Big Ten tournament last chance to make impression

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  • Illinois' Michael Finke drives to the basket during the Illini's 84-70 victory over the Boilermakers at State Farm Center on Sunday, January 10.

    Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illini

  • Illinois' Michael Finke drives to the basket during the Illini's 84-70 victory over the Boilermakers at State Farm Center on Sunday, January 10.

    Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illini

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By Dan Escalona

Tweet: Each Big Ten tournament team has one last thing to prove in the conference tournament

Think of college basketball’s conference tournament week as the last step in the vetting process before being welcomed into an exclusive club. 

Most of the Big Ten’s best bets have already entered this club, and the conference tournament is the final chance to bolster one’s credentials as an elite club member.

Here are the final things each likely tournament-bound squad can do to send a shudder through the rest of the bracket before the madness begins next week.

Michigan State: Facing a Spartan on the battlefield of ancient Greece or in the NCAA tournament is something you wouldn’t wish on your sworn enemy. Therefore, being sentenced to the same bracket as a Tom Izzo-coached team might as well violate the Eighth Amendment.

The Spartans advancing to at least the Elite Eight is as close to ubiquity as one can get in college sports — this season being no exception. There’s not much else Michigan State must prove except win a national championship.

Michigan State concluded the regular season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, losing only one game since Jan. 23 with an average margin of victory of 21. Its top trio of Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello and Bryn Forbes has meshed perfectly.

If you boast the tournament experience and history the way the Spartans do, there is no need to prove anything to anyone in just another conference tournament.

Indiana: The Big Ten’s other hottest and most dangerous team are the Hoosiers. The most remarkable thing about this Indiana team is not its offensive dynamism but its impressive defensive turnaround from last season. This is the Hoosiers best chance to win a national championship since 2013.

The Hoosiers have had many doubters all season, who criticized their soft schedule and assumed the defense would revert to last season’s horror show. This team has proven time and again it is no joke and, along with Michigan State, the conference’s best shot to keep its four-year national semifinal streak going.

By winning the conference’s regular-season title Indiana has done more than enough to prove its mettle. Winning the tournament title might just be what clinches the Hoosiers a No. 2 seed in the tournament. The Hoosiers have passed every test so far — and have nothing more to prove.

Maryland: Consistency from its star players must be on full display this week in Indianapolis. The lack of it has doomed the Terrapins recently, keeping them from their championship potential. 

Melo Trimble’s propensity to shoot poorly from the field is widely known as an Achilles’ heel. And other key players to disappear at times too.

Consider Sunday’s loss against Indiana. Trimble had a decent game with 17 points, yet Rasheed Sulaimon scored four. This has been a trend for the Terrapins all season: when one top player plays well, another one doesn’t. That’s not a blueprint for March success.

Maryland must prove it can develop strong, consistent play among all its top players. The conference tournament may not be the ideal place for that to start but the Terrapins have no other choice now.

Purdue: We’ve often heard that if you live by the three, you died by the three. In the case of the Boilermakers, if you live by the boards, you died by the boards. The Boilermakers’ biggest strength all season has been their rebounding dominance.

For Purdue, its prowess on the glass makes it a potential sleeper in the tournament. With potential conference tournament games looming against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, Purdue will be able to prove to the rest of the country that its ability to rebound can give it a chance to win every game.

Iowa: Over the last few games, the Hawkeyes have flown into a glass wall without knowing it was even in front of them. The one-time conference leader has lost five of its last seven games, slowing the momentum it had in just last month.

Poor shooting and an inability to make defensive stops when it matters most spoiled the end of Iowa’s regular-season. Success in the Big Ten tournament is crucial for the Hawkeyes to build its confidence back up to what it was just a few weeks ago. 

If not, don’t be surprised to see Iowa make a quick exit once the real tournament begins.

They need to show they can shoot more efficiently and defend on important possessions – and that cannot wait until next week.

***

Standards are sky-high in the Big Ten, as they should be with at least one team representing the conference in the previous four Final Fours. This season, the expectation is no different.

The nation has grown accustomed to seeing a team from the Midwest represented in the sport’s biggest spectacle. Maybe the Big Ten tournament can give a small glimpse of what the conference can offer in the NCAA tournament.

Dan is a senior in Media.

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@danescalona77