East Lansing — There was little debate that throughout the regular season, the Big Ten was the best conference in college basketball.
And when all 14 teams meet this week in Indianapolis for the conference tournament, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo expects the battle throughout the regular season will keep right on rolling.
“I think everybody probably agrees there's been some ups and downs with all of our teams this year,” Izzo said on the Big Ten teleconference Monday. “Some of it's been the scheduling, some of it's been there's so many good teams. You have a lot of good teams and you lose two, three in a row and all sudden you got a couple of road games.
“It's been the most difficult of my 25 years, and I think that's a credit to the other Big Ten teams. So the Big Ten tournament, I think there's so many teams that could win it. It will probably be the most exciting to date since they started this thing.”
One thing’s for sure, there will only be one winner by early Sunday evening. That didn’t happen in the regular season as Michigan State shared the championship with Wisconsin and Maryland, the third straight conference title for the Spartans.
Play in the conference tournament begins Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but Michigan State won’t get going until the quarterfinals on Friday when it will take on the winner of Thursday’s matchup between No. 7 seed Ohio State and No. 10 Purdue.
The Spartans (22-9) have won six tournament championships and will be looking to win in back-to-back years for the first time since 1999 and 2000. While Michigan State’s six Big Ten tournament titles are the most of any conference team, it was only before this season that banners appeared at the Breslin Center to commemorate those championships.
It was something Izzo was never a fan of in the past, putting more emphasis on the regular-season title. But as conference tournaments have become the norm, he agreed to add the tournament championship banners along with regular-season banners like the one raised on Sunday when the Spartans beat Ohio State.
“The Big Ten (tournament) banners haven’t been as big a deal, maybe because we were the last major conference to go to it. In some places that is honored more than the regular season, which I don't agree with. So we just decided that we were going to do that and our (marketing) people did it, and I think it's a good thing for us.”
Who is left standing on Sunday will be as tough to predict as the regular season, but odds are there will be plenty of Big Ten teams moving on to the NCAA Tournament.
As many as 10 teams could find themselves in the field, as all 10 of those teams are slotted No. 38 or better in the most recent NET rankings, a primary tool used by the tournament selection committee. Some teams will be trying to secure that spot by playing well this week while others are simply strengthening their seed.
While it will lead to plenty of Big Ten teams moving on, using the season as a gauge for how they’ll fair in the NCAA Tournament is a more difficult prospect.
“It’s always hard to predict because it always comes down to matchups,” Izzo said. “We've been beaten by Middle Tennessee as the 2-15 (seeds), but I think the Big Ten is going to do awfully well because there's been a lot of close games. There's been a lot of games that people have found a way to win. I think we beaten the hell out of each other, which makes you stronger at the end of the day.
“Some people say, ‘There's nobody in our league that's separated themselves as much,’ and I would agree with that. But I don't think that's a negative. I think it's because there's so many good teams. In some other conferences, there's some separation because there's four or five really bad teams that they play twice. You're gonna get 10 wins right off the bat. That's not happening in our league. So I think they'll do very well.”
Big Ten men's tournament
Here is the schedule for the 2020 Big Ten men's basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. All games on BTN unless noted.
► No. 12 Minnesota vs. No. 13 Northwestern, 6
► No. 11 Indiana vs. No. 14 Nebraska, 8:30
► No. 8 Rutgers vs. No. 9 Michigan, noon
► No. 5 Iowa vs. Minnesota-Northwestern winner, 2:30
► No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Purdue, 6:30
► No. 6 Penn State vs. Indiana-Nebraska winner, 9
► No. 1 Wisconsin vs. Rutgers-Michigan winner, noon
► No. 4 Illinois vs. Iowa-Minnesota/Northwestern winner, 2:30
► No. 2 Michigan State vs. Ohio State-Purdue winner, 6:30
► No. 3 Maryland vs. Penn State-Indiana/Nebraska winner, 9
► Semifinals, 1 and 3:30 (CBS)
► Final, 3:30 (CBS)