Five Stars From the Past Week:
Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, Purdue – combined to average 39.0 points and 24.0 rebounds in two wins
Melo Trimble, Maryland – averaged 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in two games
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – averaged 21.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks in two games
Malcolm Hill, Illinois – 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in win at Iowa
Tai Webster and Glynn Watson, Nebraska – combined to average 29.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 2.5 steals in two wins
Five Best Games to Watch This Week:
Minnesota at Maryland, Wednesday, 8:30 pm EST, BTN
Wisconsin at Ohio State, Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN
Purdue at Michigan, Saturday, 4:00 pm EST, ESPN2
Northwestern at Indiana, Saturday, 8:00 pm EST, BTN
Wisconsin at Michigan State, Sunday, 4:00 pm EST, CBS
1. Purdue – 4 Seed (94/94 brackets)
The Boilers rolled over MSU and Rutgers at home, but maybe the biggest news of the week for them was Wisconsin and Maryland both losing. After dropping some questionable games in the first half of the conference season, it’s now up to Purdue whether they grab at least a share of the title.
It’s not going to be an easy road, but if they’re going to do it, it’s going to come down to the old cliché of “defense wins championships”. The inconsistency of the Boilers in January was entirely due to their inconsistency without the ball.
That has changed. Look at their defensive efficiency numbers from January to February.
As you can see they’ve not only played better defense, but they’ve done it every single game, not allowing any of their five opponents in February to score a point per possession.
And this has coincided with a bit of a shooting slump at the other end. When they get both of those things going at the same time, they’re one of the best teams in college basketball.
As far as the race for the Big Ten title goes, Purdue will have the toughest road despite the fact that they’ve been playing the best of the top 3 over the past couple of weeks. The schedule isn’t favorable at all, but it’s hard to bet against them right now.
This week: at Penn State and Michigan
2. Wisconsin – 5 Seed (94/94 brackets)
I quietly wondered to myself if maybe the Badgers would be better off playing at Michigan without Bronson Koenig. Not because Koenig isn’t really valuable to the team, but as I’ve pointed out the past couple weeks, he hasn’t shot it well and it’s unsurprisingly negatively impacted his team.
Well, D’Mitrik Trice stepped up in his spot and went 2-15 from the field. So much for that. It didn’t help that Nigel Hayes was largely invisible, which is something that happens far too often for a guy that’s played as many minutes in his career as he has.
But the Badgers responded by getting probably their most important victory to date.
Every fanbase seems to have one guy on their team every year that they repeatedly criticize. Sometimes it’ll change from month-to-month. This guy’s play is the difference between mediocrity and greatness, according to the fanbase.
For instance, Purdue’s guy has alternated between Isaac Haas and Vince(nt) Edwards this year. I’m not deep in the Ohio State message boards, but I would assume it’s either JaQuan Lyle or Marc Loving. Seems like James Blackmon, Rob Johnson, and Thomas Bryant have all had their turn for IU this year.
Well, it appears as if Vitto Brown is the guy for Wisconsin. I’ve seen more and more chatter about the best lineups for the Badgers and seemingly none of them feature the senior forward.
I get it. Brown shot 42% from three in Big Ten play last year and shots beyond the arc only accounted for about a third of his total field goal attempts all season. This year? He’s shooting 25% from three in conference games and about 60% of his total attempts are from out there.
That’s a vast difference, especially factoring in that he didn’t attempt a three-pointer his first two seasons on campus.
It doesn’t help that Brevin Pritzl is starting to come on and one of the leaders of the team is saying things like this:
While I understand Badger fans being infatuated with the shiny new toy, I don’t know that I’d be dead set on just telling Vitto to ride pine. I would just point out that from Feb. 28 on last season, Vitto went 19-36 (53%) from three over the final seven games.
In terms of the Badgers wrapping up their bid for a conference championship, it’ll probably be determined this week. If they sweep, it’s hard to imagine them dropping one at the Kohl Center against Iowa or Minnesota. That would give them a great chance of sole possession. 1-1 this week likely means a tie and 0-2 is disastrous.
