It’s the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. Out in the Big 10, Ohio State made the title game two years with Greg Oden while Michigan State won it all in 2000.
Here’s a look at some of the top teams looking to make a similar run.
Michigan St: The Spartans have exceptional balance, leading the Big 10 in scoring and third in scoring defense. They’ve outscored conference opponents by +8.5 points per game, far and away ahead of everyone else. Tom Izzo has another strong defensive team allowing 41 percent shooting and on a 10-5 run under the total.
The Spartans have wins over Texas and Oklahoma State, but bad losses to Maryland (80-62) and North Carolina (98-63). Michigan State is just 2-2 SU/ATS as a dog.
Purdue: Coach Matt Painter’s Boilermakers went on a recent 10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS run.
Beginning with a 30-point effort Feb. 3 at Ohio State, 6-foot-10 JaJuan Johnson is averaging 17.5 points. Purdue is a powerful defensive team, allowing 40 percent shooting and 59.8 ppg and held three straight Big 10 teams to 47, 45 and 54 points.
The Boilermakers are 8-3 ATS their last 11 as a dog, but failed to play good defense against Oklahoma and Duke, both losses.
Illinois: In a conference that prefers slow paced games and choking defense, no one is better than Illinois, allowing 56.5 ppg and 39 percent shooting, both tops in the Big 10. A successful style like that needs big bodies in the paint, and the Illini have a pair in 6-9 soph Mike Davis (11 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and 7-foot-1 soph center Mike Tisdale (11 ppg, 4 rpg).
This is a young team with an erratic bench. Illinois is on 10-2 run under the total and 5-2 SU/ATS as a dog. They scored 36 and 33 points against Minnesota and Penn State.
Minnesota: Coach Tubby Smith’s team doesn’t dazzle with stats and used a soft early schedule to reach 20 wins. As guard Lawrence Westbook goes, so go the Gophers. Westbrook is a junior guard who leads the Gophers in scoring at 12.5 points per game. The Gophers started 9-1 when he leads the team in scoring.
When Big 10 play got rolling in January, the smallish Gophers went on a 4-6 SU, 2-8 ATS run. That included going 0-5 SU/ATS as a dog.
Ohio State: Thad Motta continues to replace stars like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jamar Butler, 7-foot Kosta Koufos and Othello Hunter. The Buckeyes are building around 6-7 soph Evan Turner (16.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), 6-5 freshman William Buford and 6-6 soph Jon Diebler. Turner is second in the Big Ten in scoring. Ohio State is not the power defensive team of past years, ranking ninth in scoring defense in the Big 10, but second in offense behind Michigan State.