[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

2019 Big Ten Tournament Preview Comment Count

Alex Cook March 13th, 2019 at 1:05 PM

The Big Ten Tournament commences tonight. It’s been a good year for the Big Ten: it’s rated as the best conference in the country by Kenpom, it’s quite possible that over half the league will reach the NCAA Tournament, and there aren’t any truly bad teams (depending on how mean you want to be to Northwestern). I didn’t expect the Big Ten to be this strong. Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan finished as the best teams in the conference a year ago, and despite significant personnel losses for each program, they’re in a tier of their own again. Wisconsin and Maryland could be Sweet 16 squads. Iowa and Minnesota have really improved.

That said, the Big Ten Tournament doesn’t start with those teams. It starts with the dregs. We begin with a Wednesday evening doubleheader: a game between post-implosion Nebraska and a surprisingly feisty Rutger team and a rubber match in the Illinois - Northwestern rivalry (the teams have a combined 24-38 record). That 9:30 PM tip-off in Chicago should be a depressing spectacle. Then it’s the Thursday afternoon game — a truly cursed matchup, even by the standards set by the 8/9 fixture in Big Ten Tournament over the years — with Ohio State and Indiana. Stream this game at work if you can: it should be a wonderful combination of the characteristically ugly basketball this conference can produce and open desperation from underwhelming major-conference teams on the bubble in March.

By the time we get to Saturday’s semifinals, there should be a great doubleheader: a combination of legitimately good teams cutting their teeth ahead of the Big Dance and upstarts that have won a few games in consecutive days. On Sunday, we get a delicious appetizer ahead of the Selection Show — a chance for Purdue or Michigan State to nudge ahead of the other for conference supremacy, a chance for Michigan to win its third Big Ten Tournament in a row, or maybe a chance for Wisconsin or Maryland to make a statement and move up a seed line or two. Maybe there could be a longshot winner and bid thief. There’s a pretty good chance that some of the best basketball the sport can offer at the college level will be played at some point this weekend.

[After THE JUMP: The story, the field]

[Paul Sherman]

Two years ago, Michigan famously appeared in Washington DC after surviving a plane crash, upset Purdue in overtime on Friday afternoon, and strode past Minnesota and Wisconsin to claim a Banner. Last year, they escaped Iowa on Thursday then rolled Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue en route to another Banner. For the first time in a while, Michigan received a double bye and would only need to win three games to get their third straight Big Ten Tournament title. They’ve won eight BTT games in a row.

There’s certainly an opportunity for the Wolverines, who have been confronted with the disappointment of falling a game short of a conference title and suffering a season sweep at the hands of Michigan State. Torvik gives Michigan about a 1-in-3 chance of winning it all; Kenpom’s at 1-in-5 [EDIT: 1-in-4]. There are decent odds that they could meet the Spartans for a third time in Chicago, hoping to replicate what happened in 2014 — State was swept by Nik Stauskas and the Wolverines before beating Michigan handily in the Sunday BTT championship game.

To get to that championship game, Michigan will have to beat one of Iowa / Illinois / Northwestern, then one of Purdue / Penn State / Minnesota. Based on Torvik’s projection of the likelihood of all BTT outcomes, I calculated Michigan’s chances of facing each Big Ten team:

Purdue — 65% (Semifinal)

Torvik’s rankings love Michigan (#4) and project that there are better odds of UM and Purdue (#9) holding serve in the quarterfinals than there are of Iowa (#40) beating Illinois or Northwestern to set up a quarterfinal matchup against Michigan.

The Boilermakers look like a completely different team than they were in the only regular season matchup with Michigan back in early December — which was a Wolverine rout. Purdue had their third-lowest offensive output in that game, Carsen Edwards had fewer points than shots, and Trevion Williams (who’s since emerged as an integral part of Purdue’s rotation) barely played. Michigan raced out to a fast start, hit half their threes, and coasted to an easy win. Jon Teske featured prominently — he was impressive on both ends and exploited Purdue’s switch-heavy ball screen coverage — and Jordan Poole made all five of his three-point attempts en route to 21 points.

That game might not have much bearing on a potential rematch. Purdue suffered some close losses in non-conference play, but their luck turned as the calendar flipped over to the new year: 4-1 in games decided by one possession or in overtime. The one loss came in The Barn against Minnesota a week ago, a loss that kept Purdue from earning the conference title outright. Michigan has to like the contours of this potential matchup: even though Zavier Simpson’s reputation of defensive indomitability took a hit with Cassius Winston’s success against Michigan, he’s still an elite defender to match Purdue’s star guard, and the Boilermakers are the most three-reliant team in the league — Michigan prevents threes as well as anyone.

