MBB Conference Tournament, Day 2: Day Of The Underdog
When Delany expanded the conference to 24 teams - or is it 14? I forget, we play so many of them just one time - he also oversaw the expansion of the conference tournament, but in a way as to weed out the weakest teams while still allowing them to play. Some conferences go farther, by taking only the top X teams, and some give their top 2 byes until the semis, although that tends to be a smaller-conference thing (so you're less likely to blow the single bid on a team that will give you only first-round money). After Thursday's sessions ended, some Big 14 presidents may want to take up discussion on that topic again. Two of the favorites advanced, one by two points in overtime and one by four points in regulation. The other two were sent packing by teams that played Wednesday, giving the #3 and #4 seeds an unexpected break on Friday. Yes, that means that Purdue won't get revenge on Iowa ... instead, they'll have a chance to avenge their loss in Champaign.
Northwestern made it clear that their offense was going to come from three players: Alex Olah, Tre Demps, and Bryant McIntosh. The three combined for 60 of Northwestern's 70 points and took 52 of their 68 shots; Michigan shot just .379 from the field and gave up 12 offensive boards, giving the Wildcats a 10-shot advantage. However, the Wolverines did take a page from their earlier meeting, going 16 for 20 from the line to counter Northwestern's edge from the field, and got 21 from Duncan Robinson and 19 from Zak Irvin to edge the Wildcats in overtime, 72-70, as Robinson and Irvin scored the final five points in OT to give Michigan the win.
If you caught only the first few minutes of this game, you'd be forgiven for wondering how it got to overtime. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the Wildcats after three minutes, 8-3; Robinson and Irvin each hit a three, and when Mark Donnal's block of an Olah layup led to a Robinson layup, Northwestern was down 16-3 and seemingly done ... but Michigan's defense will let anyone back in the game if they try hard enough, and after an Andrew Dakich three that put Michigan up 23-11, Northwestern scored 10 straight to cut the lead to two. Robinson scored Michigan's next nine points, and a late Irvin basket gave the Wolverines a nine-point lead at the break.
The Wildcats had a slight edge in the second half, slowly chipping away at the lead until an Olah layup tied it at 52 with 5:47 left. Bryant McIntosh answered an Irvin bucket with a three, and Northwestern had their first lead since going up 3-0, but Walton, Donnal and Irvin put Michigan up 59-55 with 28 seconds left. An Olah three cut the lead to one, and when Duncan Robinson split a pair of free throws, the Wildcats had a chance; Olah's putback of Demps' miss sent it to overtime, which was as close as the second half: Michigan's largest lead was four, and Northwestern actually led by three with 1:01 to play before Robinson hit a three to tie; Irvin hit the go-ahead basket with five seconds left, but a wild sequence saw Northwestern turn the ball over, Michigan turn it right back, and the Wildcats clang a three at the buzzer to give Michigan a narrow escape.
The second game also featured a team with unbalanced scoring, as Iowa got a game-high 29 from Peter Jok and 21 from Jarrod Uthoff but no more than 8 from anyone else, and the Illini forced 17 Hawkeye turnovers and shot .435 from three to pull off the upset. Iowa dug themselves an early hole, trailing 11-4 at the under-16 timeout, and took nearly the whole first half to recover. Down by as many as 11 and trailing by 9, Mike Gesell scored his only points of the game on a three that cut the lead to six; Kendrick Nunn traded a couple of twos for a couple of Jok threes, and five more points from Jok put Iowa in front, 29-28. The lead tipped slightly toward Iowa until a 7-2 Illinois run put the Illini up 37-35 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes didn't fall on their faces to start the second half, but they couldn't take the lead, either, and Illinois gradually pulled away, leading by 11 at the under-8 timeout. Both teams were scoreless for nearly 3:30, but with time running out for Iowa, they went on a 14-3 run to tie the game on a Nicholas Baer three-point play with 1:38 remaining. After an Illinois timeout, Malcolm Hill put the Illini up 68-66; Gesell missed on Iowa's next possession, and Iowa would not get off another shot, as a Gesell turnover ended their final possession.
The opening game of the second session was great if you like free throws: Ohio State shot 39 of them, and despite hitting just 26 (two-thirds of your FTs is not great, Bob), the extra opportunities made up for their slightly subpar shooting. Neither team was particularly bad on offense (OSU 1.13 PPP, Penn State 1.07) ... they were about what you'd expect from the 7 and 10 seeds in a conference where quality drops off quickly after the top six.
For as much as a gap as there should have been - the kenpom ranking distance between Penn State in 10th and Northwestern in 9th is the same as the gap between the Wildcats and Purdue, and Ohio State is 13 spots ahead of NU - Shep Garner did what he could to erase it. The Nittany Lions led by as many as ten in the first half, when a Donovon Jack three put them up 35-25 just before the under-4, but Peyton Banks fouled Marc Loving on a three, and after the timeout, Loving hit all three to pull OSU within seven. Loving split a pair on OSU's next possession, and after two missed JaQuan Lyle free throws and an A.J. Harris miss, Lyle hit a layup and Loving hit a three to get the Buckeyes within one. A Garner two pushed the lead to three, 37-34, and it stayed that way until halftime.
