All we needed to do was ask if Nebraska was going to be historically bad:
Tuesday, February 8
#14 Wisconsin Badgers 70, #17 Michigan State Spartans 62
Green Akers: Every February, MSU hits a bad skid, Izzo kinda shakes his head and says he doesn’t understand why none of his guys can find a rhythm even though he’s still dicking around with a nine-man rotation, and then they get their shit together and heat up before the tournament.
Problem is, this year’s problems—bad effort on the boards and lack of a go-to scorer—don’t have any solution other than the players just being better, and of Izzo’s nine real rotation guys, an average of two of them are playing well per game now.
The path to the conference title is all but gone now, and if Izzo wants to avoid MSU’s fourth tournament disaster in their last five tries, the clock to figure this mess out is counting down quick.
Kind of...: I’ve been watching B1G hoops since before Tom Izzo was a head coach. I know all about MSU’s midseason troubles. But I was still surprised by UW’s win Tuesday night. Can you blame me? The last time UW won in East Lansing, with actual fans in the building, was 2004.
But, Johnny Davis activated his cheat code and carried things in most every important moment in the second half, and Steven Crowl and Chucky Hepburn helped offset a poor shooting night from Brad Davison. Tyler Wahl played this time and had his typical quiet impact, especially defensively. [Key stat: First matchup MSU won the battle of the boards 39-20; this time 33-32.]
So, a conference title is still a possibility, even if 3rd place seems most likely. It’s been a fun and perplexing ride so far. But mostly fun.
#3 Purdue Boilermakers 84, #13 Illinois Fighting Illini 68
BoilerUp89: Purdue needed to have this one to stay alive in the Big Ten race as they couldn’t spot Illinois a 2 game lead in February. And they came thru with Ivey continually scoring in the 2nd half off of high ball screen action. This was a really nice way to attack Cockburn off the dribble as Ivey was able to use his change of speeds and put Cockburn in bad positions. It was nice to see Purdue has an offensive plan when their centers can’t dominate down in the low block.
He was a high school quarterback: Illinois got a lot of open shots Tuesday and in the second half, they missed them. Credit the Mackey crowd for some of that. It sucks, but it is far less concerning than when the offense can’t generate open looks.
Illinois will be fine. They will be in the B1G race to the end and probably end up with a 3-5 seed.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting 1989 vibes with Purdue playing the part of Illinois and 2022 Illinois playing the part of Michigan. So that means Illinois will win the national title.
Either that, or I’m drunk. I personally guarantee one of those two things is true.
Michigan Wolverines 58, Penn State Nittany Lions 57
misdreavus79: For the first time in Micah Shrewsberry’s short career as a head coach, I can legitimately question his decision-making process in a game. Up 11 in the first half, and with all the momentum going their way, Jevonnie Scott, Jaheam Cornwall, and Caleb Dorsey, three bench players who see the fewest time, all found themselves on the floor at the same time. Not soon after, Michigan turned an 11-point deficit into a tie game at half.
After that, the Nittany Lions simply couldn’t grab any rhythm back, and the game turned into an exercise of trying to regain the lost momentum, which Penn State never could. Missing Greg Lee was certainly a difference-maker here, and one has to wonder how Hunter Dickinson would have fared if Lee were in, but you can’t change the past now, and Lee is likely to be done for the season anyway. Penn State will need to play without him again, and given that Illinois is the only top-four team left on the schedule, they should fare well enough.
Northwestern Wildcats 59, Indiana Hoosiers 51
MNW: The real MVP here is Mike Woodson, who made the decision to suspend five scholarship players for #reasons. Northwestern shot 31% from the field and 18.5% from deep, but they grabbed 43 boards to Indiana’s 34 and got some timely play from Indiana’s Trey Galloway and assistant coach Kenya Hunter, the latter of whom took a technical for shouting at the refs and the former of whom can’t stop hooking and holding.
Indiana spun the chamber, pointed it straight at its collective crotch, and didn’t stop firing until all the bullets were exhausted. But, for the third consecutive game, the ‘Cats didn’t return the favor. They’re 12-10 (5-8) and, suddenly, we’re thinking about the NIT. Games at Illinois and against Purdue loom, but then @Minnesota, Nebraska, @Penn State, and @Iowa?
It won’t last, but...
