Five to watch
These five teams — excluding the Gophers — all have something to prove at the Big Ten tournament:
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are one of the hottest teams in college basketball right now, let alone the Big Ten. After starting the league schedule 1-5, Nebraska has gone 10-2 the rest of the way to land fourth in the Big Ten, an unimaginable finish after the Huskers were picked 12th in the preseason. Can they keep up their strong level of play?
Michigan: When folks saw Wolverines big man Mitch McGary had injured his back right before the start of Big Ten play, many figured they could put a fork in Michigan, which was already struggling. Not so. The Wolverines grew up fast behind league Player of the Year Nik Stauskas and snatched the regular-season title for the first time since 1986. But they have bigger goals.
Illinois: The Illini head into Indianapolis playing their best basketball of the year. Once they were in the basement. Now, they are a borderline bubble team after winning four of their past five (the solitary loss coming to Michigan). Illinois would need a strong run in the conference tournament to actually make it to the dance after such a rough start. But hey, it’s the Big Ten. As we’ve seen all year, anything is possible.
Wisconsin: It’s been a strange year for the Badgers. First, a 16-0 start. Then, five losses in six games. Then, an 8-1 finish. Where is Wisconsin now? It ended the season with a loss at Nebraska, which might have cost the Badgers a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Can they quickly revert to form or is this the start of another poorly timed downturn?
Iowa: At one point not so long ago, folks were talking about the Hawkeyes as a favorite to advance deep into the Big Dance. Suddenly, things have fallen apart. Iowa has now lost five of its past six heading into the weekend, never a good place to be when faced with playing rapid-fire games against some of the best teams in the nation. The Hawkeyes’ seeding is falling fast, and if they don’t show more substance than they have in the past couple of weeks, they could be handed a double-digit seed. Who would have thought?