At the end of the men’s college basketball regular season, the Big Ten Tournament takes place. The conference’s champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This year’s tournament is set to feature some of the best teams in college basketball. The Illini, UConn, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue all have a shot at the title. But who will end up on top? Here are some reasons why.
The Illini’s offense has been a puzzle all season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t finish a game. Illinois has the pieces to make a deep run, but it often loses the engagement of the game. They also make bad decisions with the ball, resulting in end-of-game dejection. Kofi Cockburn is a problem for any team. In the NCAA tournament, the last thing they want is to run into a buzzsaw.
The Illini went on long scoring droughts, which allowed the opposing team to extend their lead and then claw their way back into the game. The Illinois Illini turned the ball over too frequently and forced opponents to take tough outside shots. They looked out of sync and out of rhythm. The team had trouble getting stops when they needed them most. With such a difficult opponent in the BTT, the Illini needed to step up their defense.
UConn’s balanced offense
While UConn does not have the size to dominate the big stage, it does have the length to be competitive. The Huskies rank fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds and third in offensive rebound rate. UConn also ranks second in blocks and fifth in two-point defense field goal percentage, while holding opponents to 41% from the field and 31% from three. The Huskies are not the only team with a well-balanced offense.
Louisville is another team with real aspirations of advancing to the national championship game. In fact, every national champion since 2010 has ranked in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Wisconsin is just barely inside that number, sitting at 41st and 29th, respectively. But if the Huskies can win the Big Ten tournament, they could be on the road to the Final Four.
Michigan State’s defense
There were plenty of questions about Michigan State’s defense in the Big Ten tournament, and the answer isn’t always as simple as “it’s not great.” But this year’s team had the talent and defense to reach the semifinals, and that’s good enough for a win over Wisconsin. This season, the Spartans’ defense is even better than it was last year. Here’s why.
After the season-opening loss to Wisconsin, the Spartans showed why they should be the favorites in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State beat the second-seeded Badgers, 69-63. The Spartans’ defense held Wisconsin’s phenom Johnny Davis to only three-of-19 shooting, and they forced him to miss five 3-point attempts. After that, the Spartans went on to win the tournament in impressive fashion.
Ohio State’s defense
The Buckeyes had to deal with injuries throughout the regular season, but their defense in the Big Ten Tournament was a different story. Senior guard Aaron Craft led the way with two steals per game, and sophomore forward Kyle Young added 16 points and nine rebounds. Both were named to the first team All-Big Ten. Ohio State’s defense is second in the conference in scoring defense, as it ranks fifth in field goal percentage and third in 3-point percentage.
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant noted that her team scored 27 points in the first quarter against Ohio State. McGuff also took away the press, and the defense had to execute in the front court. Maryland’s offense finished with 51 points, and the postseason will reveal if the Buckeyes’ defense can hold up. This week, Ohio State will test whether or not the defense can continue to improve. But first, the Buckeyes will have to prove they’ve improved after the offseason.
The Huskies are a top-four team in the NCAA this year and have already defeated top-ranked Villanova. Despite losing star forward Dorka Juhasz, the Huskies’ rebounding has been a strength all season. The Huskies’ three-guard lineup is strong with three players averaging seven rebounds a game. They can’t be beat with the way they rebound the ball, and that’s where their defense is so important.
The Huskies rebounded from a dreadful start against St. John’s to reach the NCAA tournament. They are third-seeded and will play Villanova in the semifinals on Friday. UConn beat Villanova in Hartford on Feb. 22. Now they’ll have a chance to take over the tournament, as they are a Top-10 team. Ultimately, they’ll face the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils.
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