MARCH IS HERE.
And I could not be more excited. Yes, I love St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, my birthday is this month. Although for a person that doesn’t enjoy a lot of attention, opening gifts in front of people, or getting old, I’m not sure I even enjoy that day any more than a typical day.
But by far the best part of the month is college basketball. The final weekend of conference tournaments through the first weekend of the tournament is my favorite week and a half of every year. It’s absolutely tremendous.
Now, to the week that was – and will be – in Big Ten land.
Stars of the Past Week:
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State – averaged 18 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 7 assists in wins over Ohio State and Penn State
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana – 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in win over Illinois
A.J. Hammons, Purdue – 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in win over Maryland
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin – averaged 17 points and 3 assists in wins over Iowa and Michigan
Marc Loving, Ohio State – averaged 22 points in two games this week.
Shep Garner, Penn State – averaged 22 points and 3.5 assists in two games this week
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Indiana at Iowa – Tuesday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN
Ohio State at Michigan State – Saturday, 12:00 pm EST, ESPN
Iowa at Michigan – Saturday, 8:00 pm EST, BTN
Maryland at Indiana – Sunday, 4:30 pm EST, CBS
Wisconsin at Purdue – Sunday, 7:30 pm EST, BTN
As always, the seeding numbers come from BracketMatrix.com.
Michigan State – 2 seed (2.09 average; 77/77 brackets)
Now that it’s officially the third month of the year, get ready to see Michigan State fans and select media members to beat the “January, February, Izzo, April” slogan over your head anytime the Spartans win a game, which will probably happen around nine times because they’ll have nine opportunities based on how they’re playing.
They’ve now won eight of their last nine, with the only loss being at Purdue in overtime. They’ve won seven of those eight by at least 12 points (the other win was by nine) and after falling to 16 in the KenPom rankings after their three-game losing streak, Tom Izzo’s group has vaulted back to the top of said rankings.
Tum Tum Nairn is slowly on his way back, gradually playing more minutes in each of his four games. He’s yet to score a point, but that was never really his role to begin with. If Nairn can be near the player he was defensively and running the fast break before the injury, he’ll give the Spartans another element for their run.
As if this team needed another shooter, Marvin Clark has gone 3-4 from distance the past two games. He was just 4-15 in the previous 27 games this season. Clark did shoot 34% out there a season ago, so it’s not like it’s a completely random thing. Just another weapon for Izzo.
This week: at Rutgers and home for Ohio State
Maryland – 3 seed (3.39; 77/77)
The Terps lost their only game of the week at Purdue and have now dropped three of their last four. They were certainly good enough offensively against the Boilers, averaging 1.2 points per possession against a really good defense.
It wasn’t just one element of Maryland’s defense that struggled. They gave up at least nine points to six of the eight Purdue players that received extended minutes. Another difference between this game and their first meeting with the Boilers was the rebounding margin. In College Park, the Terps forced a wash with one of the best rebounding teams in the country. In West Lafayette, Purdue won the battle of the boards 41-22, grabbing 19 (59.4%) of their own misses in the process, which is roughly double the national average. Maryland’s an average rebounding team and that may come back to bite them in the postseason.
Melo Trimble continued his struggles shooting the ball – he was 4-12 from the field – but he did only turn the ball over once. He had been averaging six over his last three games. After the game, Mark Turgeon suggested that he thought their turnover issues were fixed, but personally I’m not quite sold yet. Purdue doesn’t turn anybody over. They’re 345th (out of 351) in the country in forcing turnovers. We’ll see how they hold up this week.
This week: Illinois at home and Indiana on the road
Iowa – 4 seed (4.23; 77/77)
Going in to this season, Iowa was predicted to finish around 7th or 8th in the league. Everybody felt pretty stupid when the Hawkeyes won their first seven games and 10 of their first 11, including two wins each over Michigan State and Purdue. With the way they’re playing right now – losing four of their last five – and the schedule they have this week, there’s a decent chance they end up right around that 7 or 8 spot in the league.
In both games this week, Iowa battled through a close first half only to take a six-point lead in each second half. It’s a spot where earlier this conference season, this team would’ve shown their experience and iced away the game. Instead, they lost both games. Wisconsin is as hot as any team in the league right now, so that one was more explainable. It’s never easy to win on the road, but Ohio State is a really young team that hadn’t beaten a quality opponent since December and had just recently lost their most important player, Jae’Sean Tate. Down the stretch the younger Buckeyes made bigger plays and took and made better shots in the process.
A big reason for the Hawkeyes’ downfall has been the play of their star, Jarrod Uthoff. At one point Uthoff was a legitimate NPOY candidate. If you just look at the raw numbers, it wouldn’t appear that Uthoff’s play is an issue during this stretch where they’ve lost five of their last nine. He’s averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks during that time. But he’s only shot above 42% from the field once in those nine games. By comparison, he had been above that mark in nine of the 11 games before that. A big part of that is how poor he’s been shooting from beyond the three-point line. He’s 12-49 (24.5%) over this nine game stretch. He had been shooting 48.3% in the previous 19 games. This is obviously not a good thing for Iowa, but the good news is that if Uthoff gets heated back up again, the team might just follow along and get back to their previous form.
