Another week of the Big Ten season has passed and the week was packed this great games. The top teams have separated themselves and are beginning to compete amongst themselves for the regular season conference title. Another week means another edition of Big Ten Bracketology. Here is where the teams sit in our hypothetical bracket.
2/6 Big Ten Bracketology:
- #4 - Purdue, Wisconsin
- #5 - Maryland
- #9 - Northwestern
- #10 - Minnesota, Michigan State
- Teams in contention - Michigan, Indiana
As always we start with the teams who are not featured in the bracket. The Michigan Wolverines have been featured in the "last four in" section of the bracket for several weeks now. The Wolverines have lived in the bubble all season and seemed destined for another trip to Dayton, but for the time being it seems their bubble has burst.
The Wolverines were coming off a 30 point victory at home to Indiana and had opportunities to steal a road win against a rival at the Breslin Center. A 1-1 week would not have seemed so bad, but when paired with an embarrassing home loss to Ohio State Saturday, Michigan does not look like a tournament team.
The Wolverines were dominated on the glass, giving the Buckeyes multiple second and even third chance opportunities. Their best offensive players all year, D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, have given the team every little on either end over the past three games. Offensive woes aside, Wagner continues to take foolish fouls resulting in early trips to the bench. It's pretty bad when you need to look to a senior to hit shots down the stretch and help grind out a win and one of your two senior starters has scored five points in his last four halves of basketball.
The other senior on this team is contributing however. Derrick Walton Jr. has taken games over since being called soft by Maverick Morgan following a loss at Illinois. Walton seems to be on a mission to let his inner city roots show as he has made a point to go to the basket more often over the last five games; a stretch were he is averaging over 18 points per game. Walton seems to be the only thing keeping Michigan barley above water and he will need help from his teammates, and likely a 2-0 week to make a tournament case by weeks end.
Michigan State and Minnesota are grouped together as teams trending in opposite directions. The Spartans, trending up, are winners of two in a row. Nick Ward had a bit of a coming out party against the Wolverines and will look to dominate Michigan’s struggling forwards again tomorrow night. Fans are right to gripe about head coach Tom Izzo’s rotations but if he can get over the small mistakes his freshmen make and allows them to play they could make a run into March.
Minnesota, trending down, is down one seed from last week after losing five of their last six games. The over achieving Golden Gophers might be excused from their woes if the five game stretch was a gauntlet of top notch talent. Instead they lost to Penn State (who lost a home game to Rutgers) and Ohio State. Unable to finish close games, Minnesota has blown double-digit leads in their last three losses. The turnover plagued Gophers need to make a push with their schedule heating up after next week
The top three teams in this ranking are not separated by much. The Maryland Terrapins, last weeks top seeded Big Ten team, dropped one of the best games in the conference this season at home to Purdue. If Kevin Heurter sinks the game winning three with 0.5 seconds left, Maryland remains the top team in the conference and Isaac Haas becomes a vital sensation on every blog and message board.
What frightens me about the Terps aside from their obvious youth is their lack of bench production. Melo Trimble has carried the team before and their freshman have contributed a great deal. However, there are not a lot of minutes to go around after that. Having such a young team means playing a longer season. Thanks to AAU basketball, most athletes are used to playing year round, but how they will fair come March is a different story. Purdue was only their third loss of the season, and their schedule, aside for a road game at Wisconsin, is favorable going forward.
Purdue looked great in their resume building win over Maryland. Caleb Swanigan should be the unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year and should probably be getting Wooden award buzz. What is unique about the Purdue big man is his ability to step out and shoot it. Swanigan is shooting around 50 per cent from three this season and is usually good for 2-3 per game. Not only does this make him a nightmare to defend, but it allows the Boilermakers to maximize the efforts of fellow big man Isaac Haas. Know erasers Damonte Dodd and Michal Cekovsky notched four and six blocks respectively but still yielded 26 points to Swanigan.
I was personally surprised to see Wisconsin ranked so high in last week's AP Poll and now the Badgers are poised to rise after a crazy week of college hoops. What does make sense is the recognition Wisconsin is getting for playing the schedule they were given and beating the teams they should beat. Winners of six in a row, their only blemish of late happens to be a win, one they nearly dropped to Rutgers. Nigel Hayes has been relatively disappointing this season after being touted as the preseason conference player of the year. They are dominating using defense. The Badgers have allowed 53 points per over the past four games and held Indiana to 22 points less than their season scoring average. Their dominance will likely continue as they will not be tested until Maryland takes a shot at the crown in a few weeks.