Red-y, Set, Georgia?

Top-ranked Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin are likely to meet in the Big Ten championship on Sunday and could meet up again in Atlanta during the men’s Final Four.

Zach Eisendrath

Oh, the drama. When the Big Ten tournament kicks off today at the United Center in Chicago, as many as six Big Ten teams will be fighting for their NCAA tournament lives.

During the four-day span, all six teams – Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan – can all play themselves in or out of the Big Dance, depending on how they perform.

Early round games will be broadcasted on ESPN and ESPN2 throughout the week, and Saturday’s semifinal games as well as Sunday’s championship game will air on CBS.

Top-ranked Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin already have their tickets punched to the national tournament, but both hope to secure No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament by making it to Sunday’s Big Ten championship game.

1
Ohio State
Overall:27-3
Big Ten:15-1

With 7-foot freshman center Greg Oden patrolling the paint, the Buckeyes have national championship aspirations. Oden, who would likely be the first or second pick in June’s NBA draft, should he declare, is averaging 15.3 points on 61.4 percent shooting and is the conference’s best, and his 9.3 rebounds and 3.48 blocked shots per game are also both tops in league play.

But Ohio State isn’t a national title threat just because of Oden.

With a balanced scoring attack that includes three other players averaging in double figures, the Buckeyes are the Big Ten’s highest scoring team, averaging 74.3 points per game.

Freshman point guard Mike Conley Jr. is one of those double-figure scorers. Conley Jr. is averaging 10.1 points and leads the conference with 6.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game – and is also expected to be a NBA lottery pick whenever he decides to leave college.

2
Wisconsin
Overall:27-4
Big Ten:13-3

The senior-laden Badgers were in control of the Big Ten much of the season until an uneventful week in late February dropped them from conference supremacy.

In a span of five days Wisconsin lost at Michigan State and Ohio State, and now – probably – still has some work to do in order to clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Like the Buckeyes, the Badgers are serious national title contenders, largely thanks to senior forward Alando Tucker. The versatile Tucker is a National Player of the Year candidate and averages 20.1 points per game.

Despite giving the Buckeyes all they could handle in Columbus two weeks ago, the Badgers, like most teams in the country, don’t have anyone who can handle Oden inside. That could be the difference if the two teams meet as expected on Sunday.

3
Indiana
Overall:20-9
Big Ten:10-6

Under first-year coach Kelvin Sampson, Hoosier land has been rejuvenated. Sampson has changed many things in his first few months at the helm of Indiana, but most importantly he has won over the Hoosiers basketball-savvy fan base, something former coach Mike Davis could not do.

Evidently 5 a.m. practices and constant text messages from Sampson’s coaching staff are working, because Indiana is on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

And after beating Wisconsin in January and playing Ohio State down to the wire in December, it is realistic to think the Hoosiers could make it to the Big Ten championship game on Sunday. Junior forward D.J. White is the Hoosiers’ best player. Finally healthy, the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year is averaging 13.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

4
Iowa
Overall:17-13
Big Ten:9-7

Usually the fourth-seeded team in the Big Ten is a lock to make the NCAA tournament. That, however, is not the case this season. The Hawkeyes still have plenty of work to do to get into the field of 65.

Iowa has no eye-opening wins on its résumé, but does have an eye-opening player in senior guard Adam Haluska. Haluska is averaging 20.8 points per game this season and has hit 89 three-pointers.

For coach Steve Alford’s team to get back into NCAA tournament discussion, it likely must beat top-ranked Ohio State in a possible semifinal showdown on Saturday – or else Iowa will be one of many major conference teams heading to perhaps the most competitive National Invitational Tournament of all time.

5
Purdue
Overall:20-10
Big Ten:9-7

The Boilermakers head to Chicago with a full head of steam – no pun intended. Led by the senior combo of forward Carl Landry and shooting guard David Teague, Purdue has won six of its last eight games and coach Matt Painter has the Boilermakers on the brink of making the NCAA tournament in only his second year with the program.

Landry is considered a potential All-Big Ten first team selection, and for good reason. He is averaging 18.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season. Teague, meanwhile, is averaging 14.4 points per contest.

Should they get past Iowa on Friday afternoon, the Boilermakers might be the sleeper of the tournament. Purdue played Ohio State tough in Columbus on the final day of January, nearly knocking off the Buckeyes, and if the two teams meet again on Saturday the Boilermakers could make things interesting against the nation’s top team.