Purdue – 5 seed (5.17; 77/77)
Purdue has this funny way of getting big wins and somehow making you feel like they lost afterwards. Why? Because they make themselves win the game multiple times. It happened a couple weeks ago when they had a big lead over Michigan State, lost it, trailed late, forced overtime, and then eked it out. This past Saturday they led Maryland by 16 early, lost that lead, built it back up to 10 with a few minutes to play, let that lead slip away in what seemed like seconds, before finally closing it out.
The problem this time was turnovers late. Maryland put on the press and it was like deja vu all over again when they blew another big lead the same way against Iowa. Credit to the Boilers for gathering themselves this time, figuring out the press, and making free throws late.
Turnovers aren’t new for this team. They don’t always get them in the same way, but they always find a way. If they’d just take care of the ball, they’d be really dangerous. They’re a tremendous rebounding team and if Dakota Mathias can continue to shoot near the level he did against the Terps, they’ll be a really tough out this month.
This week: Nebraska on the road and Wisconsin at home
Indiana – 5 seed (5.31; 77/77)
After a slow start up in Champaign, the Hoosiers buried Illinois in the second half. Yogi Ferrell’s performance wrapped up his selection to the All-Big Ten first team.
After Iowa and Maryland lost over the weekend, the Hoosiers were guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten title. That’s the second for Tom Crean in the past four years. Pretty impressive for a guy who’s on Twitter’s hot seat every year. The schedule talk should cease because this team has proved its legitimacy. Also, a quick scroll through the KenPom archives will show you that the team that wins the league typically has one of the weaker schedules.
This week: at Iowa and home for Maryland
Wisconsin – 7 seed (7.51; 77/77)
Not many teams are hotter in the country right now than Wisconsin. They’ve gone from the fringe of the tournament discussion to a no doubt selection within a matter of a few weeks. They’ve not only been beating good teams, but they’ve been proving that they can beat good teams on the road. I’ll be honest, that’s something I sincerely doubted they could do a month ago. They look much more like a team than they did in non-conference play and a lot of that credit has to go to Greg Gard.
While they’re pretty secure in their bid to the tournament, they’ve still got opportunity to better their seed level, which could propel this team to a deep run.
This week: Minnesota and Purdue on the road
Michigan – 11 seed (10.24; 72/77)
Caris LeVert was officially ruled out for the season today, which didn’t come as some big surprise.
That’s something that’s out of the players’ control. Making the tournament is something that is very much up to them. They’ve got a stumbling Iowa team coming to town as their only game this week. It’s as close to a must win as you can have without it being an absolute must win. The Wolverines are firmly on the bubble at the moment and a win over the Hawkeyes would go a long way.
While Michigan doesn’t have any bad losses, the thing that’s a big knock on their resume is their SOS and their record against fellow top-100 teams in the RPI. They’re 3-8. For reference, Wisconsin was recently on the bubble and they’ve got a 10-5 record against the top-100.
This week: Iowa at home
Ohio State – NIT 4 seed
The Buckeyes suffered a major blow last Tuesday when Jae’Sean Tate was ruled out for the season due to a shoulder injury and then they had to host Michigan State at home that night, which did not go well. I was ready to throw dirt on Ohio State’s NCAA chances that night (and even wrote 600 words on it on a popular blog) before they got a huge win over Iowa this past Sunday.
Now, while they’re not dead yet, the Buckeyes are still far from making the field. It doesn’t seem likely that they’ll go in to the Breslin Center and take down a scorching Michigan State team on senior day, but crazier things have happened. They’re going to need a big run on conference tourney weekend.
This week: at Michigan State
Everyone Else Except For Rutgers
The Nittany Lions just barely held on to a win at home over Nebraska – they were up 18 at one point in the second half – before getting their doors blown off at Michigan State. Pat Chambers was ejected in the process.
This week: Northwestern and Illinois at home
Ever since winning up at East Lansing, the Huskers have dropped seven of their last nine. They got Shavon Shields back this week and he played well, dropping 25 of the team’s 55 points. Therein lies the issue, though. With Shields back in the lineup, it just reverted back to “have Shavon and Andrew do everything on offense” again. Andrew being Andrew White, of course, and unfortunately he didn’t shoot well and the Huskers lost to Penn State.
This week: home for Purdue and at Northwestern
Northwestern – NIT 7 seed
The Wildcats are still in the hunt for an NIT bid. Winning at Michigan would’ve gone a long way in securing that bid. They led for about 35 minutes before losing it down the stretch. They then chalked up their automatic victory over Rutgers in impressive fashion. Important week ahead for them.
This week: at Penn State and home for Nebraska
They got smoked by IU and struggled more than was necessary to beat a Minnesota team – that was without its four most talented guards heading into the season – at home. Congrats?
This week: at Maryland and Penn State
The Gophers got themselves on a two-game winning streak and everybody was feeling good in Minneapolis. Then this happened. Then they lost to Illinois because they only had one scholarship guard playing.
This week: home for Wisconsin and at Rutgers
Lower Rated on KenPom Than Two OVC Teams That Didn’t Even Qualify For The Conference Tournament
They lost by 39 to Northwestern, allowing 98 points in the process.
This week: home for Michigan State and Minnesota