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Big Ten Conference Tournament preview: Beware the Badgers

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

March 8th, 2021

The Big Ten has been the nation's best conference this season, and now we're treated to their end of year tournament.

Conference tournaments are the best time of year because they bring intense competition among teams that are already familiar with each other, and feature longshots playing for their lottery ticket to March Madness.

Michigan is a deserving favorite in this year's tournament, which runs from March 10-14 in Indianapolis, but in such a deep and talented conference it's certain to be an exciting event.

Big 10 Conference 2020/2021

Wed, March 10 2021, 12:00 AM

Michigan Wolverines

+175

Illinois Fighting Illini

+320

Iowa Hawkeyes

+425

Purdue Boilermakers

+500

Ohio State Buckeyes

+685

Wisconsin Badgers

+1100

Indiana Hoosiers

+2000

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

+4000

Michigan State Spartans

+5000

Maryland Terrapins

+6500

The Favorite: Michigan

Michigan is the third-shortest favorite to win the national championship, and the favorite entering this conference tournament. The Wolverines steamrolled through the regular season, dropping only one game through their first 19 contests before losing two of three to end the season. Their recent cold spell has to be a little disconcerting, as no team wants to enter postseason play playing poorly. In a sport that is as defined by rhythm and recency bias as any, cracks in the armor give cause for alarm.

Michigan achieved the No. 2 ranking in the country with excellent offensive and defensive play. They have veteran guards in Eli Brooks and Mike Smith, and dynamic wings with Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers.

Center Hunter Dickinson puts up the most impressive statistics, but it is sophomore Wagner that stirs the drink. At 6’9”, Wagner averages 13.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. He is an excellent defender and a difficult matchup for every opponent he faces. If Michigan is to make a deep postseason run, Wagner and Dickinson will need to be in perfect sync.

The Live Longshot: Wisconsin Badgers

The Big Ten has four teams ranked in the AP Top 10, and it’s hard to call any of those four squads a longshot in any tournament. While Iowa and Illinois are certainly interesting choices for those looking to bet against Michigan, we’ll look farther down the board for a true longshot to mix things up in Indianapolis.

The Wisconsin Badgers get the pick in this spot, as they have a unique style of play and can defend any of their potential opponents in the tournament. The Badgers ended the regular season ranked 11th in KenPom’s overall efficiency rankings, an impressive accomplishment given their 10-10 conference record.

They have a star senior guard in D’Mitrik Trice, and guard play is essential to half-court success in any postseason. Wisconsin averages just 68 possessions per game, one of the slowest paces in all of NCAA, and the second slowest to Maryland in the Big Ten. When you have a talent disadvantage, slowing down the game is an equalizer, and Wisconsin just might slow things down enough to make a serious run in this tournament. 

One Player to Watch: Ayo Dosunmu

Ayo Dosunmu of the Fighting Illini is an All-American who prides himself on being the most complete player in the country. The 21-year-old averaged 20.9 points per game and shot 40% from deep in 2020-21, while leading Illinois to the No. 4 spot in the nation.

Dosunmu has the look of a future NBA star, and is must-see TV every time he steps onto the court.

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