas and Louisville. They funneled $100,000 to Brian Bowen, a Nike kid, to get him to an Adidas school not because they thought he would end up being an uber-profitable spokesman but because they needed to protect their investment at the college level.

So while it’s easy to look at this and same that Bagley’s time spent at Duke helped him get a big, fat shoe contract, I think it’s the other way around. He helped Nike — without getting his market value — during his one season at Duke, and what it got him was a shoe contract worth roughly $1 million a year, according to Oregon Live.

Either way, the fact of the matter is that Bagley’s value to these brands is no different now than it was when he was playing for the Blue Devils.

Why is it only now that he’s allowed to cash in on it?