Wisconsin’s Key To Success in the B1G Tournament: Defending the Three-Point Shot

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 17th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

The three-point shot can hurt a team in more than one ways. When your guards are hitting the shot comfortably, it could serve as a foundation for extended runs and lets your home crowd raise their decibel level in the arena. Even if one of the sharpshooters hits two in a row within three possessions, the rest of the four guys on the floor inherently notice a boost in their confidence and the overall energy level goes up. On the flip side, if your “gunners” are  struggling to hit their shots, every possession becomes very stressful and the rest of the players could stray away from the offensive game plan because they are frustrated. The Badgers have almost perfected this art of frustrating the opposing offenses by taking their perimeter game away. After two straight wins against top-15 teams – Indiana and Michigan – the Big Ten nation shouldn’t be surprised to see them in the final game at the United Center, but some may still be confused with their performance against the top teams. It is a simple formula: take away the perimeter game and force the opposition to be patient on offense and beat you using offensive sets that they may not be comfortable with and also avoid any extended runs of eight or ten points.
Ben Brust has locked down sharpshooters such as Nik Stauskas and Jordan Hulls. (Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Ben Brust has locked down sharpshooters such as Nik Stauskas and Jordan Hulls. (Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters).

The Wolverines and the Hoosiers shot a combined 8-of-30 (27% 3FG) from beyond the arc against the Badgers over the weekend in Chicago. Indiana’s sharpshooter Jordan Hulls was 1-7 from beyond the arc because he was hounded by the Badgers’ Ben Brust repeatedly and the Wolverines’ gunner Nik Stauskas was 0-4 from deep. Brust was not even mentioned as a candidate for the defensive player of the year when the Big Ten announced their official awards because is fundamentally sound on defense but never makes the highlight reel by stealing the ball away or force turnovers when defending on a one-on-one basis. Nonetheless, he will simply get a hand in your face while you shoot a three, almost every time. The Wolverines ranked first in the conference by allowing  their opponents to shoot just 28.1% from beyond the arc and they were first on defense in terms of effective FG% at 42.2%. Teams such as the Hoosiers and the Wolverines rely on their offense to stay motivated to play at a high level during the game and when they are not having their way on the offensive end, they’ll struggle on the defensive end as well. That’s why the Badgers were able to put up 68 points during both of the games over the weekend and dominated especially in the second half because the opposition was clearly letting their frustrations from the offensive end of the floor to dictate their defensive intensity.
Regardless of what happens in the Big Ten tournament final, the Badgers have shown enough this season to prove that they are a contender for a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament. Could they get past the second weekend? Absolutely because as long as they continue to put up 65 points because they will force even the best of the teams such as Kansas, Louisville or Duke to work relentlessly for every point. In other words, because of their defense, the Badgers will always hang around a game and won’t get blown out because they will not let the opposing guards score in bunches by taking away the shot from the perimeter. Seems simple enough, but Bo Ryan’s team has perfected that plan this season.
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Rushed Reactions: #22 Wisconsin 68, #3 Indiana 56

Posted by WCarey on March 16th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Saturday’s matchup between Indiana and Wisconsin. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways:

Wisconsin Stopped the Hoosiers Again

Wisconsin Stopped the Hoosiers Again

  1. Indiana is still deserving of a #1 seed. Even with the setback to Wisconsin, the Hoosiers still have one of the best resumes of the country. Indiana was the outright regular season champion of the toughest conference in college basketball. The Hoosiers won road games at Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan. It has as much, or more, talent as any team in the country. A record of 27-6 is not usually the record of a #1 seed, but college basketball this season has been anything but the usual. Indiana should still be a #1 seed and it should still absolutely be viewed as a strong contender to get to the Final Four.
  2. Wisconsin is the definition of a team. The Badgers certainly do not have any guys who can be considered “stars,” but what they do have are eight players who contribute to every game. Point guard Traevon Jackson is a true point guard who is always looking to make his teammates better. Shooting guard Ben Brust is always a threat to catch fire from deep at any time. Forwards Jarred Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz , and Ryan Evans are all seniors who bring the Badgers extremely tough and disciplined play in the post. Freshmen Sam Dekker and George Marshall along with sophomore Frank Kaminsky come off the bench and routinely make an impact for the Badgers. While there are certainly teams in the Big Ten who have a lot more individual talent than the Badgers, there might not be a team who plays together as well as the Badgers. Wisconsin’s ability to play together as a unit makes it a tough team to beat and a team that should never be taken lightly.
  3. Wisconsin certainly has Indiana’s number. With Saturday afternoon’s victory, Wisconsin has now won 12 consecutive games over Indiana. While a majority of those wins came when Indiana was down, it is still quite the amazing statistic. Indiana is viewed by many as the best team in the country, but Wisconsin has defeated the Hoosiers twice this season in fairly commanding fashion. The Badgers’ physical style of play coupled with their deliberate attack on offense frustrates almost every team they play and it could certainly be one of the reasons for their utter domination over Indiana. This is definitely a streak that should be followed as next season comes around because it will be fascinating to see if Wisconsin will be able to top Indiana yet again.

