Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 6th, 2016

The college basketball season concluded Monday night with Villanova as this year’s national champion, but the Big Ten’s season ended with North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen trouncing of Indiana back on March 25. A lot has already happened among league teams in the interim, including a coaching hire at Rutgers and a great number of transfers. Over the next few days as we close out the 2015-16 season, we’ll review a key offseason question for each Big Ten team, starting at the bottom of the conference standings.

Rutgers (7-25, 1-17 Big Ten)

Among Steve Pickiell's many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

Among Steve Pickiell’s many tasks as Rutgers head coach will be to gain recruiting appeal in New York and New Jersey (Photo: Julio Cortez — The Associated Press).

How quickly can new head coach Steve Pickiell give Rutgers some local recruiting appeal?

Steve Pickiell, who led Stony Brook to the NCAA Tournament this season and won three America East regular season title in five years, is already a known name in the greater New York area. It’s no secret that New York/New Jersey has plenty of basketball talent, and Rutgers is located in the heart of the same recruiting territory. Pickiell didn’t waste any time in accomplishing what Eddie Jordan couldn’t in three years: earning a commitment from a New Jersey high school playerMatt Bullock from prep powerhouse Roselle Catholic will play for the Scarlet Knights next season.

Pickiell has already made a home run hire, luring away Karl Hobbs from Connecticut to become his new associate head coach. His staff would be wise to make offers to a number of the area’s best players in the classes of 2018 and 2019 right away. Rutgers needs to develop good working relationships and credibility with with the region’s top high school and AAU coaches, and getting the program’s name out there now is a key element to that strategy. The school’s local perception can drastically stand to improve, so if Pickiell can snag a couple of the area’s under-recruited but well-known players in the next class, it will pay dividends in future years. Bullock, while a recruit in this year’s senior class, is a good start who fits that description.

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Way-Too-Early Power Rankings in the Big Ten

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 6th, 2016

The “Way-Too-Early” part of doing power rankings predicting the next Big Ten season is even more difficult this year. That’s because those players who declare for the NBA Draft but do not sign with an agent can decide to return to school as late as the last week in May. So even though it’s likely that things will change between now and early summer, here’s our early rundown of how things look heading into next season.

Michigan State and Bryn Forbes Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

Michigan State Will Say Goodbye to Several But Should Expect to be at the Top of the Big Ten Again Next Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Michigan State: Even if Deyonta Davis decides to leave after his freshman season, Michigan State has another loaded class coming to East Lansing. Miles Bridges and Josh Langford should be special from the start, and even though the losses of Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello will sting, the returns of Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis should lessen the blow considerably.
  2. Wisconsin: After an underwhelming junior season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Nigel Hayes will leave Madison early. Even if he does depart, though, four other starters will be back as the program gets a full offseason with Greg Gard leading the way. Expect the Badgers to once again be in the mix for the Big Ten crown.
  3. Indiana: We know that Yogi Ferrell is finished (graduation) but we don’t know for sure about Troy Williams, Thomas Bryant or OG Anunoby. Chances are the Hoosiers won’t slip much if at least two of those three come back along with expected returnees James Blackmon, Jr. and Robert Johnson.
  4. Michigan: There’s a lot to like here with potentially all five starters returning to Ann Arbor next season. The keys seems to be whether Zak Irvin can be consistent for a full season and whether Marc Donnal can make additional strides. If they can, the Wolverines should be a Top 25 team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Tournament Storylines: First and Second Rounds

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 9th, 2016

This year’s Big Ten Tournament could very well have something for everyone. There are two teams that seem to be peaking at just the right time (Indiana and Michigan State), two others that have won 20 of their last 26 games (Purdue and Wisconsin), and two more that hope to find their way after recent struggles (Iowa and Maryland). Old rivals Michigan and Ohio State are both stuck squarely on the bubble, while Northwestern and Penn State can secure bids in some of the lower-level tournaments with a win or two. Here are three quick storylines to focus on during the first two days of games in Indianapolis.

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins they need in the Big Ten Tournament. (Getty).

Michigan needs quality play from Zak Irvin to get the wins it needs this postseason. (Getty)

  1. Bubble Boys: Michigan has a decent chance to make the field of 68 but it would be strongly advisable that the Wolverines avoid losing to Northwestern on Thursday afternoon. When the two teams played a couple weeks ago, the Wildcats were competitive throughout until Michigan pulled away at the very end. A Michigan loss here probably means John Beilein will punch his ticket to the NIT. Ohio State has a much more arduous task ahead with its first test against a Penn State team that has won five out of its final eight games, including victories over Indiana and Iowa. The Buckeyes are full of mercurial talents who don’t always play consistently, but if Thad Matta can get JaQuan Lyle, Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop clicking at the same time, Ohio State could make a run. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on March 4th, 2016