A second Michigan-Purdue game in West Lafayette wasn’t on the schedule, but would have been a great fixture. At least there’s a good chance that these two teams will meet on Saturday afternoon.


Iowa — 61% (Quarterfinal)

Despite the Hawkeyes’ recent and fairly dramatic late-season swoon, they’ll probably be able to get past whoever wins between Illinois and Northwestern. In mid-February, Iowa had a 20-5 record, but they’ve lost five of their last six. Following an embarrassing road loss to Ohio State (they conceded 90 points to an anemic Buckeye offense), Fran McCaffery screamed some very nasty things to a ref and was suspended for two games. They lost those two games: Rutger ran them out of their own gym (86-72) and Wisconsin clubbed them to death (65-45). Fran returned to drop an overtime shootout in Lincoln to Nebraska. Over the last two weeks, they’ve played their worst basketball. They’re still an NCAA Tournament team.

I think that the sentiment that Iowa is a particularly bad matchup for Michigan is overblown. The Hawkeyes are a team with a deep frontcourt and a potent offense, and they did hand the Wolverines their most decisive loss of the season. Brandon Johns and Austin Davis played more minutes combined than Jon Teske did in that game. It’s a surprise that Nebraska inched past Iowa for the worst defense in Big Ten play — and in the loss in Iowa City, Michigan scored just 0.82 points per possession. Unless Teske barely plays again, the rematch will look much different than the first game. Michigan hasn’t seen a 2-3 zone in a while, but should have some success against such a bad defense.

Maybe Tyler Cook and friends will be able to rack up the fouls on Michigan’s big men again — the Wolverines’ frontcourt depth may be even thinner if Charles Matthews is still out and Isaiah Livers has to play all his minutes on the wing. Maybe Iowa’s defense will inexplicably shut down a pretty good offense again. It would be a game at a neutral site between a top ten team and a team that’s considered to be around 40th nationally by Kenpom, Torvik, and Sagarin.

Michigan State — 29% (Final)

Third time’s the charm, right?

Michigan and Michigan State both have injuries, so I think the odds of this actually happening are lower than the 29% chance forecasted by Torvik. An argument could be made that an early exit and additional rest would be beneficial for both teams in regards to the NCAA Tournament (losing is never better than winning, obviously, though there is a silver lining in this instance). A third matchup is definitely a possibility; I think these are the best two teams in the conference. State’s dominance in the second half of both games makes me leery of a potential UM-MSU BTT final, but a Michigan win would atone for how the season series played out. A third loss… don’t even want to think about it.

Illinois — 24% (Quarterfinal)

Northwestern — 15% (Quarterfinal)

If Iowa loses its first game, Michigan will face either of these two teams. Illinois did record a home win over Michigan State — the Spartans turned it over 24 times in that game — and fared better in conference play than expected (at 7-13), but the Illini still had a rough year. It was even worse for Northwestern, who won just one of their last 12 games. If either of these teams upsets Iowa, they’ll be playing their third game in three days against a well-rested Michigan squad.

Wisconsin — 15% (Final)

Penn State — 13% (Semifinal)

Minnesota — 7% (Semifinal)

Maryland — 6% (Final)

None of these matchups are likely, but Maryland and especially Wisconsin could very well advance to the championship game. Penn State’s been playing well lately and could theoretically upset Purdue if they get past Minnesota (they lost at home to the Boilermakers in overtime).

Ohio State — 2% (Final)

Indiana — 2% (Final)

I’m hoping Indiana — a team that won exactly one game over a six week span this season — doesn’t actually make it into the NCAA Tournament over a more deserving mid-major program, but it would be hilarious if they upset State again for a third time in the early Friday game to lock up a bid.

Nebraska — 1% (Final)

Rutger — 0.1% (Final)




March 13th, 2019 at 1:30 PM ^

Can Michigan get back to a 2 seed with a conference tourney win?  I know that depends on how the other teams perform, but is that in the discussion? 

Reggie Dunlop

March 13th, 2019 at 3:24 PM ^

Based on nothing but my oatmeal brain, I'd say absolutely. In general, the conference winner gets a nice bump on Selection Sunday. MSU and Purdue will have added another loss, as will a few others in contention.

In fact, I think there's a diary on this. Check out UMFanatic96's :Playing Out Michigan's Possible NCAA Tourney Seeding with Bart Torvik if you're looking for a more data-based prediction. Pretty sure he covered all the scenarios before the MSU game including us losing the season finale but winning the BTT.


