Let me take you back a handful of years to an electric moment, an unforgettable time of talent, momentum and hope.

Always hope with Purdue basketball.

Then Virginia guard Ty Jerome purposely missed a free throw with 5.9 seconds to play, and Kihei Clark chased down a swatted rebound from Mamadi Diakite that squirted halfway into the backcourt — where Clark grabbed the ball and threw a 1-hand push pass from behind halfcourt into the waiting arms of Diakite, who in one swift motion, grabbed and shot the ball from 10 feet to tie the game in regulation.

A game Virginia won in overtime. A game that sent Virginia, which a season earlier became the first No. 1 overall seed to ever lose to a 16, to the Final Four.

A game that, without question, was the flashpoint in the Cavs’ national title season — and yet another gut punch in Purdue’s postseason history.

So now the basketball gods — or the NCAA Tournament selection committee, whichever you believe more — have taken a trip down memory lane with this latest version March Madness.

And it’s part of a compelling group of Big Ten storylines heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Deja vu all over again

Purdue is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, has won 29 games and has its best team since the 2019 version that should’ve escaped that Region final in Louisville intact, but didn’t.

A similar team to last season, when Purdue won 29 games and became the 2nd team to lose to a 16 when Fairleigh Dickinson — FDU! — took the lead with 8 minutes to play and never gave it up.

You see where this is headed, right?

The only thing that could’ve made this redemption tour more perfect would be Virginia standing in the way, somewhere in the Midwest Region. And lo and behold, there are the Cavs — 4 wins from reaching the Midwest Region final and possibly playing Purdue.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Purdue still has a heavy lift staring back at it.

The Boilermakers haven’t reached the Final Four since 1980 — 10 years before Matt Painter arrived at Purdue as a player. They haven’t played like a team worthy of reaching college basketball’s Holy Land in just as many seasons.

Because if we’ve learned anything from that 2019 collapse in Louisville, it’s this: Purdue hasn’t been the same since. In the 3 tournaments since 2019, Purdue has lost twice in first round, and all 3 times to lower, mid-major teams.

As a 4-seed in the first round (North Texas), as a 3-seed in the Sweet 16 (St. Peter’s), and as a 1-seed (Fairleigh Dickinson).

And now it’s all set up for Purdue to do exactly what Virginia did, to defy the odds (FanDuel has the Boilers at +700 to win it all) and respond from the lowest of lows in the NCAA Tournament — to the highest of highs.

Black and Gold connection

Zach Edey gets the hype and publicity at Purdue, but Lance Jones is its most indispensable player.

Jones is the Boilermakers’ best perimeter shooter and a lockdown defender. When he goes, Purdue goes.

Meanwhile, we give you Illinois F Marcus Domask, an All-Big Ten first-team selection and one of the best stories in the Big Ten this season. What does Damask have to do with Purdue and Jones, you ask?

Matt Painter, that’s what.

The beleaguered Purdue coach — who does that sound like? (here’s a clue: Virginia’s Tony Bennett) — began his career at Southern Illinois. Painter coached 1 season in Carbondale, and led the Salukis to the NCAA Tournament (a first round loss, no less).

Jones, Painter’s indispensable player this season, transferred in from SIU. So did Domask — but from SIU to Illinois.

The beauty of the transfer portal, everyone.

Familiar surroundings

I know this is going to shock you, but Michigan State is in the NCAA Tournament again. For the 26th straight season — the longest official active streak in the country (Kansas has been to 34 consecutive tournaments, but the NCAA vacated its 2018 appearance, you know, which ended with a Final Four trip.)

And for some reason, this feels like a Nick Saban moment for Tom Izzo.

This feels like a legendary coach — one of the greatest of the modern era — reaching the final stages of a glorious career that has been quickly affected by the emergence of the NIL era.

Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, 3 of the 4 historically elite of Big Ten basketball (including Indiana), combined for 22 Big Ten wins this season. Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota — 3 of the not so Big Ten elite — had 33.

It’s not like Izzo, 69, is struggling as the end nears — despite a 19-14 record this season, and only 3 Quad 1 wins. The Spartans reached the Sweet 16 last season and the Final Four in 2019.

But Saban wasn’t struggling near the end, either.

The bracket sets up for Michigan State, a 9-seed in the West, to make another run this season. Not because of better players, but because of style of play. The Spartans can get physical with Mississippi State in the first round to set up a Round of 32 game against 1-seed North Carolina.

What Izzo’s team does with an NCAA Tournament spot it probably shouldn’t have received could go a long way in determining what the near future holds for one of the greatest coaches in the history of the college game.

Related: Do you think Michigan State can get to the Sweet 16? The Spartans odds are +290 if you think they can and -385 if you think they’ll fall short, via FanDuel Sportsbook.

