Big Ten

Which team is most likely to win the Big Ten Tournament?

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Which team is most likely to win the Big Ten Tournament?

It's Big Ten Tournament time.

Five days of fun begin Wednesday in Indianapolis to determine which team will secure the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This year there are plenty of contenders with as many as six or seven teams looking capable of winning the tourney crown.

Here's a refresher on the bracket:

Now here's every team in the Big Ten, ranked from least likely to most likely to win this week's tournament.

14. Minnesota Golden Gophers, No. 13 seed

The Gophers have had an abysmal season, one that reached a new low in Saturday’s regular-season finale with a blowout loss to Rutgers, a team that with that win earned its first conference victory of the season. While Minnesota enters the tourney with more Big Ten wins than Rutgers, the Gophers seem to have a less-promising shot with a depleted roster following suspensions and dismissals in recent weeks. Minnesota gets Illinois in a Day 1 matchup on Wednesday. The Fighting Illini won two games against the Gophers this season.

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, No. 14 seed

While aforementioned Minnesota might be worse off than Rutgers at the moment, it’s worth noting that the Scarlet Knights have been a historically bad Big Ten team this season and over the course of their first two seasons of members of the conference. Rutgers has won just two of the 36 regular-season conference games it's played since joining the league, and this season featured a jaw-dropping 17-game conference losing streak. The Knights have allowed an average of 86.1 points per game in 18 league games, including eight games where opponents scored at least 90 points and two where opponents scored at least 100 points. Rutgers takes on Nebraska on Wednesday, a team that dropped a combined 177 points in two regular-season meetings.

[MORE BIG TEN: Denzel Valentine is Big Ten Player of the Year, leads all-conference team]

12. Nebraska Cornhuskers, No. 11 seed

The Huskers have had their moments this season, at one point winning four straight with a victory over then-No. 11 Michigan State. But things have gone poorly of late, and the regular season ended Sunday with Nebraska’s fifth consecutive loss. The Huskers do take care of the ball, with the second-best turnover margin in the league. It should win its opener against Rutgers, but with Wisconsin waiting on Day 2 and a Maryland team looking for revenge after a blowout loss in its regular-season finale Sunday waiting on Day 3, it’s hard to see how Nebraska can make it through that gauntlet.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini, No. 12 seed

It’s been a mighty disappointing season for the Illini, no doubt about it. And while most of those woes have been caused by the incredible toll injuries have taken — Illinois got a total of 16 minutes during Big Ten play from the injured trio of Mike Thorne, Tracy Abrams and Leron Black, all three expected to be starters — poor play has contributed, as well. Malcolm Hill ended the regular season with a career-high 39-point game against Penn State, but Illinois still fell at Penn State. Hill has been terrific this season, but if no one else steps up, it will be impossible for the Illini to win a conference tournament championship. Though their path is not as grim as others’, with a Day 1 game against lowly Minnesota, a stumbling Iowa team waiting on Day 2 and a Purdue team Illinois has defeated this season waiting on Day 3. It would require a miracle but maybe less of one than some of the other teams playing on Day 1.

10. Penn State Nittany Lions, No. 10 seed

Head coach Patrick Chambers deserves credit for some improvement with a program that’s been near the bottom of the Big Ten for years. Sunday’s win gave the Nittany Lions their most Big Ten wins in a season under Chambers, and last season, the conference tourney was a great setting for Penn State, which won twice. This season, though, the Lions start on Day 2 with an Ohio State team that beat them by 20 earlier this season, and Michigan State waits on Day 3. Things are moving in the right direction in Happy Valley — look no further than the whopping recruiting success Chambers is having — but a conference tournament championship in 2016 seems mighty unlikely.

9. Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 7 seed

The Buckeyes maybe aren’t the ninth-best team in the Big Ten, but they don’t figure to have much of a shot of getting past Day 3. Michigan State awaits the winner of the Ohio State-Penn State battle, and if the Buckeyes meet the Spartans again — for the third time in three weeks — it’s hard to envision it going any different than the first two meetings. Tom Izzo’s team beat Thad Matta’s team soundly in the two regular-season matchups, first by 19 and then by 15. With Jae’Sean Tate sidelined with his season-ending injury, the Buckeyes will face a tall task should they reach the third day.

