Favorite – Ohio State – The Big Ten conference featured a three-way tie for the regular season title with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all at 13-5. However, after the Buckeyes took care of business in East Lansing last week they are priced as small favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on Sunday. A team like Michigan could very well be satisfied with its regular season first place finish, while looking instead to peak for the Big Dance. And under Tom Izzo, Michigan State is notorious for not putting much emphasis on this tournament. As for the Buckeyes, they are led by All-American Jered Sullinger (16.9 ppg), Aaron Craft and William Buford. The Buckeyes fought immaturity at times this season, but still finished with a strong 25-6 record. Ohio State perhaps peaked too early in 2011 (34-3, lost in the Sweet Sixteen) but after some struggles in February, the tournament could serve as a springboard to the Big Dance.
Darkhorse – Northwestern – The Wildcats enter the Big Ten tournament hoping to make their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. With an 18-12 overall record the Wildcats are firmly on the bubble and a win or loss in the first round could sway them either way. They showed tremendous moxie in their final game of the regular season by fighting back at Iowa and pulling out the win. If the Wildcats can slip past the Golden Gophers, a monster game against Michigan awaits in round 2. Note that the Wolverines beat the Wildcats twice during the regular season – both extremely tight affairs.
Fade – Illinois – The last 5-6 weeks have been a struggle for the Illini. They’ve now dropped eight of their last nine games; failing to cover a pointspread in the eight losses. Unfortunately, respected head coach Bruce Weber is most likely on his way out in Champaign after the season. Dissension had been mounting after Weber oddly decided to throw his players under the bus after a loss to Purdue on February 15. They closed the regular season with lethargic losses to the Wisconsin and Michigan, and with their lifeless, undisciplined play, it would prove difficult to muster a grand effort in the conference tournament. Ironically, Illinois’ lone win during the aforementioned stretch came against first round opponent, Iowa. Look for the Hawkeyes to counter with a bit of revenge as the Illini go out with a whimper in March.