And then there were two. Michigan and Wisconsin will meet for the 2017 Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday after both teams picked up wins early in the afternoon. Splitting the regular season match up, with each team winning on its home floor, the rubber match will decide the tournament champion.
On Saturday during the semi-final games both teams looked impressive and we’re likely in for a treat on Sunday. Before we get there let’s cover each Saturday game.
Big Ten Game of the Night:
This game had an intense pace to it; both teams were running and either getting to the rim or taking transition threes. The up-and-down stretches made it an exciting game to watch.
Prior to the game, the Gophers learned that Akeem Springs, a graduate transfer who had been an important contributor, would be out for the rest of the year with a likely torn right Achilles. The Gophers missed him, particularly his scoring and wing depth.
Early on the Gophers struggled defensively and surrendered back cuts and open threes. Mo Wagner scored 10 of Michigan’s first 15 points and the Wolverines took full advantage of the defensive lapses, jumping out to an early double-digit lead, which was 47-36 at halftime.
The Gophers out rebounded Michigan 38-24, but the Wolverines had an advantage from three and at the free throw line.
Richard Pitino only played six against Michigan; Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer logged 40 minutes each, while Amir Coffey only sat out a minute. So the roster was thin, but the Gophers played hard. Five of the six in the rotation finished in double-figures, with Nate Mason leading the way with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists. Jordan Murphy nearly contributed a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds as well, having another solid performance.
Michigan has not looked like a team that finished with a 10-8 conference record and they’ll be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. Derrick Walton Jr. really sparked the Wolverines, paving the way with a performance that resulted in 29 points, six rebounds and nine assists. Walton also took advantage of his free throws, making all ten attempts throughout the day.
The Badgers led wire-to-wire and held Northwestern to its lowest offensive output all year. After some late season struggles, for the moment, Wisconsin has seemingly solved some of the offensive struggles that have recently plagued them. A different sort of challenge awaits in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, but for now, the Badgers have impressed in the post-season.
The Badgers really locked in defensively today and shut down Bryant McIntosh, who had previously destroyed them in a game earlier this year. McIntosh had eight points on 4 of 12 shooting from the field. Scottie Lindsay, who scored 16 points, was the only Wildcat in double-figures.
Wisconsin moved the ball freely on offense and took advantage of transition opportunities. It helped release the pressure in the half court and allowed the offense to flourish. Greg Gard’s team finally found its stroke too. Wisconsin shot 41 percent from three and six different Badgers hit from beyond the arc. Nigel Hayes had 18 points and 10 rebounds, only needing 11 shots to get there.
Ethan Happ scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds as well for the Badgers. More importantly, Happ finished 8-for-11 at the free throw line, an area he has struggled at in the past.
Despite the loss, Northwestern’s still in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history and ought to be proud of what it has accomplished, as well as the overall direction of the program.
Neither Michigan nor Wisconsin is limping into the Big Ten Tournament title game. It should be a good finish on Sunday.