[MORE BIG TEN: Badgers make Greg Gard permanent head basketball coach]

8. Michigan Wolverines, No. 8 seed

Certainly it will be no Sunday picnic for whichever team wins the Michigan-Northwestern battle on Day 2 in Indy because it’s regular-season champion Indiana that awaits on Day 3. But the Wolverines might have a tougher time than the Wildcats. It’s been a bumpy end to the regular-season for Michigan, which is still somewhat flirting with a spot in the NCAA tournament despite losing four of its last five games. What’s gone wrong down the stretch? Well, the Wolverines have the worst field-goal-percentage defense in the Big Ten. Plus, offense has been sporadic. Duncan Robinson averaged 12.6 points per game through the first 10 Big Ten contests. Since, he’s averaged just seven points a game. Plus, there will be no Caris LeVert riding in to save the day, as the senior’s college career was announced as over due to injury.

7. Northwestern Wildcats, No. 9 seed

While Northwestern doesn’t want to run into Indiana either — the Cats were demolished by 32 in their regular-season meeting with the Hoosiers — it might have a better chance to win that Day 2 game against Michigan than the Wolverines. Certainly the Cats have more in the way of momentum, with Sunday’s win ending the regular season on a three-game winning streak. Plus, the seniors are coming to play. While Tre Demps is streaky as all get out, he has averaged a whopping 19.9 points per game over the past nine games. And Alex Olah seems fully recovered from his midseason injury, averaging 12.4 points over his last seven. Northwestern can put points up in a hurry if its hitting its shots, and teams tend to hit shots against Michigan. That being said, the Cats lost to the Wolverines on Feb. 24.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes, No. 5 seed

The Hawkeyes got off the skid with a win over Michigan on Saturday, but that doesn’t change the fact that Iowa still lost five of its last seven games in a late-season slide eerily similar to the one two years ago. Not to mention that the Hawkeyes have made a first-game exit in each of the last two Big Ten Tournaments. That being said, Iowa has had a strong season with an All-Big Ten First Team selection in Jarrod Uthoff teaming with a super scorer in Peter Jok. There have been times when the senior-laden Hawkeyes lineup has dominated opponents, and a Day 2 matchup against either Illinois or Minnesota should provide another opportunity to do just that. Purdue is the team that awaits on Day 3, and while the Boilermakers are tough, Iowa won both regular-season matchups this season. If the Hawkeyes can put these late-season woes behind them, then that’s a good sign for a lengthy stay in Indy. But the late season hasn’t been good to Iowa in recent years, including this one.

5. Maryland Terrapins, No. 4 seed

Yes, the Terps would have to play one fewer game than one team left to be mentioned, but things have not gone too well for Maryland over the regular season’s final weeks. The Terps didn’t just lose in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Indiana, they were crushed by nearly 20 points in a game they were lucky to trail by only nine at times during the second half. Maryland has lost four of its last six and doesn't quite look like the team that was ranked No. 2 multiple times this season. Of course the talent remains to make a deep tourney run in Indy and in the Big Dance, but the Terps need to stop turning the ball over so much — they’re second-to-last in the league in turnover margin — and need to start firing on all cylinders. Melo Trimble is the team’s leading scorer, but he’s averaging two points per game fewer than last season and is shooting at lower clips including eight percent lower from 3. Rasheed Sulaimon was great much of the season but has only averaged six points a game in the last four contests. Playing a more complete game is what is necessary if Maryland wants to get back into the conversation of national-title-caliber teams.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]

4. Wisconsin Badgers, No. 6 seed

While a double-digit loss in the regular-season finale likely won’t sit well, it was only the second time since the middle of January the Badgers have tasted defeat. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have stepped up their games, and the games of the players around them — specifically Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown — have evolved dramatically. Happ, in particular, has been one of the Big Ten’s best players, winning conference Freshman of the Year honors after ranking in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage, the top five in the league in rebounding and leading the league in steals. Hence the turnaround for a team that looked lost not long after Bo Ryan’s surprise retirement. Greg Gard has done one of the most impressive coaching jobs in the league and was rewarded for it, named the permanent head coach Monday. Wisconsin will get the winner of the Nebraska-Rutgers game on Day 2, expected to be the easiest opponent of any team playing that day. Then comes Maryland on Day 3, which has had its struggles over the last few weeks and a team Wisconsin recently beat by 13 in College Park. In fact, only a Melo Trimble buzzer-beater in Madison prevented a season sweep. The Badgers have momentum. The Terps don’t.