Wednesday, February 9
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 66, #16 Ohio State Buckeyes 64
RU in VA: Well, that was the choke of the year so far. A 3 minute 10-0 run with local hero, Geo Baker leading the charge (8pts. + 1ast). Rutgers had no answers for EJ Liddell a majority of the time.
But in true boneheaded fashion, OSU decided to go AWAY from what was working and put the ball in the hands of a freshman, Malaki Branham. I’ll never understand how Division 1 basketball coaches constantly outsmart themselves.
Rutgers has a really tough schedule coming up, but has shown that they can beat anyone at home and have a real shot at salvaging their opportunity to make the tournament again this year.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 78, Minnesota Gophers 65
Jesse: Nebraska is a very bad basketball team who most definitely did NOT show up against Northwestern. I feared that same team might show up as players decide what to do next year. Instead, Nebraska played better almost wire-to-wire and the fear of the winless conference slate is dead. Yay for Alonzo Verge going absolutely nuclear in the second half and for awful FT shooting being a non factor due to a 20 point max cushion.
Will this lead to more wins? Probably not! But at least they got one.
BRT: We won!!!!! After a football season spent watching close-but-no-cigar games, and most of a basketball season doing the same, I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see a Husker men's team win a conference game ever again— especially after that crap show against Northwestern last Saturday. But the typical Husker team showed up again, played hard, and—astonishingly— held on to a game-long lead and got the win.
I'm proud of their effort and glad they finally got one, but remain confused by what goes through their heads in the final minutes of a game. No matter. Thanks Minny!
Thursday, February 10
Iowa Hawkeyes 110, Maryland Terrapins 87
Stew: When Jordan Bohannon announced he was coming back for a 48th year, one of the big features was how he was going to move off the ball and let Joe Toussaint take over at point guard. This was mostly disastrous for Bohannon, who, up until last night, was shooting about 34% from 3. Bohannon has been moved back to point guard and maybe it’s just Maryland being terrible (almost certainly some of it), but the eternal one seemed much more comfortable with the ball in his hands as he 10(!!!) 3s for the game.
Keegan Murray was also his typical, very awesome, self, putting in 30 points on 14 shots. Iowa had over 100 points before the under 4 timeout. This was a rout.
MNW: DJ shared this picture right before the game, and dear God:
That effort in the stands was matched by the effort on the court—Maryland has appeared to have completely give up.
Michigan 82, #3 Purdue 58
BoilerUp89: Sure did look like Purdue had tired legs in this one—thanks a bunch, Big Ten scheduling office. You aren’t on my Christmas card list next year. The Boilers started off 2-13 from 3 and it didn’t get any better from there. Uncharacteristic turnovers and getting crushed on the boards didn’t help either.
But the biggest difference between this matchup and the first one though was Moussa Diabate, who Caleb Furst and Mason Gillis could not matchup with at all. Not only could they not guard him, but they couldn’t box him out and this resulted in many Michigan offensive rebounds. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Wolverines got 3 more as I was typing this sentence.
Hunter Dickinson staying out of foul trouble in this one allowed Diabate to stay at the 4 spot and matchup against these smaller guys. This problem became big enough that Painter went with the twin towers lineup in the 2nd half which served to highlight the fact that they can’t play defense together as the Wolverines rained in 3s.
This all leads me into my I told you so moment. Aaron Wheeler was a 6’9 PF with very long arms and great leaping ability on last year’s roster. He made the decision to transfer this offseason to St. Johns. I don’t hold this against him at all—he was upfront about it and handled the decision with class, and I’m happy that he’s finding a lot of success with the Johnnies (31 points, 7 rebounds in his latest game against Villanova)—but many Purdue fans shrugged their shoulders and said who cares.
Meanwhile, I thought to myself: Purdue is going to lose a game next year that they wouldn’t have with him on the roster.
And here it has happened.
I’m not naive enough to think Wheeler would be scoring 20 points in this game—he was never going to be that big of a scorer for Purdue. But he has the size and athleticism that he could have guarded Diabate and prevented Michigan from getting so many rebounds. He wouldn’t have solved Purdue’s offensive woes in this one, but defense and rebounding would have help kept them in it long enough for Purdue to stay within arm’s length and find their offense rather than resorting to desperation 3s or a twin tower lineup that can’t possibly defend.
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