The Big Ten Tournament continued its intrigue with a set of solid games yesterday, and even found its Cinderella.
Today the best teams in the conference enter the fray but must contend with a group of teams that are looking to improve NCAA Tournament seeding, or trying to solidify a bid.
Friday is often the best day of the Big Ten Tournament. Let’s take a look at the games today.
-No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes vs No. 1 Michigan State Spartans
- Time/TV: 12:30PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-9)
The first game of the day tips off at lunchtime and involves a Spartan team battling for a small chance of an NCAA Tournament number 1 seed, and an Ohio State team looking to punch its ticket with an upset win.
The game’s storylines revolve around who is back. Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson returned against Indiana and immediately put up an impactful 17 points and 13 rebounds. We’ll see if the back-to-back nature of tournament games impacts his stamina today. For Michigan State, big man Nick Ward will return Friday after missing the last five games with a fractured hand. It comes at an interesting time with the emergence of sophomore big man Xavier Tillman. How Tom Izzo handles substitutions could be an interesting thing to watch.
Expect a defensive struggle. Both teams are KenPom top 30 defenses, and Ohio State played well yesterday against Indiana on the perimeter, holding Hoosier starters Rob Phinisee and Romeo Langford to a combined 5-18 shooting, five turnovers, and 11 points.
Michigan State’s defensive intensity has picked up after a mid-season three-game losing streak. The Spartans have held opponents to under one point per possession in five of their last eight games. The last match-up between these two teams in the Breslin Center saw Ohio State put up a ghastly 0.70 points per possession. They should be able to be more efficient on a neutral floor, but this game will probably be a slugfest.
Overall, I think this game will mirror what occurred in the previous two meetings. The Buckeyes will be able to hang with the Spartans for the first 25-30 minutes, but Michigan State will slowly gain control and win by double figures.
- Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State
-No. 13 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers
- Time/TV: 2:55PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-6)
The Cinderella team of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska, looks to continue its run against the Wisconsin Badgers.
The MVP so far of the tournament has to be Nebraska wing James Palmer Jr. The senior is averaging 29 points on 54.4 percent shooting. Wisconsin’s scouting report begins with how to slow down the Maryland-native.
Nebraska was excellent defensively on the young Terrapins on Thursday. Maryland was under a point per possession, had 11 turnovers, and shot only 36 percent from the field. Wisconsin is not a team that is going to get out an run you off the floor but will be patient for the best shot. Can Nebraska make Wisconsin uncomfortable in the half court and force poor shots and turnovers?
For Wisconsin, expect a healthy dose of Ethan Happ. Nebraska played one player over 6-foot-8 for six minutes on Thursday. The Badgers will be patient on offense and find Happ in the right spots. Senior Khalil Iverson has also scored in double figures in six of his last seven games, and his presence would be nice for the Badgers. On the perimeter, expect Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice to be bombs away from three. Trice has struggled from distance over his last three games, so watch to see if he can break out of his slump.
You have to think fatigue could play a factor here as well. Nebraska only plays seven deep, and it’s big three (Palmer Jr, Glynn Watson Jr, Isaiah Roby) have all played every minute the past two games. Wisconsin might not hit 70 points, but they won’t be as careless with the ball as Maryland was. I think Nebraska hangs around through a half, and then Wisconsin smothers them in the second. As they usually do to opponents.
- Pick Against The Spread: Wisconsin
-No. 7 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers
- Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Purdue (-8)
Now we get to what I think is the most intriguing game of the day. The evening session kicks off with Purdue trying to avenge its Twin Cities loss against an athletic Minnesota Golden Gophers team.
The Gophers defeated the Boilermakers on March 5th and kept Purdue from winning an outright Big Ten title. Boilermakers star Carsen Edwards shot 7-31 from the field, but still had opportunities late to win the game. Redemption has to be on the mind of the Boilermakers in tonight’s game.
Don’t expect the Gophers to roll over though. Their roster presents some issues for the Boilermakers with good big men who can rebound in Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu. Purdue has struggled in various points with giving up offensive rebounds but has been better over the last month. And on the wing is the athletic and playmaker, Amir Coffey. The 6-foot-7 wing went for 32 points in their last game against the Boilers, and went for 22 last night against Penn State. Look for Coffey to attack the Boilermaker defense and try to get to the foul line. In the two meetings this season, Coffey has attempted 24 free throws against the Boilermakers. Purdue defensive stopper Nojel Eastern has to stay out of foul trouble today and the Boilermakers need to be better on screen and roll switches to try and keep Coffey off the foul line and out of transition.
Purdue wins this game tonight if Edwards works to better pick his spots and facilitates to open teammates. On defense Purdue needs to control the offensive glass, keep Minnesota out of transition, and force them to shoot three’s. Minnesota is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the Big Ten.
For Minnesota, they need to aggressively attack Purdue’s defense off the dribble. The Boilermakers will try to force everything to the baseline but are vulnerable in the lane. Minnesota can sometimes get impatient and start chucking and will need to avoid that urge. On defense, continue to make Edwards force jump shots. Keep Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams and Grady Eifert off the offensive glass because it leads to three-point bombs from Ryan Cline.
The Gophers have played Purdue tough in both games this season. This one will be no different. I expect Purdue to win in a close one, but it will be within the eight-point KenPom spread.
- Pick Against The Spread: Minnesota
-No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes vs No. 3 Michigan Wolverines
- Time/TV: 9:25PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Michigan (-8)
The nightcap Friday finds one of the Big Ten’s best offenses going against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.
Iowa rained down 12 three’s in an 82-63 win over Illinois on Thursday and looked completely over their epic collapse against Nebraska a week ago. Nicolas Baer led the way with 17 points. It all looked pretty impressive, but can they continue it tonight against Michigan’s tough defense?
I think Michigan gets back to its winning ways tonight. The Wolverines are only 6-4 in its last 10, but the return of Charles Matthews will settle things on both ends of the floor.
For Iowa to win tonight they will need they forever question this season: are they interested in playing defense?
In Iowa and Michigan’s only meeting this season they were. It was a 74-59 beatdown in Iowa City.
Last night they were as well. They gave up 62 to a pretty good, but undisciplined offensive team in Illinois. The Illini coughed it up 15 times and shot 33 percent from distance.
I’m still not convinced though. Expect Michigan to take care of the ball under the leadership of Zavier Simpson and get back its winning ways tonight in Chicago. It will be an entertaining game, but Michigan will grind Iowa down and cover the eight-point KenPom spread.
- Pick Against The Spread: Michigan
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 18-26