March 13th, 2019 at 3:24 PM ^

Absolutely.  They may well be on the 2 line anyway; they currently are the last #2 on the Bracket Matrix.  If they make the finals, they're almost certainly a 2.  They probably can't get a 1 unless both Duke and NC lose in the first round of the ACC tournament or something; you could see UVa, SEC champ, MSU, and Michigan, with Gonzaga as a #2.  But that's a stretch.


March 13th, 2019 at 3:29 PM ^

Appreciate the insights, thank you 

Michigan fans need to pull their heads out of their butts then.  A 2 seed and another banner are outstanding possible outcomes from this week's tournament.  Put your Sparty remorse (and fear of facing them again) to sleep and let's get excited about the BTT 

EDIT: holy shit, even losing in the first game of the B1G tournament puts us at the last 2 seed, per that diary.  This is a very good team with a great resume and a lot of opportunity to do damage this postseason. 

steve sharik

March 13th, 2019 at 1:53 PM ^

If it weren't for them being Paterno-Sandusky University, I would really be rooting for Penn State to run the table and get to the dance b/c they're good enough to be an at-large but won't.

However, since they are Pa-Sand U., they can FO.

SirJack II

March 13th, 2019 at 1:59 PM ^

I do not want to face State again. I think they're simply better than us this year, or at the very least the match-up favors them. 

I also remember when they trounced us in the BTT in 2014 after we swept the regular season and won the conference title. I just shrugged my shoulders. If we did the same to them this year the revenge would only be lukewarm.


March 13th, 2019 at 2:11 PM ^

I have to disagree with a couple of things here.  If we played State again for the Big Ten title and beat them it would go pretty far in neutralizing their wins this season I think.  It would be for a third consecutive Big Ten tourney title.  Frankly, most people aren't going to remember who won the regular season title this year in six months, but a three-peat at the BTT would be a significant accomplishment.  It is hard to win that tournament.

Regarding MSU being better than Michigan, we haven't played State with a healthy Charles Matthews.  He was obviously very limited against them in the first matchup and did not play in the second.  He is a huge component against State.  Obviously I know they have had injury misfortune as well, so it is not an excuse, but I think it is a different matchup with him at full strength.  (Frankly I don't know whether Matthews is going to be play in this..... getting a little nervous with that, so I am not sure if it would be any different).


March 13th, 2019 at 2:20 PM ^

Prefacing this with the face that is 100% speculation....

But Michigan Basketball posted a photo on twitter yesterday of the team after practice with superfan Jude.  Everybody was in their practice jerseys while Matthews was in a t-shirt.  Make of it what you will (only did parts of practice, worked out beforehand, etc.), but my guess is he is still unlikely to play this weekend.


March 13th, 2019 at 3:02 PM ^

That is a really bad sign.  If he is a no-go this weekend I don't think we will see him again.  It looks as though he is in a t-shirt in the picture, but where did you get the intel that he was limited in practice?

To anybody with any kind of legit "insider" knowledge of the team - is there any chatter that Matthews has shut it down?  I have not seen any discussion regarding that but it seems to be within the realm of possibility. 


March 13th, 2019 at 3:35 PM ^

Hmm.  That still seems odd to me.  He went through a full practice but he is isn't 100%?  Why is he going through a full practice then?  That statement does not add up to me, really.

Everything about Matthews injury seemed like a fairly textbook tweak and recovery until the MSU game.  Now it has taken a turn for the strange.



Reggie Dunlop

March 13th, 2019 at 4:07 PM ^

I'm in the "There's nothing to see here" camp. I don't think there's any reason for concern. Quinn Hughes just had a media scrum session in Vancouver today and mentioned that his foot (from a blocked shot last weekend) still isn't 100%, yet Hughes played in Michigan's finale. That's the way I read that Hawkins tweet. He's getting there. He was able to practice. Just not quite 100% yet. Maybe by Friday?

I more posted that quote to squash the other guy's suggestion that he was limited. He's fully practicing. That sounds good to me.


March 13th, 2019 at 4:29 PM ^

It just sounds like Beilein’s hedging a bit. His comments after the MSU game were kind of the same.  I read between the lines to hear “seemed fine to me, said he couldn’t go.”  Perhaps I am misreading the situation.  I do have a long documented history of being “concerned” about things.....


March 13th, 2019 at 2:29 PM ^

Argh, understand this view but will never agree with it.  Michigan has a chance to win another title, hang a banner.  I would love to see this again, even separate from some of the reasons one might believe Michigan has a good shot winning on a neutral court. 

