Tournament play is on the horizon! It’s the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. In the Big 10, Ohio State made the title game four years with Greg Oden while Michigan State won it all in 2000. Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin are locks for the March tourney, with several others on the bubble. Here’s a look at some of the top teams of the Big 10 looking to make a similar run.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have been a powerhouse offensive team for Thad Matta, leading the Big 10 in scoring, three-point shooting and field goals. They’ve also been tough defensively allowing 59.5 ppg, second in the conference. The Buckeyes are third in the nation in field goal shooting.
They pound the post with freshman 6-9, 280-pound Jared Sullinger (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and 6-5 senior David Lightly (12.5 ppg, 4 rpg). After a 24-0 start, the grind of the Big 10 took a toll, losing to Wisconsin and Purdue. Is this backcourt strong enough to make a March run? The Buckeyes had 18 turnovers in the loss to Purdue, nearly eight over their average in conference games. This weekend they finish the season with a huge showdown at home against Wisconsin in a revenge matchup.
Wisconsin: The Badgers like to slow the pace down, allowing 57.6 per game in conference play, tops in the Big 10. They are in the middle of the conference in scoring, but tops in free throw shooting. The frontcourt has 6-10 senior Jon Leuer (19.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and 6-8, 240-pound senior Keaton Nankivil, plus junior guard Jordan Taylor (17.8 ppg) runs the backcourt.
The Badgers had to adjust to life without Leuer a year ago, as he missed January and half of February with a wrist injury, but he’s been healthy this season. Nankivil is second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 50%. Wisconsin is on pace to shatter the program record and set an NCAA Division I record for free-throw percentage in a season. The Badgers are 18-7 under the total in their last 25 road games.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have been a streaky team for the second year in a row, and recently ripped off a 4-0 SU/ATS run, even winning as a dog at Illinois. Purdue’s Big Two has proven to be difficult to contain, with senior guard E’Twaun Moore (18.6 ppg) running the backcourt and 6-10 senior JaJuan Johnson (20.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg) pounding the glass.
Purdue has been good on the road because of a fierce defense, third in the Big 10 in points allowed and field goal shooting (41%) allowed. They are also reliable from the line, third in free throw shooting (72.7%). If a game is close, it’s nice to have a confident team at the charity stripe. Last week they took down Ohio State, 76-63, which avenged a 23-point defeat in January. The Boilermakers are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games following a straight up win, though 2-12 ATS in their last 14 games against a team with a losing straight up mark.
Illinois: The Illini have a strong defensive team, second in the Big 10 in field goal shooting defense, though sixth in points allowed. Senior guard Demetri McCamey (14.5 ppg, 6.2 apg) has been the sparkplug that drives the offense, second in the Big 10 in assists as a team.
Coach Bruce Weber has a pair of big bodies in the paint with 6-9 senior Mike Davis (12 ppg, 7 rpg) and 7-foot-1 senior center Mike Tisdale (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg). After fattening up on wins early in the season, this team has struggled in conference play, plus a recent 4-7-1 ATS run. Overvalued? Last week Ohio State roasted them, 89-70, and Purdue beat them by double digits, so the Illini are not peaking at the right time.
Michigan State: The Spartans have been money-burners all season, even failing to cover in nine straight games in January and early February. The backcourt is run by senior guard Kalin Lucas (16.5 ppg), the leading scorer for the third straight season. Up front is a pair of outstanding board bangers in 6-8 junior Delvin Roe and 6-6 junior Draymond Green.
They are second in the Big 10 in rebounding, second in blocks and fifth (42.5%) in field goal defense, but this group has been a dud against Top 20 competition (2-7 record). There has been something missing with this team, and notice that even in the win at Minnesota last week as a dog, Tom Izzo wasn’t happy his team settled for 24 3-point attempts. They may need a win at rival Michigan this weekend in the finale and a strong Big 10 tourney showing.