6
Illinois
Overall:21-10
Big Ten:9-7

The Illini have made more news off the court this season than they have on it.

The season started with senior guard Rich McBride getting arrested for a DUI. Then Illinois really made headlines, when freshman center Brian Carlwell and sophomore guard Jamar Smith were involved in a major car accident that cost both of them their seasons.

It was later discovered that Smith was drinking while driving when the two struck a tree in heavy snow.

Even the Illini’s mascot can’t catch a break. Chief Illiniwek did his last dance at Assembly Hall earlier this season after the NCAA ruled the American Indian mascot had to retire after being a center of controversy for years.

Still, should the Illini faithful make the three-hour trip from Champaign to the United Center, Illinois could use the likely sea of orange to its advantage and punch its ticket to the tournament with a couple of wins over the next few days.

7
Michigan State
Overall:21-10
Big Ten:8-8

How things change. Two weeks ago the Spartans were coming off what they believed was a tournament-clinching win over then-No. 1 Wisconsin. But after two road losses, Michigan State has free fallen in the Big Ten standings, casting some doubt as to whether it is still NCAA-bound.

Two wins will likely get the Spartans into the dance, and with the way junior guard Drew Neitzel has carried his team all season, that scenario is very realistic. Netizel averages a team-best 18.3 points per game and has drilled a conference-leading 99 three’s this season.

A Tom Izzo-coached team should never be counted out in any type of tournament, and this group of Spartans is no different, especially considering their effective defense. Izzo’s team gives up the fewest points in the conference at just 56.3 per game and holds opponents to just 37.8 percent from the field.

8
Michigan
Overall:20-11
Big Ten:8-8

Wolverines coach Tommy Amaker has been a punching bag for both local and national media in recent seasons because of his inability to bring his talented recruits to the field of 65.

But with a little more work, Amaker might be able to hush his doubters.

The Wolverines almost punched their ticket to the tournament on Saturday against Ohio State, but fell just short. Michigan controlled the game for 38 minutes but was unable to make enough plays in the final moments to tackle its archrival.

A pair of seniors, Dion Harris and Courtney Sims, will likely do the most damage for the Wolverines in the tournament. Harris averages 13.6 points per game while Simms averages 12.1

Michigan still has plenty of hope entering the conference tournament, but a loss to Minnesota today will likely have the Wolverines on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.

9
Minnesota
Overall:9-21
Big Ten:3-13

Riding an eight-game losing streak, the Gophers are trying to forget about their regular season struggles.

To do so, coach Jim Molinari has labeled the Big Ten tournament a “new season” for his team.

And for that reason alone, Minnesota has a better chance than some might think of beating the Wolverines on Thursday – if the Gophers haven’t packed in their season.

Molinari has said all season that his team hasn’t quit on him – and he might be coaching his last game with the team, which could be enough to motivate Minnesota.

Also, the Gophers have competed reasonably well against Michigan in both games, almost knocking off the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

But for Minnesota to finally beat Michigan this season, the Gophers must find a way to score over the Wolverines’ lengthy post players – something they failed to do in the two previous meetings with Michigan.

10
Northwestern
Overall:13-17
Big Ten:2-14

It’s likely going to be a short tournament for the Wildcats if they can’t put the ball in the basket, as has been the case for much of the season.

Northwestern averages a league-worst 56.4 points per game, which is its biggest concern.

Surprisingly, despite their lack of offensive production, the Wildcats have two of the conference’s top 20 scorers. Freshman Kevin Coble averages 13.3 points per game and senior Tim Doyle averages 11.6 points per contest.

Northwestern only has two conference wins on its résumé. Don’t plan on seeing the Wildcats pick up their third this weekend. Luckily, Evanston is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago.

11
PennState
Overall:11-18
Big Ten:2-14

Despite boasting one of the conference’s top players in guard Geary Claxton, the Nittany Lions bring up the rear of the Big Ten.

Claxton has averaged 16.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in 25 games this year, but hasn’t had enough help to rescue Penn State’s sinking basketball program.

The Nittany Lions’ two wins during conference play this season came against Iowa and Northwestern – unfortunately, Penn State isn’t matched up with either of those teams in its first-round game.

Instead, the Nittany Lions get the pleasure of facing a desperate Illini team in its home state, an anything but thrilling matchup for the conference’s worst team.