The 2022 Big Ten Tournament continued on Thursday and fans got four intriguing matchups, highlighted by two that went down to the final minutes. The results had significant NCAA Tournament bracketology implications.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions 79, No. 7 Illinois Fighting Illini 76
For the third time this season, Illinois and Penn State met in a game of significance. And for the third time, Penn State grabbed a surprising win. The first was in Champaign, the second was at Bryce Jordan, and Thursday’s game took a late push to get across the finish line. It was quite an effort from the Nittany Lions to grab the win.
And the star was Jalen Pickett:
Pickett only finished with 12 points, but also had eight assists and eight rebounds to go with that scoring total. It was an all-around effort that deserves some major appreciation.
The effort was also particularly valuable for Penn State on Thursday night, as the win likely pushed the Nittany Lions into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. It’s been a rough drought with a variety of tough blows and close calls. But it looks like it’s finally over.
Penn State will return to action on Friday night against Northwestern. The Nittany Lions won the only regular season meeting between the two earlier this month. Fans will hope that same effort carries over into this one.
For Illinois, Thursday’s effort was disappointing. On paper, Illinois still seems like a better team than Penn State, even if it went 0-3 against the Nittany Lions. The reality is that some teams are just bad matchups for others and it’s clear Penn State is a horrible matchup for the Illini. Fans will now turn their focus to Selection Sunday, where Illinois should be a safe pick to get a bid.
-No. 9 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 62, No. 8 Michigan Wolverines 50
This was the epitome of a bubble battle, as both teams entered Thursday’s matchup firmly on the bubble and needing a win to feel any confidence for Selection Sunday. Unfortunately for Wolverine fans, Michigan would end up on the short end, as Rutgers completely dominated the second half and scored a double-digit win. Cam Spencer led the way with 18 points. Nobody on Michigan’s squad had double-digits, other than Hunter Dickinson.
For Rutgers, this win was massive. Most bracketologists had the Scarlet Knights as one of the last few teams into the field, so picking up another win, especially a neutral site victory over a decent team, will aid Rutgers’ resume significantly. It also gives the team another shot at Purdue on Friday afternoon. A win over the Boilermakers would remove any doubts about Rutgers’ NCAA hopes.
On the other side, Michigan fell to 17-15 overall with the loss. It was a low point among many low points this season for the Wolverines. Fans will have months to evaluate what went wrong, but it’s clear something on this squad never clicked. Week after week and month after month, Michigan simply couldn’t finish the job when it mattered most. Even one more win could have very well pushed the team into the NCAA field, but the Wolverines simply couldn’t get that last win. Juwan Howard and his staff will have their work cut out to get things turned around this offseason.
-No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes 73, No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes 69
The last few months have been horrid ones for the Buckeyes. The team has last game after game, including many in close fashion. Those struggles derailed what was once a promising season in Columbus and the left the program hoping for some magic in the Big Ten Tournament to keep things alive.
Fortunately for Buckeye fans, the magic has held up so far.
Ohio State managed to knock off Wisconsin on Wednesday and did it against Iowa on Thursday, thanks in large part to a sensational performance from Bruce Thornton, who had 17 points and six assists. The win propelled Ohio State to 15-18 overall and into Friday’s quarterfinals, where the Buckeyes will face Michigan State.
Meanwhile, Iowa fell to 19-13 overall and 11-10 against Big Ten opponents this season. The Hawkeyes are still a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament, but things will be tighter than fans were hoping to see. Expect an uphill battle once the bracket is released.
-No. 6 Maryland Terrapins 70, No. 14 Minnesota Golden Gophers 54
The Gophers may have pulled off a surprising upset on Wednesday over Nebraska, but the momentum didn’t carry over to Thursday, as Maryland cruised to an easy win over Minnesota. The Terps grabbed an early lead and never looked back, holding the Gophers to an underwhelming 0.89 points per possession. Donta Scott led the way for Maryland with 20 points and eight rebounds.
The win pushed Maryland to 21-11 overall, 11-9 in Big Ten play, and into Friday’s quarterfinals. The Terps will face Indiana in what figures to be a really intriguing matchup. Maryland won the only regular season meeting between the two by double-digits, but the Terps have been far more vulnerable away from home. Expect a tight battle.
For Minnesota, Thursday’s loss marks the end of the season. While the team had some bright moments, it was a doomed effort from the start, as Minnesota lacked the depth and experience to play at a high level. The Gophers finished 9-22 overall and 3-18 against Big Ten opponents. The team finished 216th on KenPom, which is the worst mark for the program in the history of the site. Ben Johnson will have his work cut out this offseason to try and get things turned around.