Big Ten Tourney: No Payne, No Gain

The Big Ten has been more treacherous than the third season of Game of Thrones for the past four months. “All Big Ten Teams Must Die”. The Big Ten Tournament is the Red Wedding edition. A jovial festival of competition in which no team can be trusted, seeds are irrelevant and proud program crests lunging at each other with flails and swords for conference superiority. They’ve already beaten each other out of contention for a No. 1 overall seed. Big Ten coaches simply hope that what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

Michigan State hasn’t strung together consecutive wins since they were 18-1 on January 21. Keith Appling has never missed an extended period of time to rest his right wrist injury like Adreian Payne or Branden Dawson have, but the preseason Wooden Award watchlist member has scored in double figures once since January 28.

Nebraska’s hoops program is the little brother to their football program to the extent that Tito would be insulted if you called his legacy Cornhusker basketball to M.J.’s Cornhusker football. However, everybody gets their day in the sun and the Cornhuskers are the faceless men. The odds that they’ll be climbing a ladder on Sunday are small, but they may pick off a high seed before bowing out.

Thad Matta found himself without a single first round pick or All-American in his rotation for what seems to be the first time in his Ohio State tenure. Craft is a grenade who’s spent the last four years displaying the kinetic potential to blow up any offense with his on-ball defense. Offensively, he’s a bayonet.  

LaQuinton Ross is a nice scorer on the wing, but he’s not dominant enough to be the leading scorer on a Final Four team or on a Big Ten conference tournament champion. Michigan State has three Ross’. Michigan has three or four, Wisconsin has Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Ben Brust and the human buzzer beater Traevon Jackson.

Being the ninth-highest scoring team in the twelve team Big Ten mitigates the impact of Shannon Scott, Aaron Craft and their ninth-ranked scoring defense nationally. Ohio State has played in five consecutive Big Ten Conference Championship games, but barring a few upsets, which are likely to occur, that streak comes to an end this season.

The Iowa Hawkeyes are on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Ohio State Buckeyes. Iowa’s offense can best be described as what happens when you sit on the fastforward button on your remote as they sped up from the 130th quickest pace last season to a top-15 team this season. The defense has been a casualty of that accelerated pace, but the Hawkeyes lineup is deep enough to win shootouts against anyone. 

Michigan is defying convention for the second season in a row. Defense has become as inextricably linked with the Big Ten’s reputation as America and overindulgence, but the Wolverines have swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. They nearly became the worst defensive team in modern history using adjusted efficiency metrics to win a national championship last season because of their immense talent on the offensive end. This season they’re 93rd in defensive efficiency and third in offensive efficiency as Nik Stauskas has gained 16 pounds and developed from a simple spot-up shooter as a freshman into the Big Ten Player of the Year with yoyo ballhandling skills he rarely displayed last season. 

Losig Mitch McGary has hurt, but John Beilein has recruited well enough to mitigate his loss. There's not much to predict in the world of the Big Ten. All you can do is sit back and wait for the fireworks to begin.

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