By Marc Lawrence
PROJECTED FINAL FOUR:
Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue
THE WAY WE SEE IT:
With five returning starters and conference MVP Evan Turner hitting on cylinders, OHIO STATE appears poised to improve on last year's runner-up finish. Led by a smothering defense that has allowed an average of 60.5 PPG in this tourney over the last five years, the Buckeyes have brought home in the cash in six of their last seven tourney appearances. Thad Matta's bunch also comes armed with the nation's 5th-rated Offensive Field Goal Percentage (49.5). Keep in mind that the No. 1 seed has made it to the finals (3-2 SU and ATS) in five of the last six years. When you talk about defense, usually the conversation starts with MICHIGAN STATE. And Tom Izzo's Spartans haven't disappointed, allowing a meager 59.9 PPG in the 12-year history of this event. The nation's third-rated team on the boards (+9.7 RPG) will once again bring the ‘D' as they look to "rebound" from a 2nd-round KO last year as the top-seed. Don't' forget about their stellar 8-1 ATS mark as dogs of more than 2 points in this tourney (see more below). WISCONSIN will also be looking to make amends for their quick cameo last year but this quirky stat keeps us at bay: the Badgers have been favored in 12 of their last 18 conference tourney games. The six times they were taking points? How about 1-5 ATS? Last year's champ, PURDUE, appeared ready to defend their crown behind five returning starters but the loss of leading scorer Robbie Hummel may be too much to overcome. Until they beat the Buckeyes in last year's title game, the Boilermakers were just 2-11 SU and 3-10 ATS in their previous 13 tourney tilts.
THE SLEEPER: Illinois
The Illini bring strong Big 10 tourney history (22-10 SU) and solid current form to the table, thus making them a desirable commodity. One the few teams in college basketball to have performed equally or better in conference competition than outside this season, Illinois was 5-4 SU and 6-3 ATS in Big 10 games away from Champaign this season.
KEY TOURNAMENT BEST BET: Play On Michigan State (+) vs Ohio State
Tom Izzo needs no pat on the back when it comes to the postseason, where he is 46-23 SU and 40-28-1 ATS in his career. Inside those numbers, the Izz is 31-11-1 ATS when facing a foe off a SU and ATS win and 7-2 ATS when seeking revenge. The Buckeyes sent him packing from this event last year and beat them in the only regular season meeting this year. Remember this: the Spartans are 20-5 SU and ATS this decade when playing with same-season conference revenge!