Indiana and Wisconsin tipped things off on Saturday in a back-and-forth affair that did not go according to script. For one, Indiana was supposed to be the athletic offensive rebounding powerhouse, but it was Wisconsin that was crashing the offensive glass early, collecting 43 percent of its misses in the first half.
Additionally, one would expect the Badgers and their miniscule turnover rate to be stingy with the giveaways, but turnovers plagued Bo Ryan’s team all game long. Wisconsin turned it over on 25 percent of its possessions, the second-highest mark for the season (MSU’s steamrolling of Wisconsin in East Lansing being the high-water mark).
Another oddity was Ryan Evans’ offense. Yes, offense. The fantastic defender did the usual Evans-ey things (4 defensive rebounds, 4 blocks, and a steal, while fouling just twice), but he also poured in 16 points (12 shots). He was feeling so good, he shot a three-pointer. Sure, he missed it (badly), but Ryan Evans shooting a 3 is like Ben Brust trying a 40-footer.
In the second half, Wisconsin’s defense tightened up, allowing Indiana to make only 9 of 28 attempts from the field (including 1-9 from three-point range). Indeed, this was the lowest point per possession output by Indiana all season (0.89).
Indiana was led by Christian Watford, which was strange as well. Watford is a fantastic offensive player, to be sure, but Wisconsin is a bad matchup for him. Not only is Evans guarding him most of the game, but the Badgers’ defensive philosophy is primarily geared toward denying three-point attempts—which happens to be Watford’s bread and butter. But the senior Hoosier was uncharacteristically scoring in the paint on a variety of contested runners. Cody Zeller finished with a hard-earned 13 points on 10 shots, as he was the focus of Wisconsin’s defense.
It was Michigan State and Ohio State in the other semifinal. This was a rematch of last year’s Big Ten Tournament Championship, and this one was just as close. In the second half, Aaron Craft dominated the action. Not only was he doing things on defense, but he also scored 18 points in the second half, shooting 8-11 from the field. And the Buckeyes desperately needed that offense with Adreian Payne frustrating Deshaun Thomas (16 points on 19 shots).
What also helped the Buckeyes score well over a point per possession when their star was misfiring was careful ballhandling, as the team committed just 5 turnovers on the game.
This newfound offense for Ohio State couldn’t have come at a better time. Over the past 6 games, OSU has scored at least 1.07 points per possession (averaging 1.09), and that includes a couple of games in which Thomas ended up with more shots than points. Maybe this team is no longer just “Defense and Deshaun.”
Now comes a championship between Wisconsin and Ohio State, but no matter the outcome, both teams have really helped themselves this weekend. It’s getting to the point where we’re going to have a glut of Big Ten teams seeded 4th or better (currently, four Big Ten teams are seeded 4th or better, and Wisconsin is a 5-seed, per Bracket Matrix. And I think Wisconsin might move up a seed as those brackets are updated to reflect yesterday’s results).
And that’s kind of good news/bad news. The good news is, the Big Ten has plenty of opportunities to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. The bad news is, if the Big Ten is not heavily involved in the Final Four, the conference will never hear end of it. No pressure, guys.