Previewing the Key Big Ten Games Over the Final WeekendPosted by Deepak Jayanti on March 9th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
After playing 17 games and beating up on each other for over two months, the Big Ten regular season champion will be determined during the final weekend. Only four teams – Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Indiana – are in contention for the regular season title, but there are some other match-ups whose outcome will play a huge factor in the seeding for the NCAA Tournament (Minnesota, Illinois) or keep their hopes for a bid alive (Iowa). Let’s review the key games for this weekend.
- Minnesota at Purdue (12:00 PM EST, Big Ten Network): Matt Painter should be a candidate for the Big Ten Coach of the Year award because after a rough start during the non-conference season, Painter’s young team has tremendously improved and it may be one of the hottest teams in the league right now. As if winning on the road in Madison wasn’t impressive enough, they almost took down Michigan on Wednesday night in West Lafayette. If Sandi Marcius hadn’t left the game during the second half with an ankle sprain, they may have upset the Wolverines because he was playing terrific defense in the paint against Michigan’s pick-and-roll. Combine their recent intensity along with the emotions of Senior Day in West Lafayette, and D.J. Byrd and company will give the Gophers a tough time on Saturday. The Gophers will enter this game with their own issues on the offensive end as they scored fewer than 50 points against Nebraska on the road. Tubby Smith’s team is a near-lock for the NCAA Tournament but losing two games on the road to finish the regular season against teams that won’t sniff the Dance will hurt their seeding. A loss to Purdue and a 1-1 record in the Big Ten Tournament may put them in the #10 seed range on Selection Sunday.
- Illinois at Ohio State (12:30 PM EST, ESPN): You think Aaron Craft remembers the 74-55 thumping the Buckeyes took in Champaign during the first week of the conference season? For most of the regular season, the Buckeyes were trying to figure out who would chip in with 15 points to complement Deshaun Thomas’ production but their wins against Michigan State and Indiana have shown that their offense could run through Craft in the half court, at least during the second half. With Craft and Shannon Scott playing pick-and-roll with Evan Ravenel, they will force the defense to play off the wings at times which should open up the corner three for Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. While the Buckeyes have been playing very well lately, the Illini come to Columbus with the same old issues on the offensive end: relying too much on the three-point shot, and ineffective ball movement. Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, John Groce’s team will make it to the NCAA Tournament and a loss in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament won’t have a major negative impact, but two more losses will result in a #10 or #11 seed on Selection Sunday. On the other hand, a win for the Buckeyes and a 13-5 record in the Big Ten could get them at least a #4 or possibly a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- Indiana at Michigan (4:00 PM EST, CBS): The winner of this game will be a front-runner for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament because the Big Ten may not get two top seeds on Selection Sunday. If Duke loses to North Carolina on Saturday night, they may fall behind Indiana and Michigan but Sunday’s game means more than just about seeding. The Wolverines could force a tie for the regular season title and Indiana will end the regular season with two losses which is not good for their morale. Trey Burke has been playing at a very high level in March and his match-up against Victor Oladipo may determine the Big Ten and possibly National Player of the Year awards. If Burke can get some pick-and-roll action going with Mitch McGary, they may be able to win the game but they still need to lock down Indiana’s perimeter shooters such as Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Cody Zeller and Watford grabbed 10 boards each during their game in Bloomington and the Hoosiers out-rebounded the Wolverines 36-22 on the glass, but Jordan Morgan only played two minutes and his presence should help in Ann Arbor.