Big Ten M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 18th, 2016

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  1. Nebraska was operating at peak efficiency in its 78-67 win over Illinois in Champaign Saturday. The keys to victory – the Cornhuskers’ third in a row after they dropped its first three Big Ten games – were a productive offense combined with an outstanding effort on the glass. Leading the way in both these categories was Andrew White III. The junior went for 21 points (on just 12 shots) and 13 rebounds in boosting Nebraska to a 42-24 advantage on the backboards. He did so in his usual quiet and understated way, but White is certainly heading towards earning postseason Big Ten honors.
  2. Michigan State went with a different starting lineup on Sunday, giving freshmen Matt McQuaid and Deyonta Davis their first starts of their young careers. Davis had a large impact when he was in the game Sunday, as the Spartans were a plus 21 when he was on the floor. The freshman is only averaging 17.6 MPG, and one writer thinks it’s time for the gifted post player to see more court time. It’s hard to complain about what Davis brings to the table, as he’s been the team’s best low post scorer and rim protector. It will be interesting to see whether Davis sees more time as Tom Izzo tinkers with his rotation.
  3. The seniors for Iowa get most of the headlines, but lost in the hype surrounding its 5-0 start in Big Ten play have been the contributions the Hawkeyes are getting from their younger players coming off the bench. Dom Uhl, Nicholas Baer, and Ahmad Wagner have all been supplying very positive minutes in their time on the court. Wagner was especially valuable in Sunday’s win against Michigan. He has the flexibility to guard on both the perimeter and interior, which he did well in playing different spots defensively in his 11 minutes of action against the Wolverines. If Iowa continues to play well, its bench will be a big part of the reason why.
  4. Caris LeVert missed another game for Michigan on Sunday, but the senior guard is now walking pain-free, according to coach John Beilein. The next step for LeVert is to receive a few more medical tests to make sure he is ready to go. Michigan is being extra careful with the situation because of Levert’s injury history and his likely future in the NBA. If he can get back and play at the level he was at pre-injury, Michigan has a chance to make a run toward a top-four finish in the league.
  5. Purdue senior Raphael Davis is known for what he brings on the defensive end of the floor, but the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten has struggled quite a bit on offense in Purdue’s three losses. An earlier injury is partly to blame, but Purdue is noticeably better when he is scoring the ball. In those three losses this year, Davis has only scored a total ofsix total points. He’ll never need to be the focal point or go-to-scorer, but Davis and the rest of the Purdue perimeter attack needs to be more consistent to balance the effective Boilermaker interior offense.
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Three Keys for Iowa in Its Rematch with Michigan State Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 14th, 2016

Iowa shocked the college basketball world when it easily knocked off #1 Michigan State in Iowa City two weeks ago. For the rematch in East Lansing tonight, the Spartans will be at full strength, with NPOY candidate Denzel Valentine back in the lineup. Most pundits don’t give Iowa much of a chance to pull off the sweep, but let’s take a look at what the Hawkeyes need to do to move to 4-0 in Big Ten play this evening.

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for their rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

Michigan State will have Denzel Valentine back in uniform for its rematch against Iowa. (Jim Rohash, AP)

  1. Don’t Let Valentine Break Their Hearts: The senior Big Ten Player of the Year candidate was clearly rusty in his return game against Penn State on Sunday — shooting 4-of-11 from the floor and 1-of-6 from deep in only 23 minutes of action. Iowa did a great job in holding the Spartans in check from the perimeter in the teams’ first meeting (3-of-13 from three-point range), but it will have to do so here with another big-time shooter to worry about. One key will be how Iowa handles Bryn Forbes. The Hawkeyes held the senior to only three points in their late December meeting, but he has since heated back up (13-of-23 from three). Iowa’s three-point defense is nearly as good as Michigan State’s three-point offense, so whichever unit gets the advantage here will hold a key card in which team wins the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Grading Rutgers’ Corey Sanders: An Incomplete Thus Far

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 13th, 2016

Corey Sanders came to Rutgers with a relatively solid pedigree. As a prep star at the point guard position, he was ranked #62 in ESPN.com‘s top 100 and checked in at #93 on 247sports. Not that anyone thought he was going to completely turn around Rutgers basketball in his freshman season, but the guard has had a bit of an uneven start to careeer. Some of this can be attributed to struggles in adapting to coach Eddie Jordan’s system of Princeton-like movements and cuts. An even bigger reason is that Rutgers has been decimated by injuries, as Deshawn Freeman, Shaquille Doorson and Ibrahima Diallo are all out for the season with various maladies. What that mean is that Rutgers, with only two players 6’8″ or taller, are playing small ball out of necessity. Correspondingly, that means it’s difficult to get a true read on how well Sanders is doing this season.

