Big Ten Weekend in ReviewPosted by Brendan Brody on February 26th, 2017
In a season where up has often meant down and down has meant up, it’s fitting that the second to last weekend in the Big Ten was chaotic. The league’s three Top 25 teams all lost while several teams with solid to middling chances at NCAA Tournament bids (Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State) won somewhat convincingly. Illinois and Indiana also picked up crucial wins that kept both teams’ faint bubble hopes alive. The standings are still in a state of complete flux with only the #14 seed in the conference tournament currently set in stone. Here’s the rest of the superlatives from the second to last weekend of Big Ten play.
Player of the Weekend: After a season low point in which Michigan State big man Nick Ward may have purposely tripped Michigan’s Moritz Wagner during a 29-point loss, the freshman has been on a tear. Against Wisconsin on Sunday, Ward bulled his way to 22 points and nine rebounds, bolstering his average of 15.4 PPG over the last five games. Those thinking that the Spartans are turning the corner just in time for the postseason can point to Ward and his fellow freshmen’s stellar play as a reason to believe.
Super Sub of the Weekend: Michigan’s offense is at its best when it is moving the ball and its players to spread the floor for open shots. The Wolverines have had issues at times with both, causing offensive stagnation that can kill all of their momentum. John Beilein’s club had no such problem in its big win over Purdue on Saturday, as Duncan Robinson contributed 11 points in 22 minutes that included 3-of-4 shooting from distance. Robinson has dialed it up from behind the arc to the tune of 10-of-21 in his last six games; as a result, the Wolverines have gone 5-1 over that span.
Best Win: Robinson wasn’t the only player cooking for Michigan during its 82-70 win on Saturday. The Wolverines collectively put together a scorching 64.5 percent eFG rate for the game, and did not miss a single attempt of their 11 free throws. Moritz Wagner contributed the best half of his career, scoring 22 points while dragging Purdue’s big men away from the basket. On the defensive end, Michigan did a good job in frustrating the dynamic duo of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, who had to work for their combined 26 points and 11 rebounds. The Wolverines now own wins over the best two teams in the Big Ten, and although they may not yet be a lock for the NCAA Tournament, they moved much closer over the weekend.
Worst Loss: Maryland‘s overall record was 20-2 at one point, but the Terrapins have dropped five their last seven games after losing to Iowa on Saturday afternoon. The Hawkeyes did whatever they wanted offensively, making an obscene 16 three-pointers on their way to a scintillating 1.28 points per possession. Melo Trimble shot poorly, but the Terps’ guards did nothing in trying to get to the rim. Instead, Maryland launched 34 three-point attempts (making 11), creating an imbalanced offense. This was a poor performance from a team that had realistic hopes of winning the regular season Big Ten crown just a few games ago.
Most Efficient Performance: The most glaring statistic from Minnesota’s win over Penn State on Saturday is that the Gophers blocked 15 shots, contributing mightily to holding the Nittany Lions under a point per possession. But as good as Minnesota’s defense has been all year, its offensive improvements are why the Gophers have now won seven games in a row. Against Penn State, they assisted on 69.0 percent of their made field goals, turned the ball over on only 13.3 percent of its possessions, and snagged 11 offensive rebounds. This led to another nice win for a team that is steamrolling its way into March.