Could we see another Michigan-Indiana showdown in the Big Ten tournament final? (Duane Burleson/AP)
March 14-17, United Center, Chicago | Bracket
The Big Ten returns its basketball championship to the United Center for the first time since 2007 with what appears to be the most top-heavy assortment of teams in forever. When the bracket settled into place Sunday evening, the fifth seed in the tournament, Michigan, was ranked No. 7 in the country. Arguably, three teams have a shot at No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, depending on how they fared on Madison Street. And arguably, none of them might make the semifinals.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Michigan
This assumes a top 10 team can dispatch a team with one conference win, when the Wolverines meet Penn State in the first round. If so, the ripple effect here could be profound. Wisconsin beat Michigan in their lone meeting and is just Wisconsin enough to do it again. Which likely sets the Badgers up against Indiana, who Wisconsin beat on Jan. 15. Or Michigan wins and gets a third shot at the Hoosiers and a second shot at vengeance.
Team To Watch: Ohio State
A bit difficult to view the No. 2 seed as unheralded, but here we are thanks to tiebreaker math and the plaudits heaped on the likes of Indiana and Michigan. The Buckeyes have won five in a row, including victories over the Hoosiers and Michigan State. No one scored more than 60 points against Ohio State during that stretch. As evidenced by that startling March 5 dispatching of Indiana, the Buckeyes have the tools to nudge any of their fellow Big Ten heavyweights out of their comfort zones.
Not that Indiana was particularly in need of a catalyst, but the win Sunday that had Victor Oladipo splayed on the Crisler Center floor and then later brought the Indiana guard to tears could create the momentum that boosts the Hoosiers to the No. 1 overall seed. These are not things that truly matter -– a one seed is a one seed is a one seed, really. But going 2-2 in their last four would look plenty palatable if the second of the two wins spurs an Indiana stampede through the brackets.
The Pick: Indiana
Even with the tournament yanked from its backyard of Indianapolis, Indiana will make it a clean sweep of the Big Ten trophies. Chalk holds as Ohio State reaches the final as well, but Oladipo isn’t limited to seven points in a foul-plagued effort this time and the Hoosiers make their statement.