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  1. When Bo Ryan retired as Wisconsin’s head coach in December, many thought he wanted to give his longtime assistant, Greg Gard, a trial period so that athletic director Barry Alvarez would seriously consider him for the full-time position. If that was Ryan’s intent, the move appears to have worked. On Thursday, The Milwaukee (Wisc.) Journal-Sentinel reported that Wisconsin is prepared to offer Gard a long-term contract. Gard has led the Badgers to a 12-5 Big Ten record, which includes 11 wins in their last 12 games.
  2. Two Big Ten players were named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America team on Thursday: Nebraska’s Shavon Shields and Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. Shields, who owns a 3.72 GPA in biological sciences, made the team for the second straight year. Uthoff had a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester while pursuing his graduate degree and has a 3.42 overall GPA and with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Iowa.
  3. Northwestern will be a frontcourt player short for the rest of the season. Head coach Chris Collins announced Wednesday that graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury suffered in Monday’s practice. The Netherlands native was averaging 3.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Collins said that sophomore forward Gavin Skelly could play center if primary centers Alex Olah and Dererk Pardon get into foul trouble.
  4. Although conference tournament season hasn’t even begun for the Big Ten, non-conference tournaments for next fall are already announcing participants. On Wednesday, The Cancun Challenge announced a Big Ten team as one of its eight participants. Purdue will play in the Challenge’s Riviera Division, where they will join Texas Tech, Utah State and Auburn. The tournament will be played Nov. 22 and 23.
  5. On Tuesday, Richard Pitino decided to make the one-game suspension of guards Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer a season-long one. Pitino did not comment on the reason for the suspension, but a sexually explicit video posted on Dorsey’s Twitter account is the believed cause. Dorsey’s family says that cannot the case. In a statement faxed to the Twin Cities (Minn.) Pioneer Press, Dorsey’s family said he could not have posted the video because his phone was stolen at Minnesota’s Mall of America two days before the video surfaced. Bloomington (Minn.) police said they are investigating a phone theft at the mall and that there is video evidence of it being taken from a store there.
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What’s Trending: It’s March!

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 4th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Indiana Takes the Big Ten

With its win on Tuesday night at Iowa, Indiana secured the outright Big Ten Championship. After a troublesome 5-3 start to the season, head coach Tom Crean‘s future in Bloomington was questionable at best. A steady resurgence in the second half of the year led to a conference title. Crean deserves that water shower!

Things Bleak For BC

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Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

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Big Ten M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 29th, 2016

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  1. The combination of Xavier taking a loss at Seton Hall along with Michigan State winning its home game against Penn State moved the Spartans up to a #1 seed on Jerry Palm’s latest bracket. Tom Izzo’s squad has now won eight out of its last nine games, and although they don’t have a chance for an outright claim to the Big Ten regular season title, their overall resume which includes wins over Kansas and Louisville in non-conference action, combined with wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin in Big Ten play makes them have a compelling case for a spot on the number one line in two weeks when the brackets are unleashed to the masses.
  2. Minnesota took on Illinois on Sunday night with a rather unique lineup. That’s because their top three guards were all benched due to a violation of team rules. Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer all had to sit, and the result was predictable. Illinois overwhelmed the Gophers in the second half, cruising to an 84-71 victory. It’s not known whether the trio will miss more than this game, and it casts a significant pall over the improvements the struggling team has made in winning two of their last three games.
  3. Analysts on the Big Ten Network used to refer to Tre Demps of Northwestern as “The Microwave” two years ago when he came off the bench and proceeded to give the Wildcats instant offense. For those born after 1985, its origin comes from Vinnie Johnson, a guard on the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons who was known for the same thing. Kam Williams of Ohio State is the 2015-16 version, and his clutch baskets were vital for the Buckeyes as they knocked off Iowa Sunday afternoon. Williams went 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 points in the last eight minutes of a closely-fought win for Ohio State. While this win only brings Ohio State’s record to 2-8 against the RPI top 50 on the season, it certainly makes their once bleak NCAA Tournament hopes look a little better heading into a crucial road game at Michigan State next weekend.
  4. Maryland was doomed by a slow start and a lack of effort on the boards as they fell to Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Terrapins are the fourth tallest team in the country, yet they managed to give up 19 offensive rebounds to the Boilermakers. They also went down 24-8 early, which ended up being too much of a hole for them to overcome. Melo Trimble continued to struggle shooting from the outside, and their starting frontcourt only managed 13 rebounds for the game. This team has the talent to make a deep late-season run, but one would think that it would have fixed some of its issues by this point in the season.
  5. One play does not win or lose a basketball game, but sometimes a specific play can be used as a strong symbol that it just isn’t your day. Take for example Derrick Walton Jr’s missed opportunity at the rim for Michigan in their loss to Wisconsin Sunday. Walton Jr had a wide-open path to the basket, blew the layup, and then the Wolverines gave up a layup to the Badgers on the other end. It was an example of how a potent offense could never really get things going as they dropped to 10-7 in league play in being held to 0.93 points per possession on the evening. Combine that offensive showing with getting blitzed on the glass, and you why Michigan lost, and why they might be sweating on Selection Sunday.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

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  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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Big Ten M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 19th, 2016

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  1. Illinois ended its long athletic director search when it formally introduced Josh Whitman as its next AD on Thursday morning (the news of his hire first broke on Wednesday). Whitman, 37, has been the athletic director at Division III Washington University in St. Louis since 2014. He also previously served as athletic director at Division III Wisconsin-La Crosse before that. His first full day on the job will be March 21, but that didn’t stop him from writing an immediate letter to Illinois donors.
  2. The “0-14 Game” won’t happen in the Big Ten after all. Many had been hyping up next Tuesday’s Rutgers at Minnesota matchup as a battle between the winless since both teams appeared headed into that game with zeros in the win column. Not anymore, as Minnesota stunned Maryland last night for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Terps were playing without freshman center Diamond Stone, who was suspended for the game after a technical foul on Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown last weekend. The win was the Gophers’ first of any kind since December 13 against Chicago State.
  3. Minnesota also played a man short on Thursday night, and it will do so for the rest of the season. Gophers head coach Richard Pitino announced on Wednesday that guard Carlos Morris had been dismissed from the program for conduct detrimental to the team. That conduct was later identified as a heated exchange between Morris and Pitino last Sunday. The senior was in his second season for Minnesota after transferring over from Chipola College (FL) and was averaging 9.8 PPG, the fourth-best mark on the team.
  4. Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson’s foot issues have persisted for more than a week, and while he has not yet missed any games, his practice routine is also not back to normal. He was in a walking boot for Thursday’s practice even though he still expects to play against Indiana this weekend. Thompson has committed just 11 turnovers in 585 minutes this season, and for a team that has had turnover issues in road games, he will need to be healthy and in the lineup on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
  5. Nebraska‘s Shavon Shields missed his third straight game after suffering a concussion against Rutgers two weeks ago, and the Huskers’ record dropped to 1-2 without their second-leading scorer in the lineup against Indiana. Nebraska misses his production as well as his leadership, as Robin Washunt of Rivals.com notes. Head coach Tim Miles had no update for Shields’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Ohio State, but suffice it to say that he’s needed back in the line up very soon.
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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Big Ten M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 15th, 2016

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  1. Indiana lost badly to Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, going to 6-6 on the season away from Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are only one game off of the Big Ten lead, but in allowing Michigan State to put up 48 points in the second half and 1.28 points per possession for the game resuscitated old questions about the Hoosiers’ competence on the defensive end of the floor. The game also was notable for the disappearing act pulled by a scoreless Troy Williams. The junior had been the best player on the floor in the team’s earlier win over Iowa, but he needs to play up to his talent level if the Hoosiers want to make a deep run in March.
  2. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Michigan State in the win over Indiana, though, as redshirt freshman Kenny Goins left the game in the first half with a knee injury. Tom Izzo fears that his post player will be out of action for the season. Goins had been playing well as a reserve big by taking minutes from Marvin Clark, but now it will be up to the sophomore to come in and produce in the same spots. Look for Gavin Schilling to also get more time, as depth is not a problem this year for Michigan State.
  3. Minnesota lost a close game to Iowa on Sunday night to move to 0-13 in Big Ten play, but there were several bright spots that could be taken away from the game. More specifically, the Gophers held the highly-efficient Hawkeyes to 42.1 percent shooting from the field, and the play of sophomore Bakary Konate. Konate led the team with nine rebounds and has shown increasingly frequent flashes of development. This team is clearly building for the future right now, so being able to hang with one of the best teams in the country shows that, despite a lack of victories, things could get better as early as next season with a core that is gaining experience and returning in 2016-17.
  4. Purdue has had a frightening propensity for blowing early leads this season, but its loss in the closing minutes to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday may have set a new standard for late-game shoddy play. The Wolverines scored the final 11 points of the game after the Boilermakers had led by six with just a few minutes remaining. Purdue got a huge resume win earlier in the week in beating Michigan State, but the Boilermakers need to close strong with some damage in the Big Ten Tournament to move above the projected #4/#5 seed range they’ve been trapped in all the bracket projections.
  5. Things weren’t pretty earlier this season at Wisconsin. Slowly but surely, however, Greg Gard has kept his team’s focus and the Badgers have played their way back into NCAA Tournament contention with an 8-4 conference record. This gives athletic director Barry Alvarez an interesting decision to make with respect to Bo Ryan’s permanent successor. The Badgers have gone 9-4 since Gard took over, and has led some to believe that he should be named the permanent head coach going forward. It’s hard to argue against this notion considering how the team has turned things around and could very well make the NCAA Tournament in what was once appeared to be a lost season.
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