The Ironman

His name is Brooks Barnhizer, and here’s what’s unique: Northwestern’s junior guard doesn’t come off the floor.

OK, he does. But he rarely sits.

Barnhizer has played every minute of every game 6 times this season, and has also played at least 39 minutes 6 other times. Wait, it gets better.

In 32 games, Barnhizer — who averages 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game — has played at least 37 of the 40 game minutes 20 times. He is everything you want in a tournament-ready player.

He shoots 36% from the perimeter, 76% from the free throw line and averages nearly 2 steals a game. If 9-seed Northwestern is to beat guard-heavy FAU and get to the weekend, Barnhizer will more than likely play 40 minutes and be the best guard in the game.

Home with Nebrasketball

It wasn’t long ago that Fred Hoiberg was just another washout coach in the NBA. A guy who chased the competition and thrill of coaching at the highest level of the sport.

Only to watch it all unravel in 4 seasons with the Chicago Bulls, where he finished a brief career run 40 games under .500.

Then he went back home to Nebraska, where he was born and raised in Lincoln. Had this strange dream to make basketball work in a football-crazy world.

The buildout has been 5 grueling and gutting years, winning 24 game over his first 3 seasons before finally reaching .500 with a 16-16 finish last season. Then came 2024, and Hoiberg recruited size and length in the transfer portal — and found 3 gems.

Charlotte transfer Brice Williams (13.1 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), Bradley transfer Rienk Mast (12.5 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 3 apg.), and New Mexico transfer Josiah Alice (7.1 ppg., 5.3 rpg.) have changed the dynamic of the buildout.

They run the floor, they defend and they’re long — using that length with both shot blocking and deflections, and fueling the pace Hoiberg has wanted for years. Now throw in sharp-shooting G Keisei Tominaga, and this a dangerous team in the tournament.

It’s also helps that there’s extra motivation: Nebraska AD and football legend Trev Alberts left his alma mater earlier this month to take the Texas A&M job. The Aggies, of course, just happen to be the Huskers’ first-round opponent (yet another reason to love the tournament: the committee’s personality).

An uneasy reality

An accusation, a suspension, an injunction. And here’s Terrence Shannon Jr., the best player in the Big Ten — yes, the best player — on the verge of leading Illinois to the Final Four.

And his own school isn’t too thrilled about it.

Shannon, the Illini’s star guard, was accused of raping a woman in Kansas last December, and a month later — after Illinois learned of a warrant issued for Shannon — was suspended indefinitely by the university.

So what did Shannon do? He sued the university and received an injunction from U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawson stating Illinois had violated Shannon’s civil rights without due process, and forced Illinois to allow him back on the team.

Shannon missed 6 games from the suspension, and since returning has averaged 23.7 ppg. He scored 100 points 3 games in last weekend’s Big Ten Tournament — despite constant chants from fans and opponent bands yelling “no means no” — and led the Illini to the tournament title.

He’s a potential lottery pick in the NBA Draft and might be the most talented American college player in the June draft. He’s also good enough to carry Illinois all the way to the Final Four.

In 7 games this season against ranked teams or in tournament games, he’s averaging 27 ppg. He’s relentless with dribble drive and attacking the rim, and hit 8-of-15 from beyond the arc in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal (vs. Nebraska) and final (Wisconsin).

Look who’s dancing now

When Rick Pitino arrived at St. John’s nearly a year ago, he strolled to the podium and told fans to get ready for a new team.

“Certain players won’t fit in, and should not play for me,” Pitino said. “They should go to a different place and fit in.”

And that’s just what AJ Storr did.

Now Pitino is complaining about the NCAA Tournament selection committee after the Red Storm were left out of the 68-team field. Storr, meanwhile, has led Wisconsin back to the tournament after the Badgers missed 3 of the previous 6.

Storr is averaging 17 ppg., and could be Wisconsin’s 2nd pro ball prospect since 2016. Johnny Davis was selected 10th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, and prior to that, Frank Kaminsky was a first-round selection in 2015, the year Wisconsin knocked off undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four before losing the final to Duke.

Storr has been projected as a late first-round pick in the June NBA Draft, but more important to Wisconsin, has lifted the Badgers back into the NCAA Tournament with his ability to score from anywhere on the floor — and his aggressive perimeter defense.

For years, Wisconsin was annually one of the safest bets in the NCAA Tournament. The event arrived, and Wisconsin would win at least 1 game.

From 2002-17, the Badgers advanced to the second round (Round of 32) 15 times. Only once — in 2006 to Arizona — did Wisconsin lose its opening-round game. But in the 7 seasons since under coach Greg Gard, Wisconsin has missed the tournament 3 times and lost in the first round another season.

A 5-seed in the South, Wisconsin gets James Madison on Friday in the first round, and with a victory, would play the winner of Duke-Vermont in the Round of 32. The Badgers haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2017, Gard’s first full season.