Corey Sanders is leading Rutgers in scoring despite an uneven first season for Eddie Jordan's team. (Getty)

Corey Sanders is leading Rutgers in scoring despite an uneven first season for Eddie Jordan’s team. (Getty)

The freshman guard is averaging 13.3 PPG, 3.4 APG and 1.6 SPG while shooting 35.2 percent from behind the arc. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a solid if not spectacular 1.12. And when compared with some of the other notable Big Ten point guards’ freshman seasons, his efficiency numbers are generally comparable.

  • Yogi Ferrell (105.3 O-Rating, 18.0 Usage, 45.4% eFG, 25.7% Asst Rate, 24.5 TO%, 1.6% Stls Rate, 30.3% 3pt)
  • Mike Gesell (99.4 O-Rating, 20.2 Usage, 46.6% eFG, 22.5% Asst Rate, 20.5 TO%, 2.8% Stls Rate, 31.7% 3pt)
  • Melo Trimble (116.5 O-Rating, 24.8 Usage, 53.4% eFG, 21.2% Asst Rate, 18.3 TO%, 2.3% Stls Rate, 41.2% 3pt)
  • Derrick Walton (112.2 O-Rating, 18.2 Usage, 53.1% eFG, 19.8% Asst Rate, 19.9 TO%, 1.4% Stls Rate, 41.0% 3pt)
  • Bryant McIntosh (101.4 O-Rating, 23.9 Usage, 48.4% eFG, 32.6% Asst Rate, 20.5 TO%, 0.5% Stls Rate, 36.4% 3pt)
  • Corey Sanders (94.8 O-Rating, 25.0 Usage, 47.1% eFG, 23.6% Asst Rate, 21.9 TO%, 2.8% Stls Rate, 35.2% 3pt)

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 12th, 2016

Much like the NFL Wildcard games, the road was friendly to visiting Big Ten teams over the weekend. Impressive home wins from Indiana and Illinois on Sunday halted a four-game visitor’s winning streak, but blowouts were also a common theme, as only one of the weekend’s six contests featured a single-figure final scoring margin. As always, there were several impressive performances individually and from certain teams. Here are the weekend’s superlatives.

Malcolm Hill proved he's one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Malcolm Hill proved he’s one of the best scorers in the Big Ten Sunday by scoring 30 points against Purdue. (Stephen Haas, Herald and Review)

Player of the Weekend: Illinois’ Malcolm Hill figured he would need to be a scorer when Purdue’s Raphael Davis started the game guarding his high-scoring teammate Kendrick Nunn. Hill did so to the tune of 13 points from a variety of different spots on the floor. When Davis moved over to Hill in the second half, Nunn went off for 18 points of his own. Hill, who had already by then found his groove, contributed 17 more as the juniors combined for 35 of the Illini’s 47 points coming after the break. Hill also led the team in rebounds (nine), tied for the team lead in assists (three), and added a pair of blocks. In a lost season in Champaign, Hill has been a bright spot in hitting for double figures in all 17 games. The total package that he brings beyond just scoring was on full display in Illinois’ impressive win, its first of the Big Ten season.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Maryland barely squeaked by Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, and although it wasn’t to the level of his 39-point, 12-rebound performance against Penn State last week, Diamond Stone was quietly efficient in the victory. On a day when the Terps didn’t get much from Jake Layman or Rasheed Sulaimon, Stone went 4-of-5 from the field en route to an 11-point outing. In what was no doubt an emotional homecoming for the freshman from Milwaukee who spurned his home state school, Stone didn’t overdo it and was a key reason that the Terrapins remained perfect in league play at 4-0.

