Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 23rd, 2016

There are now two weeks to go before the close of the 2015-16 Big Ten season. Senior night ceremonies and the conference tournament are on the horizon, and the NCAA Tournament not too far beyond them. It’s unfair to jump to the conclusion that the long season has taken its toll on Big Ten teams, but there was some flat out ugly offense in the league last weekend. Four teams were held under 1.00 point per possession, and three of the five teams that came away with victories failed to crack 50 percent eFG shooting. On the brighter side, Indiana was able to fight off a late Purdue rally, and Maryland held serve at home against Michigan. This means that the regular season tournament is still a three team race at the moment (with Ohio State and Michigan State lingering a couple games back). Here are some of the noteworthy and not-so-noteworthy performances from the weekend before the final sprint.

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Ethan Happ controlled the paint as Wisconsin rallied to beat Illinois Sunday night. (Nick Lisi, AP)

Player of the Weekend: Ethan Happ isn’t always the prettiest or most graceful post player in the Big Ten, but the Wisconsin freshman is having a sensational first go of it in the Big Ten. After going up against the likes of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in practices last season, Happ has played with a veteran edge that his former practice combatants would be proud of. He doesn’t shoot from the outside, nor does he dominate physically, but the “old guy at the YMCA” element to his game has proven valuable. He’s seemingly always in the right spot on the floor, and flashes a unique creativity in the shots he both attempts and makes in the post. Illinois had the Badgers in danger of enduring another bad resume loss at home, but Happ was there to notch his fourth double-double since conference play began. He also added a career-high six steals, bringing his average to 2.5 SPG in conference games. In a season where four other freshmen big men — all with much higher profiles than Happ — have also made large contributions to probable Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, Happ could be the best freshman in the league.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Sometimes seniors on struggling teams start to pack it in at this time of the season. Other times, they see their careers coming to a close and start to play with some urgency. Despite only playing 32.9 percent of available minutes on the season, Donovon Jack followed up his outstanding effort in Penn State‘s win over Iowa earlier in the week with another double-figure scoring game over the weekend. Granted, Rutgers is playing with only one post player after a swath of injuries, but Jack ended up with 12 points and six rebounds in only 18 minutes of play. If Jack continues to play well, he may force Jordan Dickerson and Julian Moore to the bench; he offers a team that struggles to score another legitimate offensive option.

Best Win: Even though the game ended up being much closer than it should have been, even though it may have been the beneficiary of a questionable goaltending call in the waning seconds, Indiana has to be saluted for winning the Hoosier state border battle Saturday night against Purdue. Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams combined for 28 of the team’s 35 points in the first half, as the Hoosiers showed why they can make a deep run when that duo is playing at their best. A Hoosier team that has struggled with turnovers in the past only turned the ball over four times. The small Hoosier front line also held AJ Hammons in check for most of the game. Now the Big Ten-leading Hoosiers have a half game lead on Iowa with three games left to play.

Worst Loss: Nebraska isn’t going to make the NCAA Tournament, but it still should have won at home against Ohio State on Saturday night. Not having Shavon Shields in the lineup for the fourth straight game didn’t help at all, but the Cornhuskers failed to take advantage of a whopping 19 offensive rebounds (granted, it’s easier to collect those when you miss 51 shots). Give the Buckeyes credit for playing solid defense, but it’s difficult to rebound that well and still lose. Nebraska has now lost seven times in Lincoln this season, and after losing six of its last eight games, have some work to do to avoid having to play in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Most Efficient Performace: This is going to seem strange because Maryland‘s win over Michigan Sunday afternoon was not without its fair share of maddening turnovers (18 for the Terps) and defensive lapses. But the Terps were also able to shoot 54.4 percent from the floor, make 17-for-19 from the free throw line, and blocked seven shots for the game. If they can somehow extend the 4-5 minute stretches where they look like a National Championship contender into full halves of play — and if struggling Melo Trimble can regain his shooting stroke — this team has to be considered one of the bigger threats to make some noise this March.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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