To cap off the final day of the regular season, I threw a couple questions at Christopher Pullins from SB Nation's own Big Ten Powerhouse. We touched on everything from Ohio State's title chances to the the worst coach of the year in the conference. A big thanks to Chris for taking time out of his day. Do yourself a favor and go read BTP immediately.
On the verge of a No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed, Ohio State might be the most impressive team in the country. But are they the true favorites to win it all in your opinion? And, on a percentage scale, give me the likelihood that the Buckeyes reach the title game in Houston next month.
Ohio State is very much the favorite to win a title in my opinion. The only thing that could hurt the Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament is their lack of depth. If they get into foul trouble then things could get interesting. I'd give them a 55% chance of making the Final Four and a 25% chance of winning the entire thing.
The final standings show four teams deadlocked at 9-9 (Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Penn State). On first glance, there's a fairly large gap between the top of the conference and this four-team group that represents the middle. Do you think having only three teams with 10+ league victories hurts the perception of the conference? Or does it lend to the concept of "good teams beating up on each other"?
The conference race was interesting this year once Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin separated themselves from the pack. I think this was more a case of the middle-tier teams beating each other up, because in some cases, such as Michigan State, it was more an issue of losing too many key players and struggling to stay on the right track. Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois and Penn State are all at 9-9 in the conference and all each on the bubble. Of those teams, I think Michigan, Illinois and Michigan State are in. Penn State will need an extremely strong showing in the conference tourney to get in.
The Big Ten Player of the Year race seems to be between a trio of deserving players (Sullinger, Taylor, Johnson). Strong arguments for all three can be made, but who gets your vote and why?
JaJuan Johnson gets my vote for Big Ten Player of the Year. I think he's the most versatile. We know he can score from anywhere on the court, can rebound, and score in transition. He has been the most consistent this year out of Jordan Taylor and Jared Sullinger. He's also a great defender who can flat-out stop you from scoring with his shot blocking.
Taking everything into account (injuries, expectations, preseason rankings, etc.), what Big Ten coach did the best job this year? And, by the same measure, who did the worst?
The best has been Matt Painter. When Robbie Hummel was lost for a second time, the Boilermaker's preseason ranking dropped from #2 to #23. He proved the critics wrong again and completely readjusted his team. Purdue is in contention for a two seed and are a Final Four contender, and that's just something no one at the beginning of the year thought was possible from this team. It helps that he plays a lot of guys, and it gives Purdue the depth they will need if they want to eventually get to the Final Four.
I would have to give the worst Big Ten coach award to Northwestern's Bill Carmody. I expected him to make it to the NCAA Tournament this year and finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Instead, he his team have gone in reverse and fallen to 7-11 in the Big Ten. Ouch. Before this season, Northwestern's program was starting to look up, now it has found its way back down.
If you had to pick a Sixth Man of the Year from the Big Ten season, who would it be?
My sixth man of the year award would go to Ohio State's Aaron Craft. He is an outstanding defender, and I really think Ohio State could have a couple more losses without him. He is going to be a great player in a few years.
Give me one player from a non-contending team that could lead an upset bid in the Big Ten Tournament.
Melsahn Basabe of Iowa. Yes, he is a freshman, but he has been outstanding this season for the Hawkeyes and looked great against Purdue. He will develop into a great Big Ten player in years to come. I think it is very possible that Iowa pulls an upset in the first round and ends up in a rematch with Purdue.
Lastly, how many Big Ten schools will reach the Sweet 16 later this month? Final Four?
In my opinion, I think only three Big Ten schools reach the Sweet 16 this year. Those teams being Ohio State, Wisconsin and Purdue. I think the seeding will sting the rest. If Purdue gets playing at the level they were playing before they got upset by Iowa, then they have a very good chance of making it to the Final Four. They have a great defender and scorer in Lewis Jackson and have a cast that could go off on any given night. With that said, whoever the one seed is in Purdue's region will dictate their Final Four chances. Again, I would be shocked if Ohio State doesn't make it to the Final Four.