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.
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.