Wrapping up the weekend that was in the Land of 10 …
The Point After
What, doesn’t anybody here want to win this league?
Over their last six contests, the top three seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, as of Monday, have stitched together a record of 1-5. Four of the loop’s presumed seven NCAA Tournament squads (for now) — Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland and Northwestern — have dropped seven of their last eight.
Throw in the fact that Michigan State (winners of two in a row) and Minnesota (seven straight victories) are on the climb, and the top of league is now starting to look like … well, everywhere else in the circuit.
Save for 14th. Sorry, Rutgers.
Yay, regression mediocrity relapse parity!
As of Monday morning, with two league contests left in the regular-season slate, five Big Ten squads are mathematically within shouting distance of a share of the conference title, because this is what 2017 does. It comforts you. It assures you. It tells you to trust it, Charlie Brown. Then, at the last minute, it pulls the football away.
Nothing else has made much sense for the last eight weeks, so why should the final kick be any different? Granted, a five-way tie at the top — the league has seen two four-way splits, the most recent coming in 2001-02 — sounds extremely unlikely, given the permutations. Of course, based on the rest of the script to this point, in one of the looniest Big Ten years ever, it just might be the only way for this movie to end …
PURDUE (12-4, 23-6)
The skinny: The plan was for the Boilermakers to clinch the league title at home against the rival Hoosiers on Tuesday night, but a 12-point defeat at surging Michigan blew that idea to smithereens. Sweeping Indiana at home and Northwestern in Evanston is a reasonable order, but not a guaranteed one, given the Boilers’ mercurial away form and the fact the Wildcats just might need to pick off one more top-flight pelt in order to make sure their fairy-tale carriage actually makes it to the ball.
Prediction for the week: 1-1 (13-5 final league record)
WISCONSIN (11-5, 22-7)
The skinny: The Badgers have hit a wall, but they also have the kindest final week, on paper, with two home games on the docket against Iowa (KenPom: 71) and Minnesota (30). Then again, the Hawkeyes and Gophers just spent the week in College Park handing the Terrapins their naughty bits, and the way Wisconsin has been shooting lately, the only certainty down the stretch is a second helping of uncertainty.
Prediction for the week: 2-0 (13-5 final league record)
MARYLAND (10-6, 22-7)
The skinny: If Wisconsin hit a wall, the Terps just hit a skyscraper at full speed, dropping a pair of home tilts to Minnesota and Iowa that pushed their current losing streak to three. A visit to Rutgers (125) on Wednesday should stop the bleeding. Emphasis on the should.
Prediction for the week: 1-1 (11-7 final league record)
MICHIGAN STATE (10-6, 18-11)
The skinny: If freshman forward Nick Ward really has flipped a switch after averaging 21 points and nine boards over the last eight days, March in Tom Izzo’s world is about to get awfully interesting. Again. Roadies to rising Illinois (Wednesday) and fading Maryland (Saturday) are tricky, but hardly insurmountable.
Prediction for the week: 1-1 (11-7)
MINNESOTA (10-6, 22-7)
The skinny: The streakiest team in the Big Ten — this current seven-game winning surge was preceded by a five-game losing skid — is the sentimental choice to close out the regular-season campaign on a high note. But the final stop is Madison, and Goldy hasn’t won at the Kohl Center since January 2009.
Prediction for the week: 1-1 (11-7)
Who’s dancing in the NCAA tourney this week, according to BracketMatrix.com
As of Feb. 26:
Purdue (23-6) — 4 seed
Minnesota (22-7) — 5 seed
Wisconsin (22-7) — 6 seed
Maryland (22-7) — 6 seed
Northwestern (20-9) — 9 seed
Michigan (19-10) — 10 seed
Michigan State (18-11) — 10 seed
Noses pressed against the bubble:
Illiniois (17-12) — listed on 5 of 98 mock brackets
One man’s rolling Big Ten Player of the Year ballot
- Caleb Swanigan, F, Purdue (18.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 5.5 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
- Ethan Happ, F, Wisconsin (14.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 5.3 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
- Derrick Walton Jr., G, Michigan (14.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.9 Win Shares on Sports-Reference.com)
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week (Oscars Edition)
.@TheAcademy Are you positive Gene Wilder is dead
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) February 27, 2017
Why we’d probably run through a brick wall for Tom Izzo, too
Despite a giant brace around Eron Harris’ leg after season-ending knee surgery, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo made sure the senior guard got in the last word Sunday during his final game at the Breslin Center:
— Sportando (@Sportando) February 27, 2017
The Hot Seat
Chris Collins, Northwestern
Now let’s be clear, here. The Son Of Doug’s job isn’t remotely in jeopardy — in fact, there’s a good bet Collins can write a ticket to almost any other Power 5 program he wants now, if that’s the end game. But his legacy? Different story.
The pixie dust (3-point shooting, defense, Bryant McIntosh in the clutch) that had carried the Wildcats to a 7-2 start in league play is merely dust now, and with the exception of a lockdown Sunday victory in Wisconsin on Feb. 12, the month’s results look fairly abysmal. Even a 69-65 home victory over cellar-dwelling Rutgers on Feb. 18 came off as uncomfortably labored, and with five losses in their last seven appearances — the come-from-ahead effort Saturday night at Indiana was a last-minute kidney punch — Collins’ crew looks nervous, tired, drained, or some combination of all three. The Purple (20-9) are chasing a school-record 21st win, and a win that would probably almost assuredly make the program’s first-ever NCAA tourney berth a certainty, if it isn’t already. But with home tests remaining versus Michigan (19-10) and Purdue (23-6), both of which are chasing carrots of their own, Northwestern could well close out league play on a four-game slide and with 11 regular-season losses. If that transpires, Selection Sunday in Evanston goes from a blissful coronation to an afternoon of unholy tension.
3 games coming up we’d absolutely pay to watch
- Michigan at Northwestern (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, BTN). A traditional power and traditional doormat find themselves going in opposite directions — the Wolverines have won five of six to climb off the bubble, while the upstart Wildcats have started sinking like a two-ton stone.
- Michigan State at Illinois (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET, BTN). Another sneaky-interesting Bracketville game. Gang Green needs to win out — and get a bit of help — to claim a share of the league title. The Illini, winners of four of their last five, absolutely have to win out to get seriously back into the bubble picture.
- Michigan State at Maryland (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, BTN). And if the Spartans can take care of business in Champaign, and charging like a horse from the middle of the pack, an already juicy matchup in College Park takes on added weight.
Fake Bo Pelini tweet of the week (Why Carl, Why? Edition)
can anyone help me understand why this happened pic.twitter.com/BVGXg0QWUW
— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) February 23, 2017
The takeaway number(s)
As in the last March the Big Ten didn’t produce a single seed in the NCAA tourney better than a 5. As February wraps up, Purdue is almost universally projected as a 4, while Michigan State and Minnesota are pushing hard. Still, those seed lines figure to be awfully fluid over the next 14-16 days — although not nearly as fluid as the bracket itself. Buckle up, buttercups.