Big Ten Tournament Preview 2021: Three Favorites & One Sleeper

Tip-off of the 2021 Big Ten Tournament is set to begin on Wednesday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN.

For the conference’s 14 programs, the road to this season’s Big Ten championship will begin and end in the same city that the NCAA national championship will be set entirely in.

Perhaps, as one of the nation’s most competitive and star-studded conferences throughout the 2020-21 college basketball season, five of its teams are currently occupying spots in the national rankings—four of which are ranked within the top-9.

As a result, this tournament is undoubtedly going to be one of the most important in terms of seeding come Selection Sunday—especially as it relates to where the #1 seeds fall.

But before we find out which team will punch their ticket into the big dance, let’s take a more detailed look at the conference tournament bracket ahead:

First Round - Wednesday, March 10th, 2021 (BTN)

1.) #13 Minnesota vs. #12 Northwestern | 6:30PM

2.) #14 Nebraska vs. #11 Penn State | 9PM

Second Round - Thursday, March 11th, 2021 (BTN)

3.) #9 Michigan State vs. #8 Maryland | 11:30AM

4.) Minnesota/Northwestern vs. #5 Ohio State | 2PM

5.) #10 Indiana vs. #7 Rutgers | 6:30PM

6.) Nebraska/Penn State vs. #6 Wisconsin | 9PM

Quarterfinals - Friday, March 12th, 2021 (BTN)

7.) Michigan State/Maryland vs. #1 Michigan | 11:30AM

8.) Winner of Game 4 vs. #4 Purdue | 2PM

9.) Indiana/Rutgers vs. #2 Illinois | 6:30PM

10.) Winner of Game 6 vs. #3 Iowa | 9PM

Semifinals - Saturday, March 13th, 2021 (CBS)

11.) Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 8 | 1PM

12.) Winner of Game 9 vs. Winner of Game 10 | 3:30PM

Championship - Sunday, March 14th, 2021 (CBS)

13.) Winner of Game 11 vs. Winner of Game 12 | 3:30PM

*All times in EST

The Favorite(s):

#1 Michigan- In a season of unpredictability, one of the teams that have consistently sat above the rest in the nation has been the Michigan Wolverines.

In just his 2nd year at the position, Big Ten Coach of the Year Juwan Howard has left an immediate impact on the program and his team isn’t necessarily showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.

After beginning the season ranked at the bottom of the AP Top 25 preseason poll, Michigan had carried an 18-1 record through their first 19 games this season with major wins against Purdue, Ohio State, and Iowa—certainly proving that they can compete with the best in the country.

Even with two losses to Illinois and Michigan State—the latter of which occurred after star senior guard Eli Brooks left the contest with an ankle injury—in their last three games of the regular season, the Wolverines still pose the biggest challenge to the rest of the conference.

Traditionally, history has also on their side during this time of year as they’ve previously claimed two out of the last three Big Ten titles before Howard took over as head coach in 2019. Nonetheless, this group is destined to achieve more once again this year.

With Freshman of the Year center Hunter Dickinson (14.3 points & 7.7 rebounds/game), senior forward Isaiah Livers (13.7 points & 6.1 rebounds/game), and sophomore guard Franz Wagner (12.9 points & 6.3 rebounds/game), Michigan presents the all-around versatility that much of the nation lacks.

They’ll now have until Friday morning to regroup and prepare for the winner of Thursday’s Maryland-Michigan State matchup.

#2 Illinois- Despite earning a better spot than Michigan in the AP Top 25 rankings to close out the regular season, the Illini will enter the Big Ten tournament as the conference’s #2 seed.

As one of the hottest teams in college basketball over the past month and a half, Illinois has surged through the national rankings with commanding wins against notable opponents: Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State.

All-Big Ten First Team honorees junior Ayo Dosunmu (20.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, & 5.2 assists/game) and sophomore Kofi Cockburn (17.3 points & 9.6 rebounds/game) are a dynamic duo prepared to spark the offense while Big Ten All-Defensive Team senior Trent Frazier locks down on-ball rivals.

Currently projected as a #1 seed in time for the NCAA Tournament, the Illini will face the winner of the Indiana-Rutgers game on Friday evening.

#3 Iowa- The Hawkeyes will head to Indianapolis on a modest 3-game winning streak—earning the tournament’s #3 seed in the process.

Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza continues to be an unstoppable force in the paint against the rest of the conference. Garza, the favorite to win this year’s John R. Wooden Award as the most outstanding player in college basketball, has carried the Hawkeyes to the #5 spot in the country—leading his team in points (23.8), rebounds (8.7), and blocks (1.6) per game during his senior campaign.

Sure, this team made a strong case for a title run this season with wins against Purdue and Ohio State, however, they’ve also seen their fair share of lows—suffering difficult losses against Gonzaga, Michigan, and even Indiana (twice).

Hopefully, with these games behind them, the Hawkeyes can now make a run when it matters most starting with their first tournament game on Friday night against the winner of Wisconsin-Nebraska/Penn State.

The Sleeper:

#4 Purdue- Continuing on right down the line, Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers seem to be peaking at just the right time of year—closing out the regular season on a 5-game winning streak.

Although the majority of their recent wins came against the conference’s mediocre half, their resume this season still primarily consists of two significant victories over Ohio State.

Opposite of a team like Buckeyes—who had been featured high in the national rankings for the majority of the season before going ice-cold—Purdue has worked their way to become one of the Big Ten’s most underrated teams entering the tournament.

Junior forward Trevion Williams (15.2 points & 8.8 rebounds/game), who was recently named to the All-Big Ten First Team, has mainly been the shining star of the Boilermaker’s roster and will look to spark the team on both ends moving forward.

On Friday afternoon, Williams and Purdue will square-off against the winner of Thursday’s Ohio State-Minnesota/Northwestern game.


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