The Big Ten, enticed by cash and that mystical New York television market (sigh), is headed to New York City for the Big Ten tournament. Everyone has an opinion on that decision, and most are negative. But it doesn't matter now.
The conference tournament starts Wednesday. Someone's going to win it, then sit around for a week while everyone else plays. So let's handicap the field.
No. 1 Michigan State
The outright Big Ten champions don't need this to prove anything to anyone. The Spartans already have a banner. However, perhaps more than anyone else at the top, MSU needs a run this week because it's really only been tested once in the past month. A home win over Purdue on Feb. 10 was sandwiched between games against the bottom half of this league.
A Jan. 28 trip to Maryland was a challenge. Before that, it was Jan. 13 against Michigan in a game MSU lost. Michigan State has mostly dominated a pretty tame schedule this season. The Spartans are the most talented team in the Big Ten, but they need to play someone on their level before the NCAA tournament begins.
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No. 3 Purdue
The Boilermakers, like the Spartans, can boast the type of talent and depth few in this conference can match. Still, Purdue needs to get itself off the mat and get right again after stubbing its toe earlier this month. Purdue closed out with wins over low-end teams, but can find its stride here against top teams before a week off.
Purdue's the most experienced team in the field. It pushed MSU to the wire at the Breslin Center and came up short. A rematch in the final would be a whopper.
No. 5 Michigan
There may not be a hotter team in the league right now as Michigan's been surging at the right time again. A home win over Ohio State and road wins at Penn State and Maryland (on each school's senior day) made for an impressive finish to a sound season for John Beilein's club.
This is the best defensive team Beilein's ever had and his offense, usually Michigan's calling card, is rounding into form. Michigan's been tested, it has momentum and it's looking for a seeding bump this week.
No. 2 Ohio State
Ohio State shocked everybody with the way it started the season, but certainly came back to Earth a bit in February. The Buckeyes have the league's best player in Keita Bates-Diop and a tenacious leader — maybe the toughest pound-for-pounder in the league — in Jae'Sean Tate. Bates-Diop is good enough to carry a team for three days. He's that special.
But he can't have any off nights. Ohio State can't afford its best players to play sluggish the way Michigan State or Purdue can and advance.
No. 4 Nebraska
Nebraska's playing for an NCAA tournament berth. And it's good enough to make things really interesting. Michigan's playing great, but Nebraska already beat the Wolverines by 20 in Lincoln earlier this year. So a Nebraska-Michigan State semifinal isn't out of the question. The Huskers need at least two quality wins in this tournament to have a shot at the big dance. Get to the finals and it's probably a done deal.
Leading scorer James Palmer is going to have to play like a pro for this week if Nebraska wants to make a run. But if he does, the Huskers are more than capable of getting hot and giving people fits.
No. 7 Penn State
The most maddening team in the field, in my opinion. When Penn State's right, it can beat anyone in this tournament on a neutral floor. Tony Carr's a scoring machine, the Nittany Lions can defend and they can create their own shots. But if big man Mike Watkins can't go, they move off this list.
Watkins hurt his knee against Michigan a week ago and missed Sunday's loss at Nebraska. If he can help them protect the rim and the offense plays with some discipline, Penn State can wreck this bracket.
No. 6 Indiana
The Hoosiers played better in February, nearly knocking off Michigan State and pushing Ohio State to double overtime on senior day. Juwan Morgan can do a lot for this team, but he's going to need help. I'm not sure the Hoosiers have enough to make a run in this thing, but Indiana certainly has enough in the tank to ruin Purdue's stay with a possible rivalry matchup in the quarterfinals.
The 'we'll see' group
No. 8 Maryland
The Terrapins basically threw in the towel on their own senior day as Michigan embarrassed Maryland in front of a large home crowd. The Terps have had injury issues this season, but there's still talent on this team. If Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter get hot and this team puts forth a respectable effort defensively, it can be dangerous. But we'll see.
No. 9 Wisconsin
It's Ethan Happ and a bunch of other guys. If it stays that way, Wisconsin will find an end to its otherwise miserable season pretty quickly. The Badgers won three of four to close the season, including a victory over Purdue and a competitive loss vs. Michigan State. Carry that momentum over and maybe something crazy happens.
Thanks for playing
No. 10 Northwestern, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 12 Iowa, No. 13 Illinois, No. 14 Rutgers
The two best teams in this league, all season long, have been Michigan State and Purdue. They have more talent, more depth, more experience than anyone else. I'm usually not a fan of going with the two obvious teams in the Big Ten tournament because weird stuff tends to happen.
But I'll go with MSU and Purdue to make it through to Sunday.
Purdue's the No. 3 seed. But I think it's the best team in this league. Matt Painter's guys cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden.
I, of course, reserve the right to change all this when it inevitably doesn't happen.
See you in Gotham.
Contact Nick Baumgardner: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.