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Big Ten M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 11th, 2016

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  1. Purdue dropped to 14-3 (2-2) on the year after losing to Illinois, 84-70, on Sunday night, and a familiar formula has emerged in each its three losses this season. Turnovers and shoddy offensive play have doomed this team, as AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas combined for only 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting. The defense that has been a constant positive all season failed miserably, as Illinois became the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Boilermakers in 37 games. Is there trouble in West Lafayette?
  2. The return of Michigan State‘s Denzel Valentine from a four-game injury hiatus did not bring a triple-double or a spectacular stat line. Rather, the senior looked a bit rusty early before scoring 10 second-half points as the Spartans blasted Penn State, 92-65, Sunday afternoon. One key takeaway from this game was that Tom Izzo’s squad might have become even better in its All-American’s absence. Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes have emerged as serious offensive threats, while post play has also improved significantly. If Valentine gets back to the productivity he displayed in the first 12 games of the season, Sparty is definitely on the short list of national championship contenders.
  3. If Indiana didn’t completely offset the stench of its early season play in the Hoosiers’ blowout win over Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, they have certainly come close. Tom Crean’s squad stayed undefeated in league play behind big efforts from big men Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams. Williams was especially productive in scoring a team-high 23 points, but what was more important was that he didn’t commit any momentum-killing turnovers. Indiana held the Buckeyes to a paltry 0.86 points per possession, and if the Hoosiers’ defense continues to improve, Indiana will be a dangerous team going forward.
  4. Crean also added a fourth commitment to his 2016 class on Saturday when Devonte Green pledged to his program. The younger brother of former North Carolina standout Danny Green, the Long Island native is a 6’3″ combo guard whom 247sports rates as the sixth best player from New York. Green is the third guard slated to join the Hoosiers next season, joining other commitments Curtis Jones and Grant Gelon in the backcourt.
  5. Nebraska rolled to its biggest road win in 96 years on Saturday, beating Rutgers by 34 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the floor and logging 52 points in the paint. Rutgers is missing some key interior pieces, of course, but the Cornhuskers played arguably one of their best games of the season in getting contributions from everyone. Andrew White III continues to prove that he is one of the best and most efficient scorers in the league, scoring over 20 points (28) for the fifth time this season.
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Three Keys For Michigan Against Purdue Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2016

Michigan is one of five undefeated teams left in the early stages of Big Ten play, but the Wolverines will face their biggest test of the young conference season when they head to West Lafayette tonight to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers will be looking to bounce back from an upset home loss against Iowa where they had no answer for the Hawkeyes’ talented twosome of Jarrod Uthoff and Mike Gesell. Here are three keys for John Beilein‘s club to pull off what would be its best win of the season.

Michigan will need Marc Donnal to continue his stellar play against Purdue Thursday night. (Getty)

Michigan will need Marc Donnal to continue his stellar play against Purdue tonight. (Getty)

  1. Keep Feeding Marc Donnal: Things against Purdue’s elite front line almost assuredly won’t be as easy as they were for Marc Donnal in wins over Illinois and Penn State where the redshirt sophomore went for 21.0 PPG and 8.5 RPG on 72 percent shooting from the floor. That doesn’t mean that Michigan should abandon a working strategy to get the ball to Donnal for points in the paint. Michigan will have to make shots from the outside (10+ threes would be ideal) to win, but finding some balance against the best team in the country at defending two-point shots will be necessary. Donnal is the key to finding that offensive balance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Observations: Ohio State at Northwestern

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 7th, 2016

Ohio State moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play in an ugly win over Northwestern last night. The Wildcats moved to 1-2 in dropping another important home game that could come back to bite them on Selection Sunday. Here are four quick observations from the Buckeyes’ convincing 65-56 win in Evanston.

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

Kam Williams was the spark Ohio State needed from the bench Wednesday night. (USAT Images)

  • Kam Williams Looms as a Potential Game-Changer: In a game where neither team could make perimeter shots (11-of-43 combined from three-point range), Williams knocked in five buckets from beyond the arc. The sophomore guard was off to a nondescript start to this season (6.3 PPG in 17.2 MPG during non-conference games), but on a team where the next best outside shooter hits only 34 percent from deep, Williams’ development as a scoring option could allow the Buckeyes to make a run at a top four finish.
  • Ohio State’s Defense Keeps Improving: Ohio State is currently ranked 19th in defensive efficiency and much of that success can be attributed to their size — the Buckeyes don’t have anyone smaller than 6’4″ in their starting five. That length allows Thad Matta‘s group to defend at an elite level, and this was on full display last night. The Buckeyes blocked eight shots, holding Northwestern to 0.82 points per possession and 35.7 percent from two-point range. And despite some offensive limitations, Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens are becoming defensive menaces.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 5th, 2016

After a non-conference season that seemingly flew by, we’ve now moved into Big Ten play. Saturday’s action in particular featured a number of games that allowed anyone who hadn’t checked out much of the Big Ten a chance to catch up on what they’ve missed. All 14 team played over the weekend, so what follows are a few of the highlights from the first slate of weekend action.