This week: at Ohio State and Michigan State
3. Maryland – 6 Seed (94/94 brackets)
All things considered, if you were a Terp supporter, I think you’d have to be at least content coming out of last week with a 1-1 record. Especially with the lack of production from anyone not named “Romelo Trimble”.
It’s only two games so it’s not time to panic yet, but that’s a bit of a trend in the wrong direction. Coming into the season a lot of people, including myself, thought Maryland was going to be the Melo show and a rotating cast of contributions from others. It hasn’t gone that way, though. Cowan, Jackson, and Huerter have played large roles all year for a really good team, but this past week they played a lot closer to the expectations and further away from their reality for the past four months.
I’m not expecting that to continue, but the reality is those three can’t go a combined 11-39 over the course of two games and have the Terps succeed at the same time.
I do have to say it was a bit odd of Mark Turgeon to essentially throw in the towel with four minutes to go. I understand that it’s getting close to the end of the season and guys are a little banged up and tired, but the game was far from out of reach. I don’t think a few minutes is going to make the big difference for the team over the next few weeks. Also, getting a technical with less than 10 minutes to go and your team only down four probably wasn’t the brightest move either.
You would expect the Terps to sweep the rest of the way, but Minnesota and MSU won’t be walks in the park, even if they are in College Park. If they take care of business, they’ll just have to hope both Wisconsin and Purdue lose a game.
[NOTE: After I wrote this, I saw Cekovsky was out for the year. I don’t have much to add, but can confirm that it is, in fact, not a good development.]
This week: home for Minnesota and Iowa
Other Tournament Teams
4. Northwestern – 7 Seed (94/94 brackets)
Oh boy. The Wildcats just barely avoided what would have been an unmitigated disaster by pulling one out at the end over Rutgers at home. A loss to the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t have ended their chances at the NCAA Tournament, but it would have put them at risk, especially when you look ahead at what’s remaining on the schedule.
But Northwestern won, Scottie Lindsey is back, and the dream season lives on. Lindsey was expectedly rusty, but the fact that he was still able to play 24 minutes was a good sign. I assume conditioning is the biggest issue for him to get past right now.
Lindsey or no Lindsey, the Wildcats need to tighten back up their defense. They’re getting beat in multiple ways right now on that end. Rutgers stayed in the game because they hammered the offensive glass, Purdue made a parade of threes against them, and Illinois just scored in every way.
Not many teams in the country are better than Rutgers at grabbing their own misses and the same goes for Purdue at making threes, but that’s not going to cut it for Northwestern. A key for any team to succeed in the postseason is limiting other team’s strengths and the Wildcats aren’t doing a good job of that right now.
They’re still likely to make the dance for the first time, and that’s great. But unless they start taking things away from the opposition, the NCAA Tournament is not only going to be a new experience, but a fleeting one also.
This week: at Illinois and Indiana
5. Michigan – 10 Seed (94/94 brackets)
Not surprisingly, the Wolverines went 1-1 this week and the game they won was the one where they played significantly better defense. I hate to sound like a broken record, but that’s what matters for Michigan.
I know they lost, but it’s an encouraging sign for this team that they were in a toss-up game on the road against a quality opponent when Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin went a combined 10-28.
It helped that DJ Wilson decided he was Robert Horry for an evening:
As well as the Wolverines are playing right now, they’re still going to have to keep it up if they want to guarantee the spot they want in March. They have three of their last four on the road and their only home game is against Purdue on Saturday.
This week: at Rutgers, home for Purdue
6. Minnesota – 7 Seed (94/94 brackets)
I know they just beat Michigan and they’re on a five-game win streak, but the game against the Wolverines was a toss-up in the Barn and I don’t think the Gophers have played a great game still since early January.
Where they get their offensive production continues to baffle me. Mason and Coffey are about the only two guys that consistently contribute in a big way.
Jordan Murphy goes on these ridiculous weeks-long spurts. He’s currently on a good one, averaging 18.0 ppg over the last four. Before that, he had been averaging 6.4 over an eight-game stretch, which was preceded by a five-game stretch where he averaged 13.6.
Akeem Springs essentially does the same thing. He hasn’t scored more than 7 points in their last three games. In the five games before that, he didn’t score less than 14.