Star of the Game. Ryan Evans, Wisconsin. The senior forward was all over the place for the Badgers. He finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. Evans also supplied Wisconsin with very capable defense against Indiana’s Christian Watford who is always capable of an offensive explosion. Jared Berggren (11 points and five rebounds) and Sam Dekker (11 points off the bench) were also considered, but Evans was clearly the best player on the court for the Badgers.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Ohio State 71, Nebraska 50

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Ohio State and Nebraska. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

osu nebraskas big ten tourney 13

  1. Ohio State is definitely peaking at the right time. Thad Matta’s squad suffered an embarrassing 22-point setback at Wisconsin on February 17 and since then, it has been a different team. The Buckeyes entered the Big Ten Tournament on a hot steak, as they had won their final five games of the regular season. During this winning streak, the Buckeyes notched their signature win of the season by going on the road and defeating Big Ten champions Indiana in convincing fashion.  That hot streak continued Friday in their quarterfinal victory over Nebraska. It is always a good thing in college basketball when you play your best at the end of the season and it sure seems like that is the case for the Buckeyes right now. If Ohio State is able to continue its strong play, it has a legitimate chance at winning the Big Ten Tournament and there is no telling what its ceiling might be in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
  2. Ohio State’s experience is quite evident. The notion that only experienced seniors can hold leadership roles is a common misconception that exists throughout collegiate athletics. Take Ohio State for instance – Reserve big man Evan Ravenel is the only senior on the Buckeyes, but the team does has several experienced contributors. Juniors Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. were all starters on the Buckeyes team that reached last season’s Final Four. Both Craft and Thomas have been playing major roles for the team since the day they stepped foot on campus. The experience and leadership of Ravenel, Craft, Thomas, and Smith Jr. has provided players like LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams with a calming presence as they continue to develop their games. Experience is definitely worth something in March and that is good news for Ohio State. Read the rest of this entry »
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Frank Kaminsky Steps Up in Wisconsin’s Quarterfinal Win Over Michigan

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Wisconsin and Michigan. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

There was no shortage of heroes in Wisconsin’s 68-59 victory over Michigan in Friday’s Big Ten quarterfinal. No hero was probably as unlikely as Badgers forward Frank Kaminsky. After playing just four minutes and recording no other statistics in the first half, Kaminsky found himself with an increased role in the second half. In 12 minutes of playing time in the second half, the sophomore scored eight important points, grabbed two rebounds, and made a key block.

The Badgers Continue to Not Surprise Anyone While Surprising Everyone (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The Badgers Continue to Not Surprise Anyone While Surprising Everyone (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

While it may not seem like Kaminsky’s game was that impressive, all three of his field goals came at opportune times for the Badgers. Kaminsky’s first converted field goal was a three-pointer at the 15:09 mark of the second half that gave Wisconsin a 29-24 lead. This three-pointer was significant because it helped the Badgers increase a lead that it would never relinquish and it forced Michigan to respect Kaminsky’s ability to step outside and hit an open jumper. Kaminsky’s second score did not come until the 2:26 mark when the Wolverines had trimmed Wisconsin’s lead to just two. With the shot clock about to expire, Kaminsky rose up from mid-range and knocked back a jumper that would increased the Badgers’ lead to four. Kaminsky’s final field goal could have been considered Michigan’s “dagger.” With his team clinging to a five-point lead with 56 seconds to play, Kaminsky converted a scooping floater from in-close to increase Wisconsin’s lead to seven and make it a three possession game.

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Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 68, Michigan 59

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

Chris Johnson is a Big Ten Correspondent and an RTC Columnist. He filed this report Friday from the United Center. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

For the first 20 minutes, the best prospective quarterfinal match-up of the Big Ten Tournament was a complete eyesore. Then the game opened up. Wisconsin’s efficient offense churned, Michigan never went away and the Badgers held on for a nine-point win.

Composed offense and disciplined defense from Wisconsin was too much for Michigan to handle (Getty).

Composed offense and disciplined defense from Wisconsin was too much for Michigan to handle (Getty).

  1. The First Half Was Bad. Really Bad. Call it good defense, bad shooting or an ugly mixture of the two. Whatever it was, Michigan and Wisconsin came out and laid a cringe-worthy offensive dud in the first half, 37 points of discordant offense, unsightly play actions and wasted possessions. Neither team broke the 0.60 points-per-possession barrier and the Badgers and Wolverines together made just seven three-point shots. This wasn’t totally unexpected; Wisconsin’s fourth-ranked efficiency defense has forced more than a few of the nation’s top offenses into utter dysfunction this season (see a mid-January road win at Indiana), but the miscues were not relegated to one end of the court. Michigan denied easy post feeds to Ryan Evans and Jared Bergrren and locked down the Badgers’ perimeter threats – Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust chief among them. The Wolverines went into the locker room with a three-point lead, and untold amounts of offensive frustration. By its own lights, Wisconsin couldn’t have felt much better. The second half presented the prospect of another soporific offensive slog.
  2. Wisconsin’s Shooting Really Picked up. Somewhere between that 5-of-29 first half and the opening possession of the second half, Wisconsin had a long-range epiphany. That’s the only way to explain how the Badgers knocked down six threes in a second half just minutes after one of the worst shooting halves of its season to date. Brust knocked down three bombs from distance, all of them coming at seemingly opportune moments – whenever Michigan clawed back, whenever Trey Burke or Mitch McGary would energize the pro-Wolverines crowd with a nifty layup or a strong post move, Brust closed the door. But Wisconsin’s second-half offensive uptick can’t be spun in such simple terms. The Badgers poked and prodded on the inside, with Bergrren, Evans and Mike Bruesewitz physically manhandling Michigan’s big men on the offensive end. Traevon Jackson directed a precise and efficient offensive attack, and Michigan’s defense, so strong for much of the first half, couldn’t hold firm for the second 20 minutes. Once Wisconsin found itself on the offensive end, and kept up its almost mechanically predictable stingy defense, Michigan couldn’t keep up. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Indiana 80, Illinois 64

Posted by WCarey on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center following Friday’s matchup between Indiana and Illinois. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Cody Zeller was dominant. The All-American big man picked up where he left off after a sensational performance in Sunday’s victory over Michigan. Once again, Zeller was the go-to guy for the Indiana offense against Illinois, as he finished the afternoon with 24 points and nine rebounds. With the ball in his hands on the low block, the talented sophomore was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted against the Illini interior for the duration of the game. Zeller’s presence on the defensive end of the court was also quite notable as he anchored a Hoosiers’defense that did not let anything come easy for the Illinois offensive attack. There have been instances this season where Zeller’s production has not matched his level of talent, but if he can continue to put forth performances like he has in his last two games, there will be no ceiling on Indiana’s postseason hopes.
  2. Indiana’s defensive effort in the first half was phenomenal. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich tweeted at halftime that he and legendary Indiana radio announcer Don Fischer believed that the first half against Illinois was the best defensive half that the Hoosiers had played all year. The two men had a point as the Hoosiers were just suffocating on that end of the court for the first 20 minutes. The Illini were held to just 25.9% shooting in the first half and had to settle for many difficult looks due to the intense defensive pressure. The Hoosiers also forced Illinois into eight first half turnovers – many of which resulted in great transition opportunities. Illinois guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson were a combined 3-of-13 from the field and by containing the Illini’s two best scorers, Indiana was able to open up a 14-point halftime lead. Victor Oladipo rightfully gets most of the credit for Indiana’s strong defensive performances, but the Hoosiers have really made strides as a team in-terms of their defensive effort.
    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

    Cody Zeller was all over the court Friday afternoon. (AP)

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Rushed Reactions: Iowa 73, Northwestern 59

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

Chris Johnson is a Big Ten correspondent and RTC columnist. He filed this report from the United Center Thursday night. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

A scorching hot start from Iowa teetered on the verge of a huge blowout. Northwestern fought back to make the final score, 73-59, a respectable season-ending finish. The Hawkeyes will advance to Friday’s quarterfinals to face Michigan State. Here are three quick takes from Iowa’s opening-round win.

