The final conference standings are in the book, the Big Ten Tourney seeds are set, and we've come to beginning of the win-or-go-home time of year. I went back and looked at my preconference predictions for kicks: I was really off on Michigan, who picked up four more wins than I thought as well as a piece of the regular season championship, and Illinois, who finished 3 games worse than I thought. Everyone else was within a game or two of my prognostications, so I don't feel like I have to hang my head, at least not about this.
I'll have updated individual player efficiencies soon (c'mon MSU, I know you're ticked about that last game, but post your conference stats already), so for now rankings, seeds, and commentary are below the jump.
1. Ohio State (#3 Seed)
Final record 13-5, predicted record 15-3
Best 3 seed ever? Well, it was just two year ago that Michigan State was the #3 seed, and went on to its second straight Final Four, so let's hold off superlatives just yet. I do think that Matta's team got to be a bit of the fat cat early on, but the efficiency margin numbers are still quite impressive considering that the Big Ten is pretty clearly the toughest conference out there. I do like OSU's chances to go far in the NCAA's, unless they get dumped into a #2 seed facing UNC or Kentucky. But if the Buckeyes just go out there and win the Big Ten Tourney outright, I would think they would be deserving of a #1 seed.
2. Michigan State (#1 Seed)
Final record 13-5, predicted record 11-7
Branden Dawson's ACL tear is just awful, and to my eyes it really hurts MSU's chances of making another great Final Four run. Izzo evidently vowed to win the BTT, but that's obviously just raw emotion. I like the upside of Brandan Kearney and all, but he's no Dawson, and he's been mired in a serious shooting slump for some time. Furthermore, Travis Trice's injury is lingering and Brandon Wood has been off recently, too. But you never, ever count out Izzo in March. Draymond Green is finally conference Player of the Year, and as a four-year fan of his all-around game, I'm very happy to see him get the recognition.
3. Michigan (#2 Seed)
Final record 13-5, predicted record 9-9
The Wolverines benefited quite a bit from MSU's bad luck and Ohio State's good work in the final week of the season. I'm glad that this program has gotten over the bad drama and fallout from the Fab Five years, but I'm a little mystified how John Beilien has managed to land recruits like Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. Sure, he's cleaning up the image of the program, but why would a guy like McGary want to go into a system predicated on three-point shooting and backcuts? I don't know how he's doing it, but I'm impressed. Here's the most impressive thing about this year's team, though: they win without hitting threes. When they do hit threes, they're a very tough team, but they usually don't, and just win anyway.
4. Wisconsin (#4 Seed)
Final record 12-6, predicted record 13-5
Wisconsin actually did pretty well on the road this season, which was good as they were not nearly as impressive at home as they've been for quite some time. Overall, this team is a bit underwhelming at the moment - but that doesn't mean they're not good. Sure, maybe they didn't live up KenPom's early numbers as one of the top 2 teams in nation, but they still win games. Just because they're a little less impressive than last season doesn't mean they should be taken for granted in the BTT. When Berggren and Evans start actually hitting some of the shots they take, the Badgers are quite hard to beat.
5. Indiana (#5 Seed)
Final record 11-7, predicted record 11-7
Before I break my arm patting myself on the back for my correct guesswork, I also went on record in the pre-season stating that IU would like finish with 17 or so on the year. Which IU surpassed way back when they won at Purdue, I believe. This season has been an unqualified success, and now maybe the postseason can give us some clues as to whether the Hoosiers are preparing to make a jump from pre-2009 competitiveness to the pre-1994 regular national title contention. Or not. After all, there was precious little evidence that the 2001 team held all of the necessary elements to get to the 2002 Final Four. I've read some chatter that pundits are picking the Hoosiers for a sleeper pick to reach this year's Final Four. To which, I say, thanks for the respect - but that's really unlikely. I will be over-the-moon happy about a mere Sweet 16 performance, let alone if Crean could get these guys to the Elite Eight.