Dupree McBrayer scored in double figures in 12 of his first 15 games. Since then? 3 out of 12 games.
In Big Ten play, Eric Curry has three games in double figures and three games with a goose egg.
Reggie Lynch is fairly consistent in the scoring category. It’s never a ton, but it’s always something. He’s even more consistent with his 5 blocks and 5 fouls in every game.
It’s good that the Gophers have so many options to score, but I think you’d like a little more stability with who it’s coming from every night. It hasn’t happened recently, but a handful of times they’ve had only one or two guys show up.
So mysterious, the Gophers.
This week: at Maryland, home for Penn State
7. Michigan State – 10 Seed (92/94 brackets)
Spartan Nation got in a war of words with a broadcaster this week. It all started with Dan Dakich calling them whiny on Twitter. They responded by…whining about it? Dakich took it a little too far by calling some people stupid, too stupid to get into Michigan (where his son attends). Tom Izzo put on his tough guy jacket and called Dakich out. The Spartans then lost by a bunch to Purdue and Izzo mentioned his displeasure with “displacement” roughly 327 times in his postgame press conference. Some might have called it “whining” about the officiating.
This has been my favorite feud of the year.
Best wishes to Eron Harris in his recovery. That’s a shitty way to end a career.
This week: home for Nebraska and Wisconsin
What Could’ve Been
8. Indiana – Others Receiving Votes (1/94 brackets)
What’s left to say about Indiana? Things are going very poorly, obviously. All of the talk around the program seems to be whether or not Indiana is going to fire Tom Crean or if Tom Crean is going to leave Indiana on his own free will.
Personally, I don’t think either side should be moving on from one another just yet, but I’m also not very close to the situation.
Certain Indiana fans crush Crean because he’s “only” made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Just as a reminder, he’s been there three times in a five-year stretch. They’ve been there one other time since the early 90’s. He’s won two Big Ten titles, which had also happened only once since the early 90’s.
But you’re in a rush to replace him with who? Gregg Marshall? Why? Because he made the Final Four one year? Cool, so did Crean before he got the big job. The Crean haters always point out the Syracuse loss in the Sweet 16 when IU was a #1 seed. Marshall lost in the second round with a team that was a #1 seed and also 35-0.
Marshall’s just one example. Any legitimate candidate you throw out there, I could poke holes in his resume.
Is Tom Crean the best coach in the country? No, but he’s the best of the four that’s been in Bloomington the last 25 years.
This week: at Iowa, home for Northwestern
9. Nebraska – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)
One of the best weeks for anybody in the league. The Huskers handled Penn State at home and then went on the road and pulled one out in Columbus.
It’s too little, too late for the Huskers, but if they get on a little roll here at the end and keep it going into the Big Ten Tournament…things could get interesting. Nebraska has multiple really good wins this year and they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country by RPI standards.
The chances are less than 1%, but I don’t think Nebraska has pulled their last upset this season.
This week: at Michigan State, home for Illinois
Likable Young, Mediocre Teams
10. Penn State – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)
They only played once and they got run by Nebraska. No result in a Penn State game is surprising. It made sense when they beat Maryland and it made equal sense when they lost to Rutgers. That’s just the story of the season for the Nittany Lions. It’s just growing pains.
This week: home for Purdue, at Minnesota
11. Iowa – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)
Not a good couple of weeks for the Hawkeyes after it looked like they might be able to linger in the NCAA Tournament conversation for a while. Just like Penn State, they’re a young team that’s true to form in their inconsistency. Unfortunately it means we don’t get to see Peter Jok in important games in March.
This week: home for Indiana, at Maryland
12. Ohio State – Others Receiving Votes (1/94 brackets)
To put it lightly, they disgust me.
This week: home for Wisconsin
13. Illinois – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)
They play like the young teams, only they’re one of the most experienced teams in the league.
This week: home for Northwestern, at Nebraska
14. Rutgers – N/A Seed (0/94 brackets)
Imagine if the last minute of the Wisconsin and Northwestern games go a little differently. Their resume might be better than Ohio State’s.
This week: home for Michigan