Melo Trimble did a little bit of everything for Maryland as they knocked off Northwestern on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Melo Trimble did a little bit of everything for Maryland as they knocked off Northwestern on Saturday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Player of the Weekend: Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) and Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa) played well in their teams’ wins, but Maryland’s Melo Trimble gets the nod here for his play on both ends of the floor. He and Rasheed Suliamon made things miserable for Northwestern’s shooters, holding Tre Demps to 4-of-16 shooting and the Wildcats to 2-of-20 from behind the three-point line. While Trimble’s perimeter defense was outstanding, his play on the offensive end was also noteworthy. Seven of his eight assists came in the first half when his shot wasn’t falling, but he came alive for 17 points in the second half with timely long-range bombing every time Northwestern started to make a run. Trimble’s assist rate jump from his freshman season (21.2%) to this year (34.9%) is partially a function of a more talented cast, but his passing has really improved this season. He ended up with 24 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists as the Terrapins notched a quality road win in Evanston.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Indiana’s Troy Williams hasn’t started conference play very well and James Blackmon, Jr. is out indefinitely. Luckily for the Hoosiers, OG Anunoby has emerged as a legitimate playmaker with the extra minutes — a stat line of 11 points in 11 minutes on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting against Nebraska should surely earn him some additional court time in the future. His key steal in the late stages of Saturday’s game when the Cornhuskers were still within striking distance allowed Indiana to close it out. Tom Crean is not afraid to play a deep bench, so look for Anunoby to see extended minutes as Big Ten play progresses.

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Big Ten M5: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2016

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  1. Michigan State has started off 1-1 in Big Ten play and 2-1 overall since losing senior Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine. The Spartans have especially struggled on the offensive end of the floor without Valentine’s scoring and play-making abilities. Sparty will only have to hold serve a bit longer however, as Valentine has targeted Michigan State’s January 10 game against Penn State for his return to action. According to ESPN.com, Valentine said that he’s just waiting on some of the swelling in his knee to go down. This means he will miss only one more game — on January 7 against Illinois.
  2. Iowa won at Purdue on Saturday for the first time since 2006, and it did so by erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. Senior leadership played a role as Jarrod Uthoff rallied the troops during a spirited halftime speech. The senior backed it up on the court as well, scoring 25 for the game. This means that Iowa will more than likely make their way into the Top 25 for the first time all season, and gives them two huge resume-enhancers for the week after they beat Michigan State earlier in the week as well.
  3. Marc Loving continues to lead a resurgence of sorts for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes held off Illinois on Sunday afternoon to go to 2-0 in league play. The junior wing went on a personal 6-0 run to help squelch an Illinois rally in the second half. Loving ended the game with 27 points, doing so by getting to the free throw line 19 times. The Buckeyes have needed someone to become their go-to-scorer, and Loving looks to be starting to emerge and take the offensive burden on his shoulders. Ohio State has now won six in a row, and look like they’ve turned a corner after their important non-conference win over Kentucky.
  4. Despite some uneven play during their first 14 games, Maryland is still a threat to cut the nets down in April as one of the most talented teams in all the land. They submitted one of their best performances of the season on Saturday when they beat Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats had been burning people with their perimeter shooting, but the Terrapins held them to a woeful 2-for-20 night from deep as Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon harassed their shooters all night. After a shaky offensive effort against Penn State in their conference lid-lifter, the Terrapins won this one by displaying a stingy defense that if sustained, makes them one of the favorites to win the regular season crown in the Big Ten.
  5. In an assessment of Indiana’s two wins to start off Big Ten play, one of the major positives has been the play of the freshmen and of the bench at large. With James Blackmon Jr out of action, the likes of Nick Zeisloft, OG Anunoby, and Max Bielfeldt all have increased their production. This bodes well for if/when Blackmon Jr comes back into the lineup, as a deeper bench will allow the Hoosiers to more effectively play their uptempo offensive style without a drop off with the subs in the game. Bielfeldt and freshman Thomas Bryant have also done a nice job scoring in the post, giving the Hoosiers more ways to beat teams instead of always relying on jump shots.
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Five X-Factors Who Will Influence the Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2015

We’re now fully past exams and the insane holiday season, and our reward for all that jolly is a pre-New Year’s feast of Big Ten basketball with which to roll into 2016. This means that it’s a good time to consider how a handful of players who were notable in the non-conference portion of the schedule will fare with the better competition to come. The performance of these five players in particular could make all the difference in determining how well their teams fare over the next two months, and ultimately which teams are still playing deep into March.

