Which team is Big Ten's best?

The Big Ten is full of strong, competitive teams, but does one stand out above the rest? AP Photo/Andy Manis

On Tuesday, Michigan won the Big Ten outright with a convincing 84-53 victory at Illinois. As a result, the Wolverines stand alone as the best team in what many observers regard as the nation's best conference.

So why am I seeing Michigan projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament? There seems to be a sense among those aforementioned observers that the nation's best conference might not have any great teams. No Big Ten teams are currently projected as No. 1 seeds by my colleague Joe Lunardi. In fact, Wisconsin shows up in Lunardi's projection as the only No. 2 seed from this swaggering beast of a conference.

If the Big Ten has several strong and evenly matched teams but no great ones, I have a question: Which is its best team?

I'll spoil some of the surprise up front and say that Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois and Purdue were ruled ineligible for further discussion on this topic. (Thanks for coming out. There are parting gifts backstage.) Every other team, however, is fair game. Let's consider the candidates for best-team status one by one.

First, here are three candidates that I eliminated from consideration with little or no hesitation.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-10)

Not too long ago, I offered the Gophers as a good example of a team that keeps "showing up in mock brackets due in part to the quality of the opponents they keep losing to." That still rings true. Austin Hollins has recorded an impressive 44-point outburst over the past two games, but Minnesota has possibly the worst defense in the league. Over the course of 17 games, Big Ten opponents have rung up 1.09 points per possession against this D. And "worst" does not equal "best team," even if it's on only one side of the ball.