Five B1G-gest things: Northwestern gets its signature win at Wisconsin

Five B1G-gest things: Northwestern gets its signature win at Wisconsin

Too busy crowing about the lack of Big Ten teams in the tournament selection committee's top 16 that you missed this weekend's slate of games? Here are the five B1G-gest things that happened over the past two days.

1. How 'bout dem Wildcats?

Northwestern scored what some folks on Twitter were dubbing the biggest win in program history on Sunday night, going into Madison and taking down seventh-ranked Wisconsin. With Scottie Lindsