Day three at the Big Ten Tournament was a hoop lovers’ dream. Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin all advanced in thrilling tournament games. Friday always gives us a preview of what the final weekend have in store.
Prediction? A thrilling finish to the most competitive conference top to bottom in college basketball.
Here are my thoughts from Friday’s action.
-Michigan is a legitimate Final Four darkhouse.
If you are looking for a middle seeded team that can make a run at Phoenix, look no further than the Wolverines. Michigan pulled the upset of the tournament with a 74-70 overtime win over top seeded Purdue.
The Wolverines have six players that have attempted 84 or more three pointers and shoot 38.4 percent as a team from deep. Derrick Walton Jr., Zac Irvin, and Duncan Robinson give Michigan a trio of versatile scoring senior guards.
Throw in a great coach in John Beilein with incredible team momentum (winners of five of last six games), and the Wolverines fit the perfect blueprint of a dangerous second round opponent for a high seeded NCAA tournament team. Don’t be surprised if Michigan is this year’s Cinderella.
-Are Maryland’s freshmen running out of gas?
On January 31st, the Terrapins defeated Ohio State by a final score of 77-71 in Columbus, raising their overall record to 20-2 (8-1 in conference). Freshman Justin Jackson led Maryland in scoring for the second straight game, scoring 22 points to follow up a 28 point performance at Minnesota. Maryland had won eight games in a row, and head coach Mark Turgeon was widely considered the runaway winner for Big Ten Coach of the Year.
That narrative has completely changed.
Third-seeded Maryland lost for the fourth time in six games with a 72-64 loss to sixth seeded Northwestern. Jackson finished with two points on only one of four shooting from the field. This was his third single digit performance in the last four games.
Freshman point guard Anthony Cowan played his third consecutive game with 30 minutes or more, and produced five turnovers on just two assists. Fellow freshman Kevin Huerter had his best scoring game in a long time with 19 points, but that followed eight or less points in five of his previous six games.
If the Terrapins are to advance multiple games in the NCAA tournament, they need production from someone other than guard Melo Trimble.
-Wisconsin may have turned a corner.
Heading into their Senior Night on Sunday, March 5th, the Badgers were in a complete free-fall. Wisconsin had lost three games in a row and five of their last six contests. But after a Nigel Hayes three broke a 33-33 tie in the second half, the Badgers pulled away from Minnesota that night, and continued their good play against Indiana in the conference tournament.
Second-seeded Wisconsin slowed the high-powered Indiana offense and scored a comfortable 70-60 win in a game they never trailed in the second half. Senior Bronson Koenig is now nine of fifteen from three point range over the last two games, and sophomore Ethan Happ added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
The Badgers will now face a difficult challenge in sixth-seeded Northwestern, who upset Wisconsin at home on February 12th, without their leading scorer Scottie Lindsey.
Despite the tough challenge, Wisconsin should be encouraged by two convincing back to back conference wins over tough opponents.