It was a strange(-ly awesome) year in the BiG this year. First of all, I have to point out to all the people that are tired of this being the best league in the country and are trying to boost up the Big XII – that’s cute and all, but it’s just no true and it’s not really that close. I am not a Big Ten lover. I didn’t go to Penn State or root for Maize and Blue or even worship at the altar of Izzo. I actually never really like the Big Ten growing up because the style of play was rough and slow and the teams weren’t good enough to make that style incredibly watchable. But, in recent years, this conference has proven time and time again that it is THE premier conference in college basketball. Look at this year as a perfect example of why it’s the best. Michigan State is ravaged by injuries. Ohio State has an incredibly down year. Michigan loses its best player for the season. Wisconsin loses three in a row at one point. Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois are all down and in serious rebuilds. And, what conference is STILL the best? The Big Ten. I know that this league hasn’t won since 2000 (which is shocking to me), but there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that this has – by any objective measure – by clearly the best conference in the country for at least 3-4 years now. And, 2014 has been no different. This tournament should insanely interesting with the champion having certainly earned it.
The majority of the field went with either Wisconsin or Michigan State as their Big Ten champ, so if they meet in the semifinals, it will be huge. 5 of the top 6 seeds were pegged as champions with only #4 Nebraska getting no support. Only 3 people took top-seeded Michigan. Not a lot of sleepers, though a lot of people like Iowa and Ohio State to go further than their seeds say they should. Gersh and Stri split the 2012 title and since our 2013 champ didn’t enter this year, they are the de facto defending champs. Bry won the Big Ten in the first two years and remains the only one with multiple titles in this conference.
CHAMPIONSHIP (March 16th – 60 points)
#1 Michigan vs #3 Michigan State
Much like the ACC final, the Big Ten finale pits the regular season champ versus the consensus preseason pick to win the league. The Wolverines came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten by 3 full games over Wisconsin and MSU. But, I think it’s safe to say that things might be slightly – or totally – different if the Spartans had stayed healthy all year. And, they looked pretty spry in their impressive win over Wisconsin in the semis. Michigan has looked really shaky this week, barely surviving Illinois in the quarters and then squeaking by Ohio State in the semis. Do they have one more bullet in the holster for their dear old rivals?
Bry, Lohse, and RDoc are the only 3 with Michigan here. 10 people (Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have Sparty. GrossSr and PapaCim have locked up the 2014 Big Ten title regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
SEMIFINALS (March 15th – 40 points each)
#1 Michigan vs #5 Ohio State
Not sure if these two teams ever play in any other sport, but it’s always nice to see the state universities of these two neighbor states engage in a friendly sporting endeavor. Both teams are somewhat lucky to even be in this game, as Michigan needed a last-second bucket to beat Illinois in the quarters, and Ohio State barely survived a pair of games – first, a 2-point win over Purdue in the opening round, then erasing an 18-point second half deficit against Nebraska in the quarters.
8 people (Alexi, Beks, Dave, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have Ohio State in this one, with Alexi and Dave picking the Buckeyes to win it all. Lazarow has already lost this game with Nebraska. The other 16 all have Michigan, though only Bry, Lohse, and RDoc have the Wolverines winning this tourney.
#2 Wisconsin vs #3 Michigan State
Wisconsin looked really, really good against Minnesota in the quarters. Michigan State took care of business against Northwestern. Now, we have a Final Four caliber game in the Big Ten semifinals. These two only played once in the regular season – at the Kohl Center in Madison – and it was a hard-fought 2-point win for the Badgers. But, MSU was missing both Brandon Dawson and Keith Appling. This should be really, really good.
11 people (Alexi, Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) have the Spartans. Doogan and Lohse have already lost this game. The other 12 all have Wisconsin, including 9 (Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf) with the Badgers winning the tournament. 10 people actually have MSU winning this whole thing (everyone who has them winning here except Alexi). Needless to say, this game is a BIG DEAL for the CTC.
QUARTERFINALS (March 14th – 20 points each)
#1 Michigan vs #9 Illinois
Possibly the most underrated coaching job of 2013-14 is the one done – AGAIN – by John Beilein in Ann Arbor. Can we finally put him in the discussion with the best coaches in the country? He just flat-out wins everywhere he goes. Last year, he took a young team to the championship game, and this year, he loses his backcourt to the NBA and his best player to a back injury, and still wins the best conference in America by THREE FULL GAMES. We should also be talking about Nick Stauskas as a potential Big Ten POY and the Wolverines as a possible 1-seed. That is amazing after losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch McGary. Walkon Spike Albrecht (who, despite his ridiculous heroics in the title game, was a walkon for a reason) is even playing major minutes for this team. And, let me repeat – they won the best conference in the country by three whole games. They open their Big Ten tournament against an Illinois team that is very dangerous and handled Indiana on Thursday.