Penn State came out a little sluggish in the second half, and it ended up costing them the game. OSU went on a 14-0 run to lead 48-39 less than four minutes in; PSU ran off six straight to trail 48-45 at the under-16, and they ended up catching the Buckeyes and finally retaking the lead on two Garner free throws at 4:12, 67-66. One more cold spell put the upset away, as Ohio State got three more FTs from Loving and two layups from Lyle to lead 73-67; Jack split a pair of free throws, Penn State got the ball off the miss, but couldn't convert, and after a Lyle turnover, Loving blocked Josh Reaves' layup and the Buckeyes forced a turnover. After two more Loving free throws, PSU played the fouling game, and seven more points from Garner got the lead down to three, but OSU hit enough of their free throws to keep the lead safe, as Lyle hit 4 of 6 down the stretch to make the final margin 79-75.
The nightcap turned out to be a return of Bad Wisconsin, as the Badgers shot a woeful .302 from the field, including 4 for 20 from three, and Shavon Shields narrowly missed his second double-double in two nights, posting a game-high 20 points and 9 rebounds in Nebraska's 70-58 upset of the Badgers. The Huskers held Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes to a combined 5 for 27 from the field (1 of 12 from three), and they shot just over .500 from two as a team (21 for 41), showing the kind of efficiency usually reserved for an MSU-style team that prefers to work from inside the arc.
The two teams were evenly matched through a first half that was as low-scoring as expected, and even well into the second half, when a 4-0 Wisconsin run cut Nebraska's lead from 7 to 3. The Badgers had a chance to tie after Andrew White III missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Koenig turned the ball over, Benny Parker laid it in, and after an exchange of misses, a Glynn Watson Jr. two had the Huskers up 59-52 with 4:04 remaining. Parker hit two free throws after the under-4 timeout, and while a 9-point deficit isn't such a big deal for some teams, when you can't hit the broadside of a barn in a state full of them, it might as well be 90. In hockey parlance, Watson's basket would have been the game-winner, as Wisconsin couldn't break 60: their remaining possessions were a Hayes miss, an Ethan Happ turnover, two free throws from Koenig, a blocked Koenig layup, a Koenig three, a blocked Happ layup, a Koenig miss leading to Vitto Brown going 1 for 2 at the line, a Hayes miss, and another Hayes miss. For as well as Wisconsin was playing prior to the Purdue game, they played two straight games where one end of the court was simply not theirs (giving up 1.33 PPP to the Good Guys, then getting 0.84 PPP against Nebraska). The Badgers may not drop to an 8, but they certainly aren't going to move up after this performance, not with the likes of Notre Dame right on their heels.
Game 7 - #8 Michigan (21-11) vs #1 Indiana (25-6), noon on ESPN
Previous meeting: 2/2 at Michigan (Indiana 80-67)
NCAA status: Michigan fourth team out, Indiana 3-seed
The Wolverines needed a convincing win over a weaker Northwestern team to make up ground, and they did not get one; while an upset of Indiana would certainly help their cause, it might not be enough, and a team that allowed 1.04 PPP to the 9th-best offense in the conference can't be looking forward to playing the 2nd-best offense in a must-win game. Nonetheless, there is still hope: Indiana lost to Penn State by missing a lot of shots (8 for 20 from two, 9 for 27 from three) against a bad defense, so in theory it could happen again.
In practice, it'll probably take a combination of things: Sleepy Yogi has to show up, Duncan Robinson needs to keep his laser-sighted threes from Thursday's game, and it wouldn't hurt to somehow force some turnovers. Ferrell had 5 of Indiana's 15 in that PSU loss; Michigan doesn't generally force turnovers themselves, but the Hoosiers can still do some of that on their own. What's more likely is that Michigan leaves too many IU players open too many times, and by the time Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins find their range, there won't be enough time left to erase a double-figure deficit. Indiana should hang on as the last 3 seed for now, and Michigan should get ready to host an NIT game in Crisler.
Game 8 - #12 Illinois (15-18) vs #4 Purdue (24-7), 2:30 on ESPN
Previous meeting: 1/10 at Illinois (Illinois 84-70)
NCAA status: Purdue 4-seed
Redemption is here for the taking. What better way to cap a resurgence than by storming through Indy to take the Big 14 crown, and what better way to set up for revenge against Indiana than by blowing out an overmatched Illini squad that's playing its third game in three days? Sure, a screenwriter would have had Iowa advance only to be eliminated Friday on a game-ending 20-0 run by the Good Guys, but practical folks might settle for an easy win, a Stephen Toyra sighting, and a second chance at a team that barely held off Purdue in enemy territory three weeks ago?
