The Big Ten had a loaded slate on Thursday night featuring four intriguing matchups. Two of the games featured ranked teams and the others put Illinois and Indiana on the road as they continue their efforts to build NCAA resumes.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-Wisconsin Badgers 81, No. 19 Michigan Wolverines 74
This game had a weird feel about it, as two normally great defensive teams got roasted for much of the night. D’Mitrik Trice scored 28 points for the Badgers and Zavier Simpson finished with 32 points for the Wolverines. The game itself swung back and forth throughout, with Wisconsin maintaining control. All told, Wisconsin grabbed a valuable 81-74 win on the road against Michigan.
Wisconsin improved to 18-10 overall with the victory and have now won five in a row and six of the team’s last seven games. Since the calendar turned to February, Wisconsin has undeniably been playing extremely well. The Badgers are now tied for second in the league standings and seem to have a great shot at a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The team will return to action on Sunday at home against Minnesota.
On the other side, Michigan fell to 18-10 overall with the loss and saw its own five-game winning streak snapped. The absence of Eli Brooks played a factory in the defeat, but the Wolverines struggled all night on the defensive side of the floor. If Michigan is going to end up doing anything significant in March, it’s going to need to fix some things there. The team will return to action on Sunday on the road against Ohio State.
-Illinois Fighting Illini 74, Northwestern Wildcats 66
Apart from the rivalry aspects of this game, there isn’t much to write about with regard to this one. Illinois was the better team and was able to take care of business against the Wildcats on Thursday night.
The win pushed Illinois to 19-9 overall and to 11-6 in Big Ten play. The Illini almost assuredly locked up an NCAA bid with the win and can now focus on just improving its postseason positioning over the next two weeks. Illinois returns to action on Sunday at home against Indiana. Meanwhile, Northwestern will hope to bounce back on Sunday on the road against Nebraska.
-No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes 75, Nebraska Cornhuskers 54
There were a few stretches in this one where it looked like Nebraska might make things interesting. But alas, Ohio State proved to be too much and cruised to a 21-point win. With the victory, the Buckeyes improved to 19-9 overall and also likely locked up an NCAA bid. Ohio State will now prepare to face arch-rival Michigan at home on Sunday. Meanwhile, Nebraska will hope to bounce back against Northwestern at home on Sunday.
-Purdue Boilermakers 57, Indiana Hoosiers 49
Whew. This one had some spice alright. A few months ago, few would have expected Hoosier fans to have hope coming into this game. However, expectations changed over the last two weeks as Purdue slipped and Indiana started showing some improved play. Many were expecting a tight game that would go down to the final minutes.
And while the game ended up finishing in single-digits, Indiana was lucky it even ended up that close. The Hoosiers were disastrous on the offensive end of the floor, finishing with just 0.75 points per possession. The only played to score double-digits was Devonte Green and he finished with 11 points and a 66 offensive rating. As such, Purdue scored a 57-49 win.
Whatever your thoughts about these teams, programs, and the rivalry, make no mistake. Neither of these teams looked great on Thursday night. It was an ugly game where the Boilermakers did just enough to win. And it likely won’t change broader expectations for either side, as Purdue is still a long shot for the NCAAs and Indiana remains likely just one win away from making the cut.
How these teams respond moving forward will be interesting. Indiana returns to action on Sunday on the road against Illinois and Purdue will hope to keep things rolling next Tuesday on the road against Iowa.