Big Ten teams that will get into the NCAA tournament: Seven. The conference has five locks — Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin — and three that are floating at least close to either side of the bubble: Iowa, Illinois and the Gophers. The Illini should make it based on their strong early wins, and what they managed to do in the conference, even without a winning record, and Minnesota, thanks to a bloated RPI and strength of schedule, seems safe regardless of what it does in the Big Ten tournament. Iowa is not far away, but it would take at least one, probably two wins this weekend. Beating Northwestern in the first round could happen, but beating Michigan State in the following game is unlikely.
Projected Big Ten tournament champ: Ohio State. The Big Ten has been all about Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State for most of the year, but it’s the Buckeyes who are coming in with all the momentum. And while the Big Three could run into some matchup pitfalls, Ohio State’s pathway looks as smooth as any.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND
The Big Ten has an overflow of talent, but here is a good place to start.
Trey Burke, Michigan: The Michigan sophomore point guard won Big Ten Player of the Year and is one of the favorites for National Player of the Year. Can Burke (19 ppg, 6.8 apg, 39.6 three-point percentage) start to solidify that bid in Big Ten tournament play? After losing to Indiana in the final game of the regular season, you can bet Burke will be coming out full of fire.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana: The junior (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.2 steals per game, 61.4 percent from the field), whose improvement from a year ago has stunned and delighted those who have watched it play out in Indiana, is just a hair behind Burke in national consideration. After finishing the season head-to-head, the electrifying Oladipo could get another shot at Burke in the semifinals. Yes, please.
Gary Harris, Michigan State: It’s one thing to receive preseason accolades. It’s another to live them out on a team that already has great talent and scoring, and to do it regardless of injuries. What Harris (13.2 ppg, 41.9 three-point percentage, Big Ten Freshman of the Year) has done for Michigan State is nothing short of impressive. Along with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, if Harris is rolling, the Spartans can go far.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: The junior might not record the flashy numbers that teammate Deshaun Thomas does, but his presence sets the tone for defensive-minded Ohio State. Craft (9.7 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.6 rpg) has harassed opponents so much that he was recently named one of the most hated players of the last 30 years by Grantland.com. And if the Buckeyes can shut down scoring threats, they have a chance to do some damage.
Jermaine Marshall, Penn State: Teammate D.J. Newbill leads the way in scoring, but with Marshall stepping up big in tandem, Penn State is getting a little dangerous. The junior (15.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg) scored 23 points in Penn State’s near upset of Wisconsin on Sunday and 25 in the Nittany Lions’ upset over Michigan. He sees the Wolverines again in the first round. Repeat performance?