Friday's previews: 4 more Big Ten tourney games
The opening day of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament in Chicago had its fair shares of thrills. Now that four teams are headed home and four others are headed on, let’s look at all four of Friday’s tournament matchups.
No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 8 Illinois | FOLLOW THIS GAME LIVE
The skinny on Indiana: The Hoosiers are just 2-2 in their last four games, but they are riding high coming off a huge season-ending victory at Michigan that clinched the outright Big Ten title. If IU can win the league tourney, it may be able to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tourney. Most experts feel Indiana already has the No. 1 seed in the Midwest locked up. The Hoosiers have an arsenal of offensive weapons, but they must remember to run the offense through big man Cody Zeller.
Key number: Plus-10.2, Indiana’s scoring margin, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in league games. The Hoosiers average a league-high 74.5 points.
The skinny on Illinois: The Fighting Illini won’t fear Indiana, beating the Hoosiers when they were ranked No. 1 earlier this season. And Illinois comes into the game off a confidence-building 49-47 win over Minnesota in the opening round. Illinois can’t allow Indiana to get out and run. The Hoosiers are devastating in transition, with players like Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey and Christian Watford excelling on the run. Illinois likes to get out and run, too. But it may not be the best strategy vs. Indiana.
Key number: 26, points scored by Illinois players not named Brandon Paul in the Illini’s win over Minnesota in the first round. John Groce’s team will need a more well-rounded contribution from others if it wants to topple Indiana.
The season: Brandon Paul executed a perfect inbounds pass to a wide-open Tyler Griffey, who made a game-winning layup as time expired to beat No. 1 Indiana in Champaign. It was the only meeting of the season between the teams.
What’s next: The winner will battle the victor of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan game on Saturday for a shot to play for the Big Ten tourney title.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Michigan | FOLLOW THIS GAME LIVE
The skinny on Wisconsin: This team has a high basketball IQ, which is typical of a Bo Ryan squad. The Badgers always have a shot at victory because they play terrific defense and limit turnovers. But Wisconsin gets into trouble when it has an over-reliance on jump shots. When those attempts are falling, the Badgers are tough to beat. When they aren’t, things can get ugly—very ugly. For Wisconsin to score another win over Michigan this season, it will need to impose its will on the Wolverines by slowing the pace and thus “taking the air out of the ball.”
Key number: 55.8, points per game allowed by Wisconsin, the fewest of any team in the Big Ten in league action.
The skinny on Michigan: In dispatching Penn State by 17 points in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, the Wolverines showed no hangover from that tough home loss last Sunday to Indiana that cost it a shot at sharing the Big Ten title. This looks like a motivated and riveted Michigan team that may be peeved at having to play in the opening round of the Big Ten tourney as a No. 5 seed despite ranking No. 8 in the nation in the coaches poll. It’s no secret what Michigan wants to do vs. Wisconsin: run and score. If this game is played in the 80s, the Wolverines will win running away.
Key number: 4, players the Wolverines had in double-figures vs. Penn State. Tim Hardaway, Jr., ,had 15; Nik Stauskas had 15; Trey Burke had 21; Jon Horford had 11. It’s that balanced scoring that makes Michigan so tough.
This season: Michigan and Wisconsin played once this year—and it was a memorable encounter. The Badgers took a 65-62 decision in overtime in Madison. But the game almost didn’t reach OT, as Wisconsin’s Ben Brust had to nail a shot just inside of half court to force the extra session.
What’s next: The winner will battle the victor of the Indiana-Illinois game on Saturday for the right to play for the title.
No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Nebraska | FOLLOW THIS GAME LIVE
The skinny on Ohio State: The Buckeyes were the hottest team coming to Chicago. A big key to the fast finish has been balanced scoring. Often times, Deshaun Thomas has had to shoulder too big of a scoring load. But players like Shannon Scott and Amir Williams—among others—are contributing more. Couple that new-found scoring balance with a defense that’s among the best in the Big Ten, and it’s easy to see why the Buckeyes may make a run to the Big Ten tourney title. OSU needs to make Nebraska make shots from the perimeter; it can’t let the Huskers beat them off the bounce.
Key number: 5, wins in a row by Ohio State, making it the hottest team coming into the Big Ten tourney. One of the victories was at Indiana on Senior Day for the Hoosiers.
The skinny on Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are coming off their first-ever Big Ten tourney victory and are enjoying the ride with absolutely nothing to lose. In fact, they have won two of their last three. Look it up. This team has underrated athletic ability in players like Dylan Talley, Ray Gallegos and David Rivers. And how about freshman Shavon Shields? The kid knocked down a team-high 19 points vs. the Boilermakers. Getting to the rack will be a bit more difficult vs. Ohio State. But if the shots from the outside are falling, look out.
Key number: 16, points for Brandon Ubel in the Huskers’ 57-55 win over Purdue in the first round. The big fella was the difference, displaying a well-rounded game with 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists. His all-around game opens things for the Husker perimeter players.
This season: The Buckeyes dumped the Huskers twice during the season, taking a 70-44 win in Columbus and a 63-56 victory in Lincoln.
What’s next: The winner will take on the victor of the Michigan State-Iowa game for the chance to advance to the Big Ten tourney championship game.
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Iowa | FOLLOW THIS GAME LIVE
The skinny on Michigan State: The Spartans may have a chip on their shoulder entering this event, just missing out on earning a share of the Big Ten title–and then seeing none of their players earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. This is a typical Tom Izzo-coach MSU team, a physical squad that likes to crash the boards and play hard. The key will be how well the Spartans shoot. Players like Keith Appling, Travis Trice and Gary Harris must shoot well to open the paint for Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. MSU needs to play at a methodical pace and grind it out vs. an Iowa squad that likes to run.
Key number: Plus-4.3, Michigan State’s rebounding margin. That’s second in the Big Ten in league games. This is a typically tough Spartans team on the glass.
The skinny on Iowa: Iowa continues to play with a sense of urgency in its pursuit of an elusive NCAA bid. Some feel a victory in this game may be enough to punch the program’s first ticket to the Big Dance since 2006. If Iowa is to beat Michigan State, it must work in transition. The Hawkeyes enjoy running. Why not? Iowa has a nice collection of athletes who can get up and down the court, including Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White and Mike Gesell, among others. And Iowa is hot, winning three in a row and four of five games. But to win this game, the Hawkeyes need to hit some shots and match the Spartans’ rebounding ferocity while playing at a quick pace.
Key number: 255, assists for Iowa, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in conference games. The play of freshman guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons has boosted this team in its third season under Fran McCaffery.
This season: These teams met once, with Michigan State prevailing, 62-59, in Iowa City. Keith Appling iced a tight game for the Spartans with four late free throws. For what it’s worth, MSU knocked Iowa out of last year’s Big Ten tourney.
What’s next: The winner will take on the victor of the Ohio State vs. Nebraska game on Saturday.
|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.|
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