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  • Eron Harris, Michigan State: Harris finally showed what he could do on the offensive end of the floor with 27 points in Michigan State’s overtime win against Oakland. Prior to that explosion, he had only showed flashes of the scoring ability that he showcased at West Virginia. With Denzel Valentine expected to remain out for another one or two weeks, Harris needs to seize the extra playing time to build greater confidence in his role in Tom Izzo’s system. Those extra minutes could pay dividends when Valentine returns, as the Spartans will need additional scoring options in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  • Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s role has changed this year now that Maryland has a deeper arsenal of scorers on its roster. That said, he’ll need to be a bit more aggressive once conference play begins. He’s only taken more than 10 field goal attempts in a game three times this year, but his offensive rating has improved from 109.8 to 122.7. He needs to find a happy medium where he takes better advantage of his high efficiency and effective shooting in the paint (63.2 percent on two-point shots) to provide more scoring.

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Evaluating the Big Ten’s Performance in Non-Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 29th, 2015

The book has officially been closed on the non-conference portion of the Big Ten schedule. As a collective, the league finished with a 130-49 record. This is a tad worse from last season’s 136-44 mark, and even further down from the conference’s 122-32 mark of two seasons ago. And as much as league official would like to do so, this can’t all be blamed on Rutgers’ 6-7 record to start the season. Despite the fact that the conference appears to have fallen off a bit, there are a number of positives and negatives to glean from this season’s opening chapter.

Northwestern finished up non-conference play with a 12-1 record, putting themselves in position to make their first every trip to the NCAA Tournament. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Northwestern finished up non-conference play with a 12-1 record, putting themselves in position to make their first every trip to the NCAA Tournament. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

A three-team pack has emerged as the clear front-runners heading into conference play. Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue have all impressed and can be viewed as potential Final Four teams. The trio has combined to lose only two games on the year, with both of those defeats coming to teams that are currently ranked in the top 10. Sparty has beaten a whopping seven teams among the KenPom top 100, while the Boilermakers have beaten four and the Terps three. All three of these teams are in line for protected seeds come March if they perform well during conference play.

Among other Big Ten teams, Northwestern has done exactly what it needed to do in getting to 12-1 with its sole loss to preseason No. 1 North Carolina. The Wildcats’ schedule wasn’t arduous but they avoided any resume-disrupting losses. They still may not end up in the NCAA Tournament, depending on how conference play goes, but Chris Collins’ team has done a nice job positioning itself for it. Iowa also really can’t complain after getting to conference play at 9-3. The Hawkeyes put together a 3-3 record against teams in the KenPom top 100, and also avoided the bad loss bugaboo.

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A Brief Look at the Most and Least Difficult Big Ten Schedules

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 28th, 2015

Now that the non-conference part of the Big Ten season is finished, we can enthusiastically look ahead at the conference schedule. Because of an unbalanced league schedule that requires 14 teams to play 18 games, some teams are going to get railroaded while others find an easier road to March. Every team will get tested in one way or another, of course, but some unlucky teams will be tested more than others. Here’s a look at three schedules that appear excessively tough and two others that could be a bit more manageable this year.

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten(Mark Selders)

Shep Garner and Penn State will have one of the most difficult league schedules in the Big Ten. (Mark Selders Photography)

Most Difficult

  • Penn State: The Nittany Lions are the only team that really didn’t catch a break with either their home or road slates. They play each of the league’s top three teams (Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue) on the road and also will visit three other potential NCAA Tournament teams (Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern) this season. They also lost a home game by playing the return game with Michigan in New York City, and their other home-and-homes include Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern. The only silver linings here are avoiding Purdue and Maryland twice and an opportunity to sneak into NIT consideration with a few unexpected wins.
  • Maryland: The Terrapins have to play Purdue twice and will face Michigan State in East Lansing. Their other home-and-homes include Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin. This schedule will certainly boost Maryland’s RPI and overall resume, but avoiding rematches with any of the bottom tier could make its road to a conference regular season title appear a bit taxing. Winning the majority of these games will do nothing but give Mark Turgeon’s group a bit of an edge when it comes to seeding for the Big Dance.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes are still one of the biggest question marks in the Big Ten, but their win against Kentucky leaves them with much more realistic bubble expectations than previously. They will have the chance to undo some rough home losses by getting two cracks at Maryland and Michigan State along with road games against Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Win three of those six contests and take care of business against the others and Ohio State could punch its dance card for the eight consecutive season.

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