Strong defense helped Iowa get past Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night (Getty Images).

Strong defense helped Iowa get past Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night (Getty Images).

  1. Iowa Is On A Bubble Mission, But Don’t Tell Devyn Marble That. Other than top-level seeding implications, and maybe Indiana’s locational preferences, the most intriguing outfit heading into the Big Ten Tournament this weekend was Iowa. Why? The Hawkeyes exist on the crest of the bubble tipping point. Their postseason fate, more than any other team in Chicago, will be decided based on what they do in the Big Ten Tournament. Beating Northwestern won’t put the Hawkeyes over the top – Iowa still owns that prohibitive 319th-ranked non-conference schedule, a few ugly losses and a short supply of good wins to make up the difference. One more big chip – hello, Michigan State quarterfinal opportunity – might just get Fran McCaffery’s team safely into the field. For his part, McCaffery is satisfied with where his team stands in the at-large picture. “To me, I am very comfortable with our resume right now. I think we deserve to be in,” he said in the postgame press conference. McCaffery even name-checked his team’s impressive “KenPom” rankings (The Hawkeyes own a top-25 efficiency defense and rank 30th overall in Pomeroy’s system) to back up Iowa’s credentials. His case is a valid one; Iowa has been weighed down, perception-wise, by a confluence of poor non-conference scheduling and the national spotlight of the upper reaches of the Big Ten. But the nitty gritty RPI-dominated  facts are the facts that matter – not the reality-based efficiency facts McCaffery referred to – and those facts say this: Iowa probably needs to beat Michigan State tomorrow to make the field of 68.
  2. The Hawkeyes Can Really Guard. For the first seven minutes of Thursday night’s game, Northwestern approached its halfcourt offense pretty much the same way it has since enduring a host of crippling injuries and embarking on a brutal eight-game losing streak to close the regular season. The Wildcats ran their Princeton sets to exhaustion, settled for threes and middle-range jump shots, and watched the Hawkeyes jump out to an 11-0 lead. Northwestern would crawl back into striking distance, but after Iowa’s punishing opening stretch, the game was effectively won. Iowa did it through defense; they smothered Northwestern’s unconventional offense by keeping every pass, screen and back cut in front of them, getting into passing lanes, harassing freshman center Alex Olah on the catch and obstructing point guard Dave Sobolewski’s play-making ability. The Hawkeyes destabilized Northwestern’s attack from the tip, and the rest was purely clinical (the Wildcats finished 18-of-49 from the field, and just 7-of-22 from three). With zero individual offensive talent to speak of, Iowa’s disciplined team defense forced Northwestern into bad shot after bad shot – during certain stretches, it almost felt like the Wildcats were throwing the ball around the perimeter because there was nothing else to do, akin to a harmless game of hot potato, with no creative direction or immediate solution to be found. Credit Iowa’s defense. Fran McCaffery’s team reduced the Wildcats’ already hampered offense into a rudderless half court enterprise. Read the rest of this entry »
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Brandon Paul: Certified Gopher Killer

Posted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013

Throughout his career, Brandon Paul has been touted as an ultra-talented player who struggles with inconsistency. Sometimes he showcases his impressive range and versatility, while other times he seems to disappear from the moment. In Thursday’s opening round Big Ten Tournament game, Paul rose to the moment, and then some. He scored 25 of the Illini’s 51 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in his team’s victory over Minnesota. But he saved his best for last, hitting a 15-footer at the buzzer to get his team a date with Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney on Friday.

Other than Paul, Illinois struggled mightily. Its next three leading scorers  — D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — each had just six points. Paul, a guard, was the second-leading rebounder with five, just one behind Egwu. And while Paul shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-8), the rest of the team was just 2-of-17 from long distance — Tyler Griffey was 0-of-4, Abrams was 0-of-3.

Illinois’ season has taken after Paul’s career, in a way. The Illini have lived and died by the three, which essentially means inevitable inconsistency. On nights when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’ve pulled out impressive wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. However, cold-shooting nights have led to bad games — a 14-point home loss to Northwestern and near losses to Gardner-Webb and Auburn. The good wins have offset the bad ones, and they’re why the Illini will surely be dancing next weekend.

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The RTC Podblast: Big Ten Tournament Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2013

The Big Ten Tournament gets under way Thursday, so the RTC Podcast guys invited Big Ten microsite writer Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1galong for the discussion. In this podblast, the trio breaks down what we see as the key storylines and possible outcomes from an event where the tourney semifinals could be as good or better than the Final Four in a few weeks. Feel free to hop around to your areas of concern using the handy outline below, and make sure to check back frequently this week as we’ll be rolling out a new podblast for each of the six major conference tourneys.

