Day 2 of the Big Ten Tournament has come and gone. Michigan absolutely drilled the Illini, effectively erasing Illinois' hopes at an NCAA Tournament birth. Then, Penn State shocked the entire conference with a strong victory over Iowa. D.J. Newbill really put the team on his back in the second half. Indiana clobbered Northwestern to keep their tournament hopes afloat and the Buckeyes eased by Minnesota to advance to the Quarterfinals. Let's take a look at the next four games today as we enter the quarterfinal round.
Credit: Big Ten Network
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Michigan, Noon ET, ESPN
Reasons to Watch: Wisconsin is easily the best team in the Big Ten and one of the top teams in the country. They rarely make mistakes, share the ball with ease, and can shoot the lights out when they get hot. Frank Kaminsky is a front runner for the National Player of the Year and has the ability to dominate each and every game. His ability to bang down low and still be able to step out to the 3 point line and shoot with accuracy is unique this year in college basketball. Aside from Kaminsky, Wisconsin is an incredibly well rounded team. From Bronson Koenig to Sam Dekker to Nigel Hayes, this team can eviscerate opponents in a number of ways through a bevy of players. Michigan comes into this game fresh off of a veritable stomping of Illinois. Michigan, lacking its best player in Caris Levert, looked great yesterday. Spike Albrecht, Aubrey Dawkins, Zac Irvin, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all played exceptionally against the Illini. Those four players have stepped up in place of Levert and Derrick Walton Jr. to take control of the Wolverine team.
Fun With Numbers: With Levert and Walton Jr. out, Zac Irvin is the only player averaging double figures for the Wolverines. If Michigan plans on keeping up with the Badgers' offensive output, they are going to need numerous individuals to step up on the offensive end. However, they will need to assert themselves early defensively as well. Frank Kaminsky is currently shooting over 55% from the field and when he gets to the low block he is unstoppable. Michigan will need to drum up some serious interior defense to hang around in this one.
Players to Watch: Obviously keep an eye on Kaminsky as he is able to put on an historical performance each and every time he takes the court. However, the players to watch for Wisconsin are the entire front court: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Nigel Hayes. These three guys are so strong and athletic they can bully opponents on the glass and score either in the low post or from distance. For the Wolverines, they are going to need an answer inside for Kaminsky. In all fairness though, there may not be an answer for him in the entire country let alone the conference. Michigan will look to either Ricky Doyle or Mark Donnal to try and contain Kaminsky. On the offensive end, Zac Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins will be huge for Michigan. Both players will need to get hot and stay consistent from the perimeter and from 3. However, even with Michigan clicking, that might not be enough to slow down the Badgers.
Prediction: Wisconsin rolls with ease to a strong victory, 78-69.
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Penn State, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Reasons to Watch: The biggest reason to watch this game is to see if Penn State continues its cinderella story, or if the clock strikes midnight on the Nittany Lions. This should shape up to be an exciting matchup between two teams that are currently playing great basketball. Purdue turned on the jets late in the Big Ten schedule and was able to secure one of the top 4 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament much to the surprise of many. Penn State, on the other hand, was pretty bad throughout the Big Ten Schedule. However, they looked great both offensively and defensively in their victory over Iowa. D.J. Newbill and Ross Travis put on a show in the second half and willed Penn State to victory. The Nittany Lions will now have a tall order as A.J. Hammons and the Boilermakers look to end Penn State's season.
Fun With Numbers: Penn State has as many wins in the Big Ten Tournament as they did in their past 10 games. For a team that stumbled all the way through Big Ten play, Penn State is looking really good right now. Offensively they are relying heavily on Newbill, but defensively it has looked like a team effort. The Nittany Lions held Iowa to 26% shooting from the field and 20% from three. That is stifling. In case it isn't clear, Purdue is a pretty good offensively as well. In 2015, only one team has scored in the 70s on them in 2 halves. Purdue will look to use that defensive ability to quiet D.J. Newbill and protect the rim with Hammons.
