Dienhart: Best of Week 8 in Big Ten conference play

Dienhart: Best of Week 8 in Big Ten conference play

The finish line is in sight. And Purdue and Wisconsin are battling for the league title, each tied for first. But don’t overlook Maryland, which is just a game off the pace after falling at Wisconsin on Sunday. Meanwhile, Northwestern, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota continue to look to hone their NCAA credentials.

Here’s a look at the best of the week that was.

Biggest surprise: Nebraska. Losers of eight of nine entering the week, including three one-point defeats, Nebraska racked up a pair of big wins. Tim Miles’ crew opened the week by blowing away Penn State, 82-66, and followed it with a late 58-57 comeback win at Ohio State. Now that Ed Morrow Jr. is back from injury, Nebraska is a team that no Big Ten opponent wants to face, especially at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Not to be ignored, how about Minnesota, which beat Indiana and Michigan to make it five in a row, this after a five-game losing streak?

Biggest disappointment: Indiana. The Hoosiers continue to sink in the Big Ten standings, losers of four in a row to fall to 15-12 overall and 5-9 in the Big Ten. That skid has effectively killed an NCAA tourney dreams for Indiana—save for winning the league tourney. This team still struggles to defend and commits too many turnovers. And things may not get much better anytime soon, as IU plays three of its last four on the road.

Best team: Purdue. The Boilermakers have been playing the best in the Big Ten for a few weeks now, but they were really at the top of their game this past week, throttling Rutgers, 74-55, and Michigan State, 80-63, to move into sole possession of first place for a day. Wisconsin joined the Boilermakers at 11-3 atop the standings with its win over Maryland on Sunday.

Best player: Melo Trimble, Maryland. The star point guard busted out of his shooting slump, in a big way, first hitting 12 of 17 shots in Wednesday’s victory at Northwestern and then making 9 of 17 in Sunday’s loss at Wisconsin. Not only did Trimble shoot 62 percent from the field, he averaged 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Have to mention a pair of double-double machines in Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy (15 ppg; 15 rpg) and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan (18 ppg; 16 rpg), too.

Best stat line: Ethan Happ vs. Maryland. No stranger to impressive all-around lines, the Wisconsin sophomore tallied 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and five steals, all while hitting hit 7 of 11 shots (64 percent) and committing zero turnovers.

Best stat: 352, career rebounds for Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, which set the school single-season record. The big fella set that mark after notching 24 points and 15 rebounds in an 80-63 win vs. Michigan State on Saturday. It also was Swanigan’s 23rd double-double, the most in the Big Ten in the last 20 years.

Best stat, Part II: 500, career rebounds for Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr., which he reached in a win over Wisconsin on Thursday night, making him the first player in program history to join the 1,000-point, 500-rebound, 400-assist club.

Best dunk: Michigan State’s Josh Langford vs. Ohio State. Langford showed why he was a hyped freshman on Tuesday night, when he exploded for a follow-up tip dunk in a win vs. Ohio State. The Breslin Center went nuts.

Best shot: Michigan’s D.J. Wilson at Minnesota, Nebraska’s Jack McVeigh vs. Penn State & Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh vs. Rutgers. It was a week full of gigantic shots, so much so that it’s impossible to pick just one. There was Wilson’s *deep* triple to force five extra minutes on his birthday, no less, there was McVeigh’s halfcourt halftime buzzer-beater, and there was McIntosh’s late go-ahead triple that helped the Wildcats avoid a bad home loss to the Scarlet Knights.

Best moment: Minnesota’s Akeem Springs vs. Indiana. After Thomas Bryant sank two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to give Indiana a 74-73 lead, the Gophers raced down court. Springs took a forced, contested and off-balanced shot from the left wing that missed. But the ball got tipped by Eric Curry toward Springs, who corralled his own miss and put it through the hoop for the winning points with 2.9 seconds left for a 75-74 triumph. It was Minnesota’s fourth consecutive victory.

Best picture: Maryland’s Justin Jackson at Northwestern. How great is this photo? It really does look like the Maryland freshman is dribbling an oversized ball.

Did you see this? Tom Izzo’s postgame rant against ESPN commentator Dan Dakich on Tuesday set off a firestorm. During the game, Dakich sent out a raft of tweets that didn’t reflect well on the MSU student body. Some of the tweets called Spartans fans “whiners.” One said “MSU always worried about UM.” Another accused a Twitter user of only going to MSU because he did not get into Michigan.

“Danny owes our fans and our students an apology,” Izzo said in the postgame. “I probably won’t get it. I always got along with Dan. But as you know, it seems like this year, a lot of people have been mad at me. But I would have loved to get in that Izzone and join those chants. If I was on Twitter – thank God I’m not, thank God some of my friends are.”


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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.