  • 0:00-5:02 – Indiana Claims Outright Big 10 Title With Thrilling Win in Ann Arbor
  • 5:02-8:45 – Post Season Award Discussion
  • 8:45-10:25 -Brutal Big 10 Cause For Concern at the End of the Season?
  • 10:25-13:30 Indiana Outright Champ, But Not Outright Favorite
  • 13:30-14:55 Minnesota and Iowa Looking to Win Their Way Off the Bubble
  • 14:55-17:25 Seed Possibilities for the Top Teams
  • 17:25-19:05 – Dark Horse Team
  • 19:05-21:26 – Tournament’s Breakout Star
  • 21:26-23:23 – Player You Don’t Want to Say Goodbye to
  • 22:23-25:53 – Dream Match Up
  • 25:53-28:08 – Big 10 Team That Last the Longest in March/Wrap
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Vegas Odds: Conference Tourneys – SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Atlantic 10

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2013

Yesterday we ran through the current Vegas odds for four of the major conference tournaments getting under way early in the week. Today we’ll take a brief look at the remainder — the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big Ten, and SEC. The SEC tips off tonight with the rest lacing them up on Thursday afternoon. As usual, there are some disparities between overall public perception and the mathematics that Vegas assigns to these teams — we’ll note some of those differences below (all oddreported from 5dimes.com on Tuesday night).

sec tourney 13 odds

It’s no surprise that the Gators are a heavy favorite in Nashville this week, but #6 seed Missouri coming in with the next highest odds might be. The Tigers would have to win four games in four days, which is always difficult but not impossible. Vegas has little faith in #3 seed Ole Miss and #4 seed Alabama, as exhibited by their relatively low odds. The bottom line is that this tournament is Florida’s to lose, but after that it’s pretty wide open.

acc tourney 13 odds

#1 seed Miami (FL) may have won the regular season by a game in the ACC standings, but that doesn’t mean Vegas has to oblige with the notion that the Hurricanes are better than #2 seed Duke. The Blue Devils are a significant favorite over the rest of the field in Greensboro, and the odds realistically only give the top half of this league any kind of a chance. One team to watch is #5 seed NC State, who will have to win four games in four days — Vegas is still relatively high on the Wolfpack despite an incredibly inconsistent season.

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Big Ten M5: 03.13.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
  2. Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
  4. Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
  5. Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
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The Battle for Sixth Place in the Big Ten is More Important Than You Think

Posted by KTrahan on February 11th, 2013

The battle for the top of the Big Ten this season has been well-documented. Indiana and Michigan look like the front-runners right now, but Michigan State has a chance to threaten for the conference crown as well. Then there’s Ohio State and Wisconsin, both of which have knocked off and hung with the top tier teams this season. Unless there’s a major turn of events in the next few weeks, those five teams will occupy the #1-#5 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, although the order is completely up in the air. The jockeying for position among those teams will certainly be interesting to watch, but after seeing this comment on Twitter last night, the battle for the #6 seed looks almost as compelling.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but that race should be extremely interesting and close the rest of the way. All four teams are either 4-7 or 5-6 in conference play right now, but the #6 seed figures to need to finish at 10-8 or 9-9. Purdue’s road to the position is the toughest — the Boilermakers have trips to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and visits from Michigan and Minnesota. Still, the jockeying among Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota with the Boilers should be very close. Right now, Iowa and Illinois sit at 4-7 while Minnesota is 5-6. Iowa has the toughest part of its schedule behind it, while Illinois has plenty of momentum looking forward.

First, it’s important to understand why this is important. The difference between being a #6 or #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament this year really could mean the season for any of these teams. A top-half seed in the toughest conference in college basketball means that team would likely have a strong enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament. That isn’t to say the selection committee will necessarily choose a team based off of  its position in the conference standings — it doesn’t work that way — but it will take a number of quality wins to get to that slot in the Big Ten race, which enhances that team’s resume. It’s also important to draw the #6 seed for match-up and bubble reasons — it’s much easier to have to play #11 seed Nebraska than inconsistent but dangerous teams like possible #9 or #10 seeds Purdue and Northwestern. Let’s take a look at the road to get to the elusive #6 slot for the three teams we’re considering.

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