Players to Watch: A.J. Hammons has finally evolved into the monster he was always capable of becoming. Over his last 10 games he has really turned it on and has dominated teams down low with his elite size and great low post moves. Even more impressive than his offensive development is the state of his defense, particularly his ability to protect the rim. Anything that gets even close to the bucket is either sent away or altered into a miserable shot all together. Hammons has been enforcing his will on both ends of the court recently and poses a serious problem to any team. He is playing at too high a level to be negated at this point. Penn State is going to be able to rely on Newbill for solid scoring again, but they will need more. They will need another great offensive performance from someone like Ross Travis. Additionally, they are going to need Jordan Dickerson to hold his own against Hammons in the paint. Thats a tall order. However, its hard to deny Penn State has some serious momentum and they will have the hot hand on the court in D.J. Newbill.
Prediction: Penn State continues its unlikely run in the Big Ten Tournament and defeats Purdue, 67-64.
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 7 Indiana , 6:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Reasons to Watch: Maryland has been the biggest surprise of the Big Ten this season. In their inaugural season with the Big Ten, Maryland set the conference on fire and proved that they are a strong and competitive addition. Maryland has been able to succeed with stellar guard play and exceptional coaching all season. Provided he sticks around for another year, Melo Trimble is the perfect torchbearer for the program moving forward. Indiana did themselves a huge favor by beating Northwestern. That win last night went a long way in solidifying their NCAA Tournament bid. Indiana's biggest thing going for them is their offense. They have the back court and wings to hang with Maryland offensively and Yogi Ferrell has big time star potential. This game should shake out to be a highly exciting offensive showdown between two of the Big Ten's best.
Fun With Numbers: Both of these teams can fill it up. Right now they are both averaging right around 70 points per game. This should shake out numbers wise to be a good old fashion shootout that will be exciting for everyone involved. However, the Hoosier's porous defense could be the difference in this game. They're giving up 71 points per game and are in the cellar in blocks and steals per game. They just don't challenge the ball well and have a problem guarding down low. Also, for what its worth, Maryland is riding a 7 game win streak. They are playing great, efficient basketball.
Players to Watch: Dez Wells and Melo Trimble have been playing some great basketball all season. Expect them to continue that trend tonight in their first matchup of the Tournament. Over the past few games Dez Wells has particularly turned on his offensive game. In a recent win over Wisonsin, Wells was able to notch 26 points on 17 shots while shooting nearly 53% from the field and 100% from the free throw line. When Wells can effectively attack the basket and get the foul line he is nearly impossible to stop and has the ability to dictate the pace of a game. For Indiana, Its all Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. Those two sensational guards, if they get hit, can carry the Hoosiers through this one.
Prediction: Maryland and Indiana go blow for blow, but its the Terps who pull it out, 78-73.
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Ohio State, 8:55 p.m. ET, BTN
Reasons to Watch: The Ohio State Buckeyes square off against the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinals. Ohio State struggled early against Minnesota but pulled ahead in the second half. D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, and Marc Loving both played exceptionally in the second half as the Buckeyes warmed up from three. Considering his recent struggles, Loving's emergence could mean big things for the Buckeyes. This is Michigan State's first foray into the Big Ten Tournament. They haven't played in almost a week so it's possible they come out slow from the hiatus. Don't count on it though. Michigan State has the most valuable asset in this Tournament: Tom Izzo. Izzo will have his team charged and ready to go. The Spartans don't make many mistakes so the Buckeyes will be forced to play strict defense.
Fun With Numbers: The Buckeyes lost a close one to the Spartans earlier in the year 59-56. Ohio State struggled throughout that entire game. Russell was held to just 4-13 shooting and the entire Buckeye team shot a dismal 29% from 3. Similarly the Buckeyes struggled last night from behind the arc, especially in the first half. Ohio State will need to improve its outside shooting to lock up a win against Michigan State.
Players to Watch: For Michigan State the top player to watch is Denzel Valentine. Everything starts with, and flows through, Valentine for the Spartans offensively. Additionally, look for Travis Trice and Brandon Dawson to contribute early and often for Michigan State. Although Dawson recently sat due to injury for the Spartans, he will try and make up for his recent absence by leaving his mark on this game. Michigan State has a well rounded roster that can beat teams on the inside, on the perimeter, and from 3. For Ohio State, obviously it starts with Russell. However, as is often the case, they will need more to unseat the Spartans. Last night Shannon Scott came up for air and had a career high in points. If the Buckeyes can get similar output from Scott they will certainly challenge Michigan State tonight.
Prediction: Ohio State prevails in a close one thats down to the wire, 75-73.