A Big 10 representative won college basketball’s national championship four years ago (Michigan State in 2000) and Indiana got to the title game two years ago against Maryland.
There are a slew of quality teams from the Big 10 this season. Here’s a look at some of the league’s best, with the March tournaments on the horizon.
MICHIGAN ST: The young Spartans have become more aggressive offensively than recent Tom Izzo teams, which were known for strangling defenses. The Spartans lead the Big 10 in shooting (49 percent), free throws (77 percent) and are second in three pointers (39 percent). Michigan State is last in the Big 10 on defense, allowing 46 percent shooting, and second to last (trailing Northwestern) in rebounding with 30 boards per game.
Izzo has a talented Big Three of 6-foot-11 sophomore Paul Davis along with junior guards Kevin Torbet and Chris Hill. They’ve rebounded from a 5-7 SU start, getting hot at the right time. One concern: A poor 4-6 SU/ATS start on the road, where the defense allows 74 ppg.
ILLINOIS: The Fighting Illini has great balance, with strong defense and many ways on offense to beat you. Illinois has a terrific frontcourt of 6-foot-10 sophomore James Augustine and 6-6 junior Roger Powell. Augustine is third in rebounding in the Big 10 and shoots 63 percent from the field. The backcourt is strong, as well, with sophomores Deron Williams and Dee Brown, who saw plenty of time as freshmen last season. Williams leads the Big 10 in assists.
Illinois is the league’s best scoring team (73 ppg) and second in field goals. The Illini are also second defensively, allowing opponents just 40 percent shooting, and third in scoring defense (62 ppg). Illinois started 16-3 SU as a favorite, but is 0-2 SU/ATS as an underdog. The Illini end the regular season this week on the road at Purdue and Ohio State.
WISCONSIN: There’s a ”˜D’ smack in the middle of the word "Badger," which is appropriate. Wisconsin leads the conference in defense, allowing 57 ppg. The offense is slow and patient, with a one-two punch of 6-foot-8 junior Mike Wilkinson and junior guard Devin Harris. The Badgers have a major threat in Harris, who leads the team in scoring (19 ppg) and assists, averages close to two steals per game and hits almost 80 percent from the foul line.
Sophomore swingman Alando Tucker is second in scoring. While Wisconsin started 14-0 at home averaging 74 ppg, the numbers slump dramatically away from Madison. The Badgers began 4-6 SU and 3-7 ATS on the road where the offense struggles to score 60. This is a tough week for Wisconsin, playing at Michigan State on Tuesday and visiting Indiana this Saturday.
IOWA: Lights out! While Wisconsin slows the basketball down, Iowa has stormed through the Big 10 season with the No. 2 offense (73 ppg). Most impressive is that the Hawkeyes average 73 both home and on the road. Guards Pierre Pierce and Jeff Horner run this uptempo offense, leading the Hawkeyes in scoring. Iowa started the season 9-5 "over" the total.
Greg Brunner, a 6-7 sophomore, leads Iowa in rebounding. Brunner had to take over after a foot injury to 6-11 senior C Jared Reiner. The Hawkeyes are No. 1 in rebounding (38 per game) in the Big 10 with that large duo. Iowa also allows just 41 percent shooting defensively, and is a strong three-point shooting team. The one concern is the 77 points allowed on the road, which explains the 7-1 "over" the total road mark.
PURDUE: You like rugged defense? Wisconsin and Purdue are the teams for you. The Boilermakers are first in the Big 10 holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting, and second behind the Badgers allowing 58 ppg. The Boilermakers allow 57 at home and 59 on the road, which explains the 10-5 "under" the total start.
The frontcourt blocks the lane with wide-bodies 6-11 senior Ivan Kartelo and 6-8 senior Brett Buscher, while senior guard Kenneth Lowe runs the break. They also have a deep bench, with players such as sophomore Melvin Buckley. Purdue is second in the Big 10 from the free throw line (73 percent).