Those reasons: Ward returning takes switch-devil Tillman off the floor or otherwise disrupts MSU's excellent gameplan against Michigan, horrible scoring droughts in the two prior games may not repeat (though MSU deserves credit for each, and Michigan has had droughts all year), refs were awful in game 2. 

Charles Martel

March 13th, 2019 at 3:21 PM ^

Thanks for the article, Alex.  Somehow it scratches an itch to work over ambiguous numbers and statistics that don't factor into the game itself- and yet they do.  Can you do some totally meaningless research on chances of winning this weekend based on style of official- or the actual- official drawn?  Like how UM is 5-0 with Bo Borowski, 4-0 with Terry Wymer (both Borowski and Wymer were voted top 15 refs in the nation in 2017 according to Kenpom), 2-2 with Terry Oglesby, 1-3 with D.J. Cartenston, and 0-3 with Lewis Garriston and come up with some meaningless handicap (none of these 3 were in the top 15 according to Kenpom- just sayin')?  

Oglesby is notable because MSU is 5-0 with him, all wins over ranked opponents (yes he did both UM v. MSU 30 FT games), and they are 4-1 with Cartenson who also did a UM v. MSU game as well as the 34 FT game at Iowa and the weird ending at Wisky.  

Yes, I"m still bitter about Saturday's game at MSU.  As Bo said, "I've been bitter ever since about it"

Toe Meets Leather

March 13th, 2019 at 3:40 PM ^

Brian said this a few days ago but this team really needs a go to creator when the offense is stalling.  Poole can be that guy when he's feeling it but only then.  Iggy could be as well if he develops a bit more vision while driving.  Teams now collapse on Iggy every time he drives with no recourse of a pass outside for a three.  I also hope I never see Simpson miss an open layup again.  He's had some shots that I thought had absolutely no chance that still go in so I'm sure its just an outlier but a particularly frustrating one at the time.

Charles Martel

March 13th, 2019 at 4:23 PM ^

The problem- and the good thing-  is that Poole is always feeling it.  He needs to go Reggie Miller off screens and cuts with a catch and shoot, or hard drive to the rim, instead of "dribble, fake, jab step, contemplate, cross-over to nowhere, lateral drive just inside the 3 point line into a 270 degree fadeaway 18' jumper.   I agree with vision on the drives.  Teams are collapsing and people are open.  Got to trust the entry pass to Teske as well.  Go Blue. 


The Man Down T…

March 13th, 2019 at 3:42 PM ^

One not as important but pretty cool item not listed is that if Michigan wins the first game they play, on Friday, they will set a new record of consecutive wins in the BTT.  They are tied with Ohio State who won it two years in a row 3-0 and then won the first two the third year for a total of 8.  Michigan has won their last 8.  One win takes it from OSU.  Go Blue!



Charles Martel

March 13th, 2019 at 4:17 PM ^

Thanks for the numbers, Alex.  I enjoy a good run through ambiguous percentages that will have no meaning on the game- and yet they do.  Speaking of KenPom, can you do a chance of winning percentage based on the type of official- or the actual official- that is drawn for the game?  Like what is our chances given that  UM is 5-0 with Bo Borowski, 4-0 with Terry Wymer, and not so successful with the likes of Terry Oglesby (2-2 with the 2 losses being the 30 FT performances v. MSU), D.J. Cartenson (1-3 including MSU and the 24 FT game v. Iowa), or Lewis Garrison (0-3; also at the scene of the crime in Iowa as well as  PSU's 34 FTs)?    

BTW, Kenpom listed Borowski and Wymer in the top 15 of list of highest rated officials nation wide in 2017 while only Cartenson cracked the top 25.  Yes, I get bitter when we lose.  Especially when opponent's FT attempts go up 126% in the process.  Humor me, Alex.    I've already given you 19.6% of the stats needed to do this.  


March 13th, 2019 at 6:42 PM ^

The problem for M against Iowa is Michigan’s offensive flaws are opponent-independent. If M is missing its threes, they’re going to have a hard time with a team that’s liable to put up 1.1 ppp or better.


March 13th, 2019 at 7:22 PM ^

Michigan is 122nd in the country in percentage of its offense generated on 3-point field goals, at 33.8%.  They're 145th in the country in the percentage of 3-point field goals attempted (out of total field goals).

This "if their threes aren't falling, they can't win" thing needs to die.  It didn't even make much sense a couple of years ago when the percentages looked very different.  Now it makes no sense at all.

This team wins with defense.  If they give up 1.1 ppp per possession to Iowa, Iowa will probably win. Michigan has given up 1.1 ppp four times this season -- to South Carolina (if you round up -- 1.098), Penn State, and the two MSU games.