Rutgers’ Garden Party to Michigan’s Run: Big Ten Tournament Postmortem

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 7th, 2018

Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what happened in Madison Square Garden last weekend, let’s examine some of the biggest surprises and takeaways from the early Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan dominated the Competition in Madison Square Garden. (Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Michigan established itself as a legitimate national threat. We knew Michigan was playing its best basketball of the season entering postseason play, and we knew it would probably make some noise last week in Manhattan. What we did not foresee was the Wolverines establishing themselves as a serious Final Four threat en route to a second straight conference title. After escaping Iowa in the second round, Michigan put together three of the most complete performances any Big Ten team has displayed this season. The Wolverines hammered bubble-dwelling Nebraska by 19 points. They beat Michigan State by double-figures for the second time in a row. They limited Purdue’s explosive perimeter game to just 4-of-17 three-point shooting. In all, Michigan’s defense — which now ranks sixth nationally in efficiency — held opponents to just 0.96 points per possession over the four-day run, which is remarkable considering that two of those offenses ranked among the nation’s top 10. The Wolverines’ offense, led by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (15.0 PPG), executed John Beilein’s low-turnover, pick-and-pop offense to perfection. With its most balance in years and a profile good enough to now warrant a #3 seed, Michigan should no longer be viewed as a Big Ten “other”; the Wolverines are as much a Final Four contender as the Boilermakers and Spartans.

  • Madison Square Garden wasn’t such a terrible idea after all. Okay, just kidding. It was and remains a preposterous idea to host the Big Ten Tournament in New York City. Still, logic aside, it’s hard to deny that the event generated more energy and excitement than many anticipated — beginning with Rutgers, the only school located within a two-hour drive. Despite being the the #14 seed and perpetual butt of jokes, the Scarlet Knights brought the Garden to life thanks to some big-time shot-making by guard Corey Sanders. The junior scored 23 points against Minnesota, poured in 28 points — including several late-game dunks — in an upset win over Indiana, then helped New York’s One True Team nearly topple Purdue in the quarterfinals. Perhaps the only fan base outdoing Rutgers last weekend was the Michigan faithful, thanks to an outsized alumni presence in the area compared to most other Midwestern schools. The Wolverines had no problem generating — and maintaining — momentum throughout the tournament. After catching flak in the weeks leading up to the event, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was at least partially vindicated: “I think the fans totally embraced it.”

Penn State and Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament resumes are left wanting. (Trevor Hayes | Onward State)

  • Nebraska and Penn State didn’t do enough. Prior to the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska stood among Joe Lunardi’s ‘First Four’ out, while Penn State was considered a long-shot NCAA Tournament at-large contender. The Cornhuskers, which beat Michigan by 20 points in January, were then roundly beaten by the Wolverines in Friday’s quarterfinal. The Nittany Lions edged Northwestern and beat Ohio State (again) before bowing out against Purdue. Neither did enough. With an RPI north of 60 in both cases, Nebraska and Penn State now sit among Lunardi’s ‘Next Four Out’, with no opportunities left to improve improve their profile. It was a disappointing conclusion for two teams talented enough to compete in the Big Dance, but luckily, both squads return the bulk of their rosters in 2018-19.
  • Purdue can use the break. As it did for much of February, Purdue looked like a shell of its former self in Sunday’s championship game against Michigan. The Boilermakers were unable to open up their league-leading offensive attack (in part because of the Wolverines’ defense) and their star players looked lethargic. Leading scorer Carsen Edwards shot just 4-of-16 from the field. Senior captain Vincent Edwards scored only four points and sat the final seven minutes of the game. Even Dakota Mathias, who was shooting 65 percent from the field over his previous five contests, failed to get anything going (4-of-11 FG). With the Big Ten Tournament wrapping up a week earlier than usual, perhaps the long layover prior to NCAA Tournament play will benefit Purdue. “An entire week of just practice and getting your legs under you, getting your shot under you, getting that confidence up to its highest point going into the tournament is going to be huge for us,” center Isaac Haas said this week.
  • Michigan State probably cost itself a seed line. If Michigan State had beaten its rival Michigan on Saturday, it would have probably remained a #2 seed in most bracket projections. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Michigan’s defense prevented the Spartans from finding any second-half rhythm en route to a comfortable victory. Now, with just three wins against RPI Quadrant 1 opponents, Michigan State is firmly projected to be a #3 seed in most mock brackets. It may have also cost itself a chance to play the opening weekend in Detroit. And with every other power conference tournament taking place this week, there’s time still for the Spartans to move further down the S-curve. The silver lining? Michigan State was not a #1 or #2 seed in three of its past four Final Four runs and the Spartans are also unlikely to face Middle Tennessee State, a projected #12 seed, in Round One. Huge sigh of relief for Sparty.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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