3. Purdue Boilermakers, No. 3 seed

It’s been a real Jekyll-and-Hyde season for Purdue, which on any given night could dominate or collapse. The Boilers have wins over Wisconsin and Maryland in the last three games, but they’ve done their fair share of losing, too, including upsetting defeats at the hands of Michigan and Illinois. It’s hard to predict which Purdue team we’ll see in Indy, but one thing’s for sure: The talent is there. The “skyline” alone should be wreaking havoc on opponents. A.J. Hammons has been one of the Big Ten’s best three or four players this season — landing on the All-Big Ten First Team — and Caleb Swanigan is capable of doing plenty of damage, as evidenced by his 27-point performance Sunday. Any of Purdue’s guards can go off, and it seems like the Boilers should be a trendy pick for a long-lasting March. But, then again, there’s reason to be skeptical.

2. Indiana Hoosiers, No. 1 seed

It’s hard to say enough good things about what the Hoosiers did to Maryland in Sunday’s regular-season finale. A near 20-point win over a top-20 team was incredibly impressive and showed what is possible with Indiana firing on all cylinders. They score fast, they score in bunches and they can put a game out of reach in the blink of an eye. All-Big Ten First Team pick Yogi Ferrell is incredible but hardly the only thing going right for Tom Crean’s crew, which boasts weapons all over the place. Troy Williams can score from anywhere on the floor, and Thomas Bryant has been great in his freshman campaign. But it’s the 3-point shooting that makes the Hoosiers so dangerous, and when they’re hitting from deep — which is almost always — it’s hard to keep up. Indiana is averaging 78.1 points per game during Big Ten play, and with the winner of the Northwestern-Michigan game on Day 3 the first challenge for this group, it seems a runaway is definitely a possibility.

1. Michigan State Spartans, No. 2 seed

Of course, this is March, and in March it is often unwise to bet against Tom Izzo. Just one March removed from his seventh trip to the Final Four, many are projecting No. 8 this season with Michigan State entering the Big Ten Tournament as the highest-ranked team in the AP poll despite its lack of a regular-season championship. And many view the Spartans as having the best chance to win in Indy. Why? Well, Denzel Valentine is a good start, arguably the best player in college basketball. He earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors Monday and could be headed for national player of the year honors. He does it all. He leads the Big Ten in scoring with nearly 20 points a game, he leads the Big Ten in assists with seven and a half helpers a game, and he ranks in the top 10 in rebounding with seven and a half boards a game, also ranking high in plenty of other categories. His ability to run the show makes Michigan State practically unstoppable. How about this: The Spartans are averaging more points per game during Big Ten play than the high-octane Hoosiers. Matt Costello has been fantastic during conference play, and Bryn Forbes is deadly from 3-point range, fresh off setting the new conference record with 11 made 3s in a game. And momentum is squarely on Michigan State’s side with six straight wins and wins in 10 of its last 11 games. The Spartans get the Ohio State-Penn State winner on Day 3, a relatively easy path to the semifinals. It’s Izzo. It’s March. ‘Nuff said.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 11 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 11 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (9-1)

The Sooners probably won’t be No. 1 in the Playoff rankings, as the committee will almost surely move Bama up a notch. But OU has an incredible resume, one much better than the Tide’s, with wins over Ohio State, TCU and Okie State. No one in the country can compete with those wins.

2. Miami (9-0)

The Canes are too legit to quit after pulverizing Notre Dame on Saturday night. That signature win teamed with the prior week’s win over Virginia Tech makes that near loss to lowly North Carolina seem like forever ago. Welcome to Miami, indeed.

3. Alabama (10-0)

A great win on Saturday night by the Tide in what seemed like their first actual game of the season. The schedule has been soft as silk, but now Auburn’s status as an SEC juggernaut makes the Iron Bowl a colossal clash.

4. Georgia (9-1)

Knocked off the top of the college football mountain, the Dawgs still deserve to be in the Playoff field, just a one-loss team with that one loss coming to another top team and that still-excellent win at Notre Dame. The resume’s still there, but now the SEC title game will be for all the marbles.

5. Wisconsin (10-0)

Bucky’s sitting pretty after making Iowa look like an FCS team on Saturday — especially impressive considering what Iowa did the week prior. Expect Michigan and Minnesota to provide decent enough challenges, but it seems like Wisconsin’s set up for a Big Ten title-game date with Ohio State.

6. Clemson (9-1)

Miami is the king of the ACC, but thankfully the ACC title game looks to be a Playoff play-in game between the Tigers and Canes. The champs still have as good a shot at this thing as anyone.

7. Auburn (8-2)

Two-loss Auburn in the Playoff? It’s not crazy at all after what the Tigers did to Georgia on Saturday, destroying the No. 1 team in the country and setting up what will be another titanic Iron Bowl meeting with Bama.