On the other hand, the Boilers rolled into Champaign to face an Illini team that was 8-8 overall and 0-3 in the conference - a team that would not record a conference win over a decent team the rest of the year - and came up well short. Those 84 points are the most Purdue gave up this year: Iowa didn't top that despite a 50-point second half, Michigan State didn't beat it even with five extra minutes, Indiana didn't beat it despite shooting 12 for 28 from three. As much as it ought not to happen, this Purdue team has had some games where they played for extended stretches like a middle-of-the-pack team instead of a title contender. They might be able to afford one more stretch on Friday ... but here's hoping ESPN is making Lou Henson references in the second half.
Game 9 - #7 Ohio State (20-12) vs #2 Michigan State (26-5), 6:30 on BTN
Previous meetings: 2/23 at OSU (MSU 81-62), 3/5 at MSU (MSU 91-76)
NCAA status: Michigan State 2-seed (5th on S-curve)
Depending on who you're reading, Michigan State is either one good win away from grabbing the fourth #1 seed (Kansas, Villanova and Virginia have claimed the first three), or they're several breaks away from being in that position. Iowa State nearly got them one, falling 79-76 to Oklahoma Thursday, but Notre Dame may be the next in line to help them out, facing UNC in the ACC semis at 7 PM.
Regardless, the Spartans should be taking care of business themselves Friday against Ohio State. Yeah, maybe it's tough to beat a team three times in one season, but does that really apply to a team you beat by almost 20 in their house? kenpom has the Spartans as a 10-point favorite (topped only by the 11-point edge he gives Purdue), and it's hard to see MSU failing to beat that spread. After a disastrous 3-4 start in conference play, the Spartans finished on a 10-1 run, with their only loss a one-point overtime road loss to a team likely to be a 4-seed when the Dance begins. MSU has just one non-A-tier loss this season, a one-point loss at home to Nebraska that ended a three-game slide. If Sparty doesn't win the Big 14 tournament, it won't be because they lost to a very young OSU team, one that's likely to return every contributor who wants to come back.
Game 10 - #11 Nebraska (16-17) vs #3 Maryland (24-7), 9:00 PM on BTN
Previous meeting: 2/3 at Nebraska (Maryland 70-65)
NCAA status - Maryland 4-seed
The Terrapins were on pace to match their women's team double, sitting pretty at 10-2 in conference play and 22-3 overall after a midseason blowout of local Bowie State. After a 13-point home loss to Wisconsin and an inexplicable loss at Minnesota, Maryland suddenly had to focus on conference position, and after a close loss in West Lafayette and a bigger one in Bloomington, you could be excused for wondering if maybe Mark Turgeon's squad wasn't quite as good as people thought. Yes, they were 7-3 in their first 10 tier-A games, but they lost their last two, and neither Wisconsin (B) nor Minnesota (lol) were in that group.
Maryland kept Shavon Shields in check in the game in Lincoln, holding him to 11 points on 4 for 17 shooting, but Andrew White III scored 19, and the Huskers forced 18 turnovers in a game that was in doubt much longer than it should have been. Nebraska ought to be too short to give Maryland a close game - 6'8" freshmen Michael Jacobson and Jack McVeigh are the tallest players who get regular PT; Maryland has four guys 6'9" or taller - but then they already did once, and as we saw in the women's tournament last week, you never know what'll happen in games like this. I don't think Shields will be in double-double range again (he had 7 boards in the first meeting), and I think Maryland will simply shut down the Nebraska offense. White's teammates were 4 for 16 from three and 11 for 36 from two; if Shields doesn't put up 30, this one will be the kind of blowout that will have Tom Izzo talking about Maryland as if they could beat 1969 UCLA and 1975 Indiana at the same time on the same court.
Current NCAA Projections
All courtesy of the Bracket Project, which you should be looking at 20-30 times per day so you can see who hasn't yet moved Purdue past that team in Durham that is out of the ACC tournament now. I also added ESPN projections because it's nice to pretend we know which team is going to which site.
- Michigan State: top 2-seed (ESPN: in St. Louis vs. UNC-Asheville and then Dayton/Butler winner)
- Indiana: fourth 3-seed (ESPN: in Des Moines vs Middle Tennessee State and then Baylor/San Diego State winner)
- Purdue: third 4-seed (ESPN: in Denver vs Northern Iowa and then Iowa State/Akron winner)
- Maryland: fourth 4-seed (ESPN: 5-seed in Providence vs Yale and then Kentucky/Stony Brook winner)
- Iowa: second 6-seed (ESPN: in Denver vs Gonzaga and then Utah/Hawaii winner)
- Wisconsin: top 7-seed (ESPN: 6-seed in Providence vs Vanderbilt/Monmouth play-in winner and then West Virginia/Iona winner)
- Michigan: fourth team out (ESPN: sixth team out)