6. Purdue (#6 Seed)
Final record 10-8, predicted record 10-8
I'll give 'em credit, the Boilers do not give up, and are putting together their toughest, scrappiest ball at the right time of the season. The loss of Kelsey Barlow really does seem to have gelled the team. As long as Purdue can take care of business against Nebraska, they'll get a chance to see if they can upset Ohio State again, which they were impressively close to pulling off in Columbus. Win that one, and who knows where the ceiling is? However, this team is rather short and not very deep, which doesn't entirely subvert their chances in the postseason, but makes their margin for error rather slim.
7. Northwestern (#7 Seed)
Final record 8-10, predicted record 9-9
Can NU beat Minnesota? A loss makes the likelihood of their first-ever NCAA at-large bid razor-thin. I think a win puts them on the right side of the 50-50 bubble, and following that up with a win over Michigan would lock them in. The Wildcats are closer than ever before, and they're getting healthy as Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb appear to be regular contributors again. If former starting center Luka Mirkovic somehow, someway shows up ready to play in the tourney, Carmody's team would actually have a *gasp* eight-man rotation! If you want to keep up on the high, high drama - I suggest Sippin' on Purple's daily bracketology freakouts.
8. Iowa (#8 Seed)
Final record 8-10, predicted record 6-12
Iowa looked, no joke, like the worst team in the conference before Big Ten games started. The ability of Fran McCaffrey to turn this around really shows some great coaching ability on his part. That said, Iowa is slotted halfway between in efficiency margin between Northwestern and Illinois/Minnesota. Take away their strange dominance of Wisconsin, and they look much more like one of the basement teams than a bubble team. Nonetheless, McCaffrey has this team on an upward swing, and I'm sure Matt Gatens wants to go out in the BTT swinging.
9. Minnesota (#10 Seed)
Final record 6-12, predicted record 8-10
Tubby did a really good job gelling these guys and getting the Gophers looking like a NCAA tourney-level team for a bit, post-Mbakwe. That said, they went into quite the slide at the end of the season, and then they'll lose a solid center in Ralph Sampson to graduation, who never quite lived up to his early flashes of potential. For the tourney, I don't get the feeling that they've quite given up, but they don't have quite the same stakes to play for that Northwestern does, either. It's hard to predict that they're going to come out too fired up in the first round.
10. Illinois (#9 Seed)
Final record 6-12, predicted record 9-9
The Illini are rolling into their game with Iowa without any fire or passion, and look to be ready to blow up Webber's program and start over. The name Shaka Smart is being tossed around a lot, already. However, if Illinois remembers that Meyers Leonard is very tall and tends to score against Iowa when given half a chance, they could knock off Iowa and find themselves facing a weakened MSU team in the second round. Iowa & Illinois have done fairly well historically in the BTT as lower seeds, so the winner of this game may actually be a sleeper to watch.
11. Nebraska (#11 Seed)
Final record 4-14, predicted record 6-12
So, the Cornhuskers had a rough introduction into the conference. Doc Sadler had Nebraska on a bit of an upswing in the Big 12, but that progress has been totally demolished in this tougher conference. They face off against Purdue in the first round, which actually may not be a terrible match-up, but even if they win that game, Ohio State looms. The major question here is whether to give Sadler another year or tear everything down and start again? He's got some good pieces coming back next year, so I'd probably let him stay, but he's also hardly an extroverted excitement-building guy like Crean or McCaffrey, so I could see if Nebraska decided to go another way.
12. Penn State (#12 Seed)
Final record 4-14, predicted record 3-15
Penn State did a fine job in getting four wins, but given that they lost two starters to injuries during conference play (Cameron Woodyard and Billy Oliver), it's not surprising that they're entering the BTT on a bit of a slide. Facing Indiana in the first round is hard enough, but even if IU lays an egg and lets Penn State beat them, they're still looking at facing Wisconsin immediately afterwards. They had a better-than-expected season, so at least Pat Chambers can feel good about that. How PSU develops from here will be very interesting to watch.