8. Notre Dame (8-2)

The Irish’s Playoff hopes sank like a ship in Biscayne Bay thanks to the demolition Miami dolled out on Saturday night. ND’s resume is still fine — two losses to two Playoff-caliber teams. But with no conference title to play for, a two-loss ND team might as well be a six-loss ND team.

9. Ohio State (8-2)

Guess who's still lurking in the Playoff race? It seemed Brutus was dead as could be after getting woodshedded by Iowa last weekend, but then Ohio State put a whooping on Michigan State and everyone’s ears perked up again. Appearing destined for the Big Ten title game, things could get interesting.

10. TCU (8-2)

The Frogs will most likely still get a crack at a Big 12 title — and revenge on the Sooners, who picked em apart on Saturday — but the Playoff might be out of the cards now.

11. Oklahoma State (8-2)

You know who’s still really good despite having losses to the two top teams in the Big 12? Okie State. That was some game between the Pokes and the ‘Clones on Saturday. If only the Mullet could be unleashed on the Playoff. Alas.

12. USC (9-2)

Dramatically overrated in the last batch of Playoff rankings, the Trojans now seem to be the cream of the unimpressive Pac-12 after Washington’s loss. All sorts of madness would have to occur in order for USC — or any Pac-12 team — to land in the final four.

13. Penn State (8-2)

Great job beating up on Rutgers this weekend, Penn State. Now what? With games against Nebraska and Maryland left, will any preseason favorite (outside Florida State, of course) get less attention down the stretch than the Lions?

14. UCF (9-0)

Central Florida is that Group of Five team this year. If it beats USF in the regular-season finale, people you know will be like, “Why shouldn’t UCF be in the Playoff?” And you’ll just have to give them a look and walk away.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Wazzu has to win one game and it’ll play USC for a Pac-12 title. Despite the lack of Playoff stakes, the Cougs winning a conference championship would be a pretty big deal.

16. Washington (8-2)

Of course, standing in Wazzu’s way is Washington, which tripped up against Stanford and could follow up last year’s Playoff appearance with absolutely nothing.

17. NC State (7-3)

The ACC and SEC seemed to have flipped roles overnight. The once-mediocre SEC now has three playoff-caliber teams and a couple other decent ones. The once-awesome ACC now has two of the best teams in the country and then … NC State.

18. Mississippi State (7-3)

The Bulldogs put up one heck of a fight against Bama on Saturday, and if it wasn’t for that ridiculous sequence of play-calling following Bama’s missed field goal, they might have won. Oh well.

19. LSU (7-3)

LSU beat Arkansas on Saturday, which isn’t a terribly difficult thing to do. 2017 will go down as a “what if” year for the Bayou Bengals. As in, what if they hadn’t lost to Troy?

20. Stanford (7-3)

Two of Stanford’s losses have come against ranked teams. It’s now beaten Washington and could beat Notre Dame in two weeks. It has one of the best running backs in America. So shouldn’t Stanford be better?

21. Memphis (8-1)

Since losing at UCF, Memphis has rolled everyone, winning five straight by an average of 47.8-27.2. Good job, Memphis.

22. Arizona (7-3)

The Wildcats are 7-3 this season and have scored at least 45 points in every one of those wins. That includes last weekend’s win over Oregon State, in which Khalil Tate ran for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Dude's good.

23. Northwestern (7-3)

Meow. The Cats are winners of five straight, even if their overtime streak came to an end. The quest for a 9-3 finish is on, with only Minnesota and lowly Illinois left on the regular-season schedule.

24. Michigan State (7-3)

Two losses in three weeks for Sparty, who got absolutely steamrolled by Ohio State this past weekend. Michigan State will likely be rooting for Michigan in The Game as it would figure to wrap its regular season with wins over Maryland and Rutgers.

25. West Virginia (7-3)

The ‘Neers have only lost to Virginia Tech, TCU and Okie State, which is not too bad. But that’s a couple losses too many in the high-flying Big 12.

Others receiving votes:

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Things have bottomed out for the Hokies, who have lost back-to-back road games to Miami and Georgia Tech after a 7-1 start. Without the loss to the Jackets, Virginia Tech’s resume would look real nice. But alas.

Iowa State (6-4)

There was almost another Attack of the ‘Clones this past weekend in a thriller with Okie State. But the Pokes came out on top, sending Iowa State to its fourth loss. That dream Big 12 title game featuring the ‘Clones? A fantasy. Sigh.

Michigan (8-2)

Michigan only has two losses, which means it has to be kinda good, right? Well, it’s lost its only two games against ranked teams and its best win is Florida, so … no, I guess not.

South Florida (8-1)

Way to beat UConn, South Florida.