The Daily Illini

Previewing the Big Ten tournament

By Eli Schwadron

In what was deemed a “disappointing” basketball season for the Big Ten by many pundits (myself included) in the middle of the season, it’s ironic that the conference now has a chance to lead the nation in NCAA tournament berths.

The Big Ten tournament tips off Wednesday afternoon at the United Center in Chicago, and there are three bubble teams still fighting to punch tickets to the Big Dance. Purdue, Indiana and Illinois have the most to gain this week. The Boilermakers (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) ended the season winning nine of their final 12 games, and as a result, Matt Painter’s bunch breathes the easiest among the fringe schools.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Boilermakers — who earned the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten — make a run for the tournament title. A.J. Hammons has been invaluable to them at the center position as of late, and they boast the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in Rapheal Davis.

Five Big Ten teams — No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 8 Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State — are shoo-ins to make the national tourney. The Badgers (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten) are looking to nab a No. 1 seed. Barring any mishaps in their conference tournaments, Duke, Virginia and Kentucky have the top three overall seeds practically locked up, but that fourth No. 1 seed is still up for grabs. Led by Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, I think Wisconsin will reach the Big Ten championship game Sunday afternoon, where they will likely face the Terrapins (26-5, 14-4 Big Ten).

Maryland enters its first-ever Big Ten tournament after earning win No. 26 — a regular season record for the program. If I’m an opponent, I’m not looking forward to matching up with Dez Wells, the Terps’ 6-foot-5 star swingman. The 215-pound senior possesses the size and speed of an NFL running back, allowing him to muscle his way into the paint and finish with authority. Wells is averaging 18.7 points over his last seven outings, and he’ll be a force to be reckoned this week in Chicago and throughout the rest of the month. 

The best individual matchup might come in the bottom portion of the bracket Saturday afternoon if Maryland matches up with Ohio State. Freshmen Melo Trimble and D’Angelo Russell have been two of the most electrifying Big Ten guards this season. The Buckeyes took care of business against the Terrapins on Jan. 29 by a score of 80-56, but something tells me a potential rematch would be more competitive.

 

B1G Mistake

In one of the more ridiculous stories to come out of college sports recently, the Big Ten has suggested the NCAA make freshmen athletes ineligible. While such a scenario is unlikely to come to fruition, it’s hilarious that such a ban is even being discussed.

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN he’s “tired of being used as a minor league for professional sports,” and that he wants to go back to the NCAA policy that prohibited freshmen participation before a reversal in 1972. But Burke fails to realize the glaring reason why freshmen are so important to college basketball. Why should we have to wait an extra year to watch a player of Jahlil Okafor’s caliber dominate? 

I don’t personally know Burke or anyone else involved — but to me, it sounds like a bunch of old guys sitting in a room trying to figure out the best way to take the fun out of the game. The policy wouldn’t eliminate one-and-dones — players would simply leave to go to the NBA a year later. Top prospects would spend two years in college, but still only spend one year on the court before leaving for the pros.

The fact that the Big Ten was the conference to start the discussion about a blanket ban for the NCAA is confusing. Three of the conference’s most exciting players — Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. — are, yep, you guessed it, freshmen. Oh, and isn’t the Big Ten responsible for one of the most talked-about, polarizing college basketball teams ever assembled, the 1991 Fab Five Michigan Wolverines? And didn’t the starting five consist of all freshmen?

Eli is a junior in Media.

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@eschwad

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