It has been a season of superlatives in the Big Ten in what most feel has been one of the best seasons in conference annals. No doubt, the regular season didn’t disappoint.
There were myriad scintillating games, two different teams ranked No. 1 (Indiana and Michigan) and four others that ranked in the top 10 at some point this season (Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois and Minnesota).
Here’s a look at what was the “biggest,”“best” and what-not of the 2012-13 Big Ten season.
[ RELATED: Is 2012-13 season best in Big Ten history? ]
Best game: Indiana 72, Michigan 71, March 9. While there have been some gems, including Michigan’s heart-stopping 76-74 overtime win over Ohio State in Ann Arbor, I’m going with Indiana’s 72-71 win at Michigan on Sunday. The game was packed with drama, as the Hoosiers were aiming for their first outright league title since 1992-93. The Wolverines could have won a share of the title for a second year in a row, allowing Ohio State and Michigan State also to gain pieces of the crown with a Michigan win. But Indiana delivered, overcoming a five-point deficit in the final 52 seconds. Cody Zeller scored six points in the final 39.6 seconds, as the Wolverines missed some huge free throws and saw a potential game-winning shot rim out in the dying moments.
Best dunk: Sam Thompson of Ohio State had a slam jam over poor Matt Costello of Michigan State off an inbound pass from Aaron Craft on Feb. 24 that was the stuff they make posters out of. It was a sight to behold.
[ RELATED: Vote in our 2012-13 Big Ten Dunk of the Year bracket ]
Best player: Trey Burke. Yes, Victor Oladipo of Indiana has the best all-around game of any Big Ten player, but Burke is a special talent whose statistics speak volumes. The sophomore Michigan guard is the ultimate scorer and passer who makes his teammates better.
Best upset: Penn State 84, Michigan 78, Feb. 27. The Nittany Lions authored one of the biggest upsets in the nation with this stunner, roaring back from 15 points down to the No. 4 Wolverines to notch their first Big Ten win after opening 0-14 in the conference. It was Penn State’s first win over a top-five team since downing No. 5 North Carolina, 82-74, in the second round of the 2001 NCAA tourney, and the highest-ranked foe that the Nittany Lions had beaten since moving to the Jordan Center in 1996.
Key injury: Take your pick of three. Penn State point guard Tim Frazier ruptured his left Achilles tendon in November in the Puerto Rico Tipoff and was lost for the year. Wisconsin point guard Josh Gasser suffered a season-ending knee injury in October before the season started. Northwestern forward Drew Crawford saw his season end in December thanks to a right shoulder injury.
Best shot: It has to be the bomb from just inside midcourt that Wisconsin’s Ben Brust hit in the dying moments of regulation to force overtime vs. No. 3 Michigan on Feb. 9 in Madison. The Badgers went on to take a 65-62 decision. The Wolverines’ Tim Hardaway, Jr., looked like he had nailed the game winner, hitting a three-pointer with less than three seconds left to put Michigan up, 60-57.
Best comeback: Illinois came into its home game vs. No. 1 Indiana having lost eight of 11 games. And the mighty Hoosiers swiftly built a 41-29 halftime lead. It looked like the game was over. But Illinois pushed back and ended up winning when Tyler Griffey somehow got wide open and hit a game-winning layup with less than a second remaining, taking a brilliant inbound pass from Brandon Paul. Pandemonium enveloped Assembly Hall.
Best freshman: It has to be Michigan State’s Gary Harris, who may have been the Spartans’ best player. He can shoot and work off the dribble. Plus, the kid works hard and always plays with a purpose.
Best finish: Indiana’s exciting win at Michigan already took the “Best game” category, so you better believe it also takes “Best finish.” This finish featured it all, what with a share of the Big Ten crown on the line for Michigan – not to mention Michigan State and Ohio State – a final-minute comeback and two missed attempts on would-be game-winning shots right before the buzzer. In the end, Cody Zeller scored the game’s final six points to erase a 71-66 deficit with 52 seconds left and lead Indiana to its first outright Big Ten crown since 1993.
Best block: It has to be the one delivered by Minnesota’s Rodney Williams that sealed the Golden Gophers’ wild win over No. 1 Indiana. Indiana trailed, 76-70, with less than 20 seconds left and needed a basket. Victor Oladipo let a three-point fly from a corner. That’s when Williams charged and reached for the sky, seemingly jumping to the rafters of Williams Arena to reject Oladipo. Amazing.
Biggest surprise: Ohio State. Few anticipated the Buckeyes being this good, losing the likes of Jared Sullinger and William Buford from last season’s Final Four team. But Thad Matta has done a wondrous job building around superstar Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, while bringing along players like Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. And this may be the best defensive team in the nation. Take a bow, Thad.
Wait until next year: Iowa. The Hawkeyes are a young and promising team with a bright future. In fact, next season’s team will be loaded with freshmen like Anthony Clemmons, Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury back for a second season. And Aaron White is just a sophomore. Junior Devyn Marble figures to be back next year, too, along with fellow juniors Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe.
Most improved player: Victor Oladipo took his game to another level as a junior, averaging 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists to emerge as one of the nation’s top players. Last season, Oladipo averaged 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. His shooting is what really improved. He hit 20.8 percent of his three-pointers last season but is shooting at a 46.4-percent clip this season. Oh, and overall, he’s shooting 61.4 percent. As a guard. It’s a testament to his hard work and dedication.
Biggest disappointment: Minnesota. When the Gophers played at Indiana on Jan. 12, they were 15-1 and ranked No. 8 in the nation. Minnesota lost, 88-81. That sent Minnesota into a funk that it never really pulled out of the rest of the season, losing eight of 11 games at one point en route to finishing 8-10 Big Ten play. Much was expected from a veteran team that was coming off a run to the 2012 NIT title game.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.