All 25 entries have Michigan winning this one, but only Bry, Lohse, and RDoc have the Wolverines taking the Big Ten title on Sunday.
Michigan 64 – Illinois 63
#4 Nebraska vs #5 Ohio State
This is the one. The one the Cornhuskers need to complete their case for inclusion in the field. Nebraska has made incredible strides this year – after opening their shiny new building – and want to finish the season off right, with their first trip to the Dance in quite some time. Terran Petteway has emerged as a go-to guy for the ‘Huskers on the offensive end, but the main improvements they have made this year have come on the defensive side of the ball. They are a fantastic defensive team who finishes possessions by limiting offensive rebounds. Their quarterfinal opponent, Ohio State, is seriously deficient offensively, so this could be a real struggle for the Buckeyes, who lost in Lincoln in late-January – the game that was the start of the turnaround for Nebraska. The teams also played on Jan 4, when Ohio State was in the Top 5 in the country (man, that seems like a long time ago), and the Buckeyes annihilated the ‘Huskers 84-53 in Columbus.
Only 5 people (Bry, Caleb, Chris, Doogan, Lazarow) took Nebraska here. The other 20 all have OSU, including Alexi and Dave, who have them winning this tournament. 6 others (Becks, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) all have the Buckeyes reaching the finals.
Ohio State 71 – Nebraska 67
#2 Wisconsin vs #7 Minnesota
The Gophers avoided a probable bubble-bursting loss Thursday night with a comeback win over Penn State. Now, they have a chance to get off the bubble – in the right direction – on Friday if they can take down potential #1-seed in the Dance, Wisconsin. Can we quick talk – as I like to any chance I get – about just how great Bo Ryan is. Bo has been at Wisconsin for 12 years now. He has been in the top 4 of the Big Ten (the best conference in basketball for much of that time) 12 times. That’s right, Bo Ryan’s Badgers have never been lower than 4th place in the Big Ten regular season. That would be impressive at any school, let alone at Wisconsin. And, there are many who think (myself included) that this year’s version might be Bo’s best team ever. Aside from a strange dip in late January, where they lost 5 of 6, the Badgers are 24-1, including wins over Florida, Saint Louis, Virginia (in the ugliest game ever played), Iowa (2x), Michigan State, and Michigan. He’s got at least 4 guys (usually all 5) that are dead-eye shooters on the court at all times, and he’s got a 7-footer that dropped 43 (including 6-6 from 3-point range) against North Dakota earlier this year. This Wisconsin team is so tough and will be a really tough out in any tournament they participate in.
Teddy is all alone on Minnesota here, hoping for a free 70 points on the field. The other 24 all have the Badgers, including 9 people (Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf) that have the Badgers taking this title. Bry and Dave are the only two that have them going to the finals and losing.
Wisconsin 83 – Minnesota 57
#3 Michigan State vs #11 Northwestern
And, the final entry to the Big Ten tournament this year is that team from East Lansing. That team of the walking wounded. Another fascinating stat about the greatness of a coach can be told here – no player that has played four years for Tom Izzo has ever left Michigan State without a trip to the Final Four. But, that amazing statistic is actually on the line this year. And, wouldn’t it be ironic if the class that breaks it is consists of Adrien Payne and Keith Appling? Those two are fantastic and, yet, they are in danger of being the first two Spartans to play 4 years with a trip to the Final Four. But, there are reasons why these stats exist, and, when healthy, this team is one of the best bets to make the Final Four and keep it going. The big question that remains is: are they healthy? They are all back on the court, but are they healthy? That remains to be seen. The first team to test them was supposed to be a good, deep Iowa team that would run, run, and run. That would have been a real test for a team that hasn’t played much together this year. But, instead they get a NW team that likes to go slow, slow, and slower. The Wildcats knocked off Iowa in the nightcap of Thursday’s festivities and now get a crack at Izzo and company.
7 people (Bry, Dave, Doogan, Lazarow, Lohse, RDoc, Scoot) have already lost this game with Iowa. The other 18 have the Spartans, including 10 (Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers) with them as their champs. Alexi is the only one that has them in the finals without picking them to win it.
Michigan State 67 – Northwestern 51
OPENING ROUND (March 13th – 10 points each)
#8 Indiana vs #9 Illinois
The tipoff of the 2014 Big Ten tournament is between two teams that are too talented to be in the position of mere spoiler of “bid thief.” But, that is the case for both UI and IU. John Groce better get it together in Champaign, as Bruce Weber continues to shine in Manhattan, KS. They Illini only have one senior of significance, and they were spectacular down the stretch, as they finished with a crazy 5-game stretch (@Min, Neb, @MichSt, Mich, @Iowa) in which they went an astonishing 4-1. I’m not sure I would pick any team in the country to go 4-1 over that stretch, especially not a team that won ONE game (against Penn State) between Jan 5 and Feb 18. But, tournaments like this are about who you can beat and Illinois has proven all year that they can beat anyone. As for the Hoosiers, I am not sure why Tom Crean (who I think is a terrific coach) is getting a total pass on this season. They have no chance at an at-large bid, despite one of the best freshmen in the country (Noah Vonleigh), a solid, if not spectacular, PG (Yogi Ferrell), and an experienced role player who can do a lot of things on both ends (Will Sheehey). Is it because there just isn’t much other talent? Well, doesn’t that fall on Crean as well? I know that they lost an All-Star roster of players to the NBA, but at a place like Indiana who was put back on the map the past couple of years, I didn’t expect any down years any more, but that’s what we had. I guess there is still time to make it up, but they have to win a really tough tournament. The winner of this game will get #1 Michigan on Friday.
