Seven Big Ten teams made the NCAA tournament, and now it’s time to look at one key player from each team who could help fuel a tourney run. I’m not talking about the obvious stars, such as Trey Burke, Deshaun Thomas or Cody Zeller, here. Instead, these are guys who either have struggled lately or have heated up down the stretch.
Ohio State won the Big Ten Tournament this weekend, the fourth time that Thad Matta’s team has taken home the crown. While the Buckeyes won largely on the strength of its defense—holding Wisconsin to under 0.8 points per possession—this Ohio State team has been offensively excellent over the back half of its Big Ten schedule:
The NCAA bracket features seven Big Ten teams and that’s no shock to anyone following the conference. And the Big Ten’s power was reflected in four teams being seeded No. 4 or higher—No. 1 Indiana; No. 2 Ohio State; No. 3 Michigan State; No. 4 Michigan. Wisconsin just missed as a No. 5 seed.
If it’s highlights you’re looking for, the Big Ten tourney was the place to be. From Brandon Paul’s buzzer-beater in Thursday’s opening round to Keith Appling’s drive and posterizing dunk on Friday, there was no shortage of highlight-reel plays. Watch some of our favorite Big Ten tourney plays from the first three days in this post.
Scouting matters. Have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t know your opponent, you’ll get sliced up. So credit Indiana for blowing up Illinois’ offense by stretching its defense well out to the perimeter in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. There was no space to breathe for Illinois’ shooters, and consequently just 6 of Illinois’ 27 field goal attempts were three-pointers in the first half.
The Hoosiers came out playing rugged defense, forcing Illinois into myriad bad shots in limiting the Illini to 21 first-half points and 25.9 percent shooting and forcing eight turnovers. And that theme continued in the second half in a game that never really was that close, as Illinois shot just 34 percent and had 12 turnovers. Brandon Paul had 16 points but hit just 2-of-13 shots.
The tournament opener between Illinois and Minnesota didn’t offer much in the way of aesthetically pleasing play, but a buzzer beater has a way of upping the entertainment value. The Gophers turned it over on a season-worst 35 percent of their possessions, allowing the Illini to stay in the game dispute big Minnesota advantages in every other category.