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Best Big 10 Teams

   by Jim Feist - 02/10/2014

A Big 10 representative hasn't won college basketball 's national championship since 2000 (Michigan State), but Indiana got to the title game in 2002, as did Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009) and Michigan (2013), so they've been knocking on the door. Here's a look at some of the best of the Big 10 with the March tournaments on the horizon.

Michigan: Not a lot about Michigan you can look at and say, "Here's where they can be exploited." Michigan lost to mighty Arizona (72-70) and at No. 10 Duke, but has been dominant in Big 10 play. This team is a powerhouse on offense, 21st in the nation in shooting (.485%) behind 6-6 sophomore Glenn Robinson III (13.6 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-6 sophomore Nik Stauskas (18.5 ppg).

This offense is tops in free throws and field goal shooting and the they can play defense, too, third in points allowed in Big 10 play. They had three straight games last month against Top 10 teams, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, and won them all, 77-70, 75-67 and 80-75 -- and two were on the road. The Wolverines are in the middle this week of their last tough stretch, facing four straight top 20 teams.

Michigan State: You need frontcourt muscle in the Big 10 and the Spartans have it with 6-10 senior Adrian Payne (16 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and 6-6 junior Branden Dawson (10 ppg, 8.7 rpg). But it's the backcourt that leads this balanced team in scoring with sophomore Gary Harris (18 ppg). They've had some injury trouble of late, but have an impressive resume against top 25 teams, knocking off Kentucky (78-74), Ohio State (72-68) and at Iowa (71-79 in OT). In the win at Iowa they won despite the Hawkeyes getting 43 free throw attempts to 20 of their own! They have a rematch with Michigan coming up, along with a season-ending schedule against Iowa and at Ohio State back-to-back.

Iowa: Iowa is 7th in nation in scoring (84.5 ppg), and uptempo team with remarkable outside shooting range behind 6-6 senior point guard Roy Marble (16 ppg), 6-9 junior Aaron White (14 ppg) and 6-7 senior Melsahn Basabe. Nine of Iowa’s top 10 scorers are back from last season. But they’re not all offense, with the defense is third in the Big 10 in field goal shooting and three-point defense. It’s a challenging week for the Hawkeyes, playing three of four road games, including at Penn State and Indiana.

Wisconsin: Bo Ryan's club is often about slowing the pace down, but not this season. The Badgers are second in scoring in the Big 10 behind uptempo Iowa, while the scoring defense has slipped to 8th. Wisconsin has good balance with 6-8 sophomore Sam Dekker (14 ppg) and 7-foot junior Frank Kominsky (13 ppg, 6 rpg) up front, and senior guard Ben Burst (13 ppg) and junior Traevon Jackson (11 ppg). After a 16-0 start, the Badgers fell apart losing 4 of 5 despite being favored in all of them. The loss at home to Northwestern was hard to swallow, allowing 48% shooting while the offense shot (gulp) 26%! Perhaps they should get back to slowing things down?

Minnesota: The Gophers aren’t winning with defense, last in the Big 10 in scoring defense. The offense is strong and balanced behind junior guard Andre Hollins (15.5 ppg) and senior guard Austin Hollins (11.7 ppg), while 6-11 junior Ellliott Eliason crashes the boards. Minnesota hasn’t played well when stepping up, losing an early non-conference showdown with Syracuse (75-67) in Maui, along with losses to Michigan State (87-75 in OT) and Iowa (94-73). None of those games were at home and last week they lost at Nebraska (82-78) allowing 50% shooing. The Gophers play 4 of their final 7 games on the road, three against Top 20 teams.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes enjoyed a great season, rising to No. 3 in the nation…until Big 10 play started. From 15-0 to a stumbling run that culminated in a 71-70 OT loss at home to Penn State as 13-point chalk. Ouch. They have star power and defense, led by 6-8 junior LaQuinton Ross (14 ppg, 5.7 rpg), 6-11 junior Amir Williams (9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-4 senior Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (12 ppg). A mid-season slump by a talented group? Or a team losing its confidence?

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