Only 6 people (Bry, Caleb, GrossJr, J, Lazarow, PapaCim) went with Illinois here. No one has either of these teams beating Michigan in the quarters.
Illinois 64 – Indiana 54
#5 Ohio State vs #12 Purdue
What happened to OSU this year? They should be great, and they looked great early on. But, they just don’t have any offense and, ya know, scoring is important. I asked Doogan the other day if Ohio State would be a Top 10 team in the country if Desean Thomas stayed in school instead of leaving a year early to play in Spain. He said yes, and I agree. That is exactly what they are missing – and he is one of the best at it – scoring. As for Purdue, it doesn’t get much tougher for a 5-seed than to draw a 12-seed as good as the Boilers. The winner of this game will take on a Nebraska team that really needs a win to get off the bubble.
Bry is the only one that went for the big upset here with Purdue. A Purdue win would also bust a ton of brackets. Alexi and Dave have the Buckeyes winning this tournament. Becks, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, and WaTers have them going to the finals. 11 more (Colton, GrossJr, GrossSr, J, Lohse, Mac, PapaCim, Primm, RDoc, Scoot, Stumpf) have them reaching the semis, so this is huge here for most of the field to keep OSU alive. Aside from Bry, only Caleb, Chris, Doogan, and Lazarow have OSU not making the semis.
Ohio State 63 – Purdue 61
#7 Minnesota vs #10 Penn State
Richard Pitino has done a great job in Minneapolis, but the team is inconsistent and unsteady. Sometimes they look great, sometimes they look very flat – and that might be inexperienced coaching. But, they are in decent shape to make the tournament, but they have to beat Penn State on Thursday. The Nittany Lions have one of the best backcourt duos in the great Tim Frazier and the nearly-great D.J. Newbill. This is a dangerous game for the Gophers, and they better bring the good team to this one. The winner here gets #2 Wisconsin.
9 people (Bry, Dave, Doogan, GrossJr, Lynch, PapaCim, Primm, RDoc, WaTers) took the Nittany Lions here with an upset that might kill Minnesota’s tournament hopes. No one has either of these teams beating Wisconsin in the quarters.
Minnesota 63 – Penn State 56
#6 Iowa vs #11 Northwestern
God, I love this Iowa team. But, they have really struggled to stop anyone lately. And, if you don’t play defense, you just don’t win Big Ten games. But, they do have a TON of talent and are probably the deepest team in the league (depth has hidden importance this year because of the new quicker whistles). This game should be a fascinating game of completely contrasting styles. Iowa LOVES to run and will on any occasion. Northwestern will go slow, slow, and slower. The ‘Cats are tough and should not be overlooked. Iowa is in no danger of missing the Dance, but they are playing with the fire of a bad seeding and a loss here might put them in the dreaded 8/9 game.
Gersh, GrossJr, Lynch, and PapaCim went with a really nice NW upset pick here, though none of them have the ‘Cats beating Mich State. Doogan puts his Big Ten champ at risk here in the nightcap. Lohse has the Hawkeyes in the finals. Bry, Dave, Lazarow, RDoc, and Scoot all have them beating Michigan State, so they need them to stay alive here.
Northwestern 67 – Iowa 62
- #1 Michigan (3) – Bry, Lohse, RDoc
- #2 Wisconsin (9) – Caleb, Colton, J, Lazarow, Mac, Primm, Scoot, Stri, Stumpf
- #3 Michigan State (10) – Becks, Chris, Gersh, GrossJr, GrossSr, Lynch, PapaCim, Stritts, Teddy, WaTers
- #4 Nebraska (0)
- #5 Ohio State (2) – Alexi, Dave
- #6 Iowa (1) – Doogan
- R1 – #12 Purdue (Bry)
- QF – #6 Iowa (Bry, Dave, Doogan, Lazarow, Lohse, RDoc, Scoot)
- SF – #5 Ohio State (Alexi, Becks, Dave, Gersh, Lynch, Stritts, WaTers)
Previous CTC Champions
- 2008 – Bry
- 2009 – Bry
- 2010 – Waters
- 2011 – Primm
- 2012 – Gersh, Stri
- 2013 – Cheryl