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Big Ten Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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It may still be February, but March is officially here.

The Big Ten tournament is the first of the major conference tournaments to kick off, and they’ll be doing so in New York City, which is just as dumb of an idea as it sounds. One year after playing their league tournament in Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center, the Big Ten opted to try and get into Madison Square Garden this season. But that’s the Big East’s home in March, which is why the Big Ten was forced to move everything up a week this year.

They played two league games the first weekend in December. The teams in the conference had to pack their league schedule as tight as possible. Everyone played two games a week for the entirety of league play. There weren’t off-days, all so the Big Ten could make the cash-grab of appealing to the New York City market. After all, nothing says Big Ten basketball quite like Rutgers and Maryland.

The league did all this so that they can make as much money as humanly possible off of the part of the country they’re trying to annex into the “Big Ten cable footprint”.

And there still isn’t enough money to be able to pay athletes, because this isn’t just a business and it’s all about getting a scholarship and an education and playing for the love of the game.

Right?

*eyes roll through the back of my head*

Anyway, let’s talk some hoops.

THE FAVORITE

Michigan State is the best team in the Big Ten, just like we all thought they were going to be entering the season.. They won the outright league title, they have the most talent and they are the most difficult to matchup with. I also think that they are currently peaking, as Cassius Winston is learning to takeover games in big moments and Tom Izzo is starting to trust a lineup that features Jaren Jackson at the five and Miles Bridges at the four.

THE CONTENDERS

Ohio State and Purdue are the other two teams that were in the mix for the Big Ten title this year. The Buckeyes probably have the league’s best player in Keita Bates-Diop and they enter the league tournament with the most to gain; Purdue and Michigan State are probably going to end up being top two seeds, while Ohio State still has some work left to do to get to that level. Purdue, on the other hand, has just been so impressive this season. They have a star in league guard Carsen Edwards and he’s flanked by four seniors — assuming Vince Edwards will be good to go — that all understand and embrace the roles they are asked to play. When things are clicking for the Boilermakers, they are a machine.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers is the only argument that you need to show why the Big Ten is just is not all that good. Nebraska will enter the Big Ten tournament with a 22-9 record and a 13-5 mark in the Big Ten, but I’d be willing to wager there aren’t any brackets that currently have them in the NCAA tournament. That’s because they only have one Quadrant 1 win: Michigan, at home. Their draw is perfect, too. As the No. 4 seed, they’ll (likely) get No. 5 seed Michigan in the quarters and No. 1 seed Michigan State in the semis. If they don’t win those two games, I don’t think they get into the tournament.

Nebraska’s Tim Miles (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

See above. The only other team anywhere near the bubble is Penn State, but I think they would need to win three games to really be in the discussion.

THE SLEEPER

It’s been weird watching the transformation of Michigan this season. The Wolverines, under John Beilein, have developed a reputation for being an elite offensive team that can struggle on the defensive end of the floor. This year, they are ranked 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They aren’t just a group of shooters with a couple soft bigs that only want to score. They still have those guys, but they also have a young core of tough-minded, defense-first athletes that can grind out wins when they need to. The Wolverines enter the postseason on a five-game winning streak.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Keita Bates-Diop is probably the best player in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards can absolutely take over a game offensively. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are the two best NBA prospects in the league. But I’m going to go with Wisconsin‘s Ethan Happ. He hasn’t had a great season as a junior, but he’s played much better down the stretch as the Badgers have continued to improve. They won three straight and four out of five — including a win over Purdue — before a season-ending loss by five points to Michigan State at home.

X-FACTORS

  • Will Michigan State fully embrace a small-ball lineup?  When they play Miles Bridges at the four and Jaren Jackson at the five, the Spartans are very hard to guard.
  • We all saw what Juwan Morgan is capable of when he went for 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic. Like Wisconsin, Indiana came on strong late in the season.
  • Likewise, Tony Carr is a guy that might ruin someone’s dreams of hoisting a trophy in the Big Apple. Penn State lost three in a row at the end of the season to put an end to their at-large hopes pending a tournament run, but he can catch fire.

NBC SPORTS’ BIG TEN POSTSEASON AWARDS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Holtmann, Ohio State

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG TEN

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue
  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG TEN

  • Tony Carr, Penn State
  • James Palmer Jr., Nebraska
  • Vincent Edwards, Purdue
  • Mo Wagner, Michigan
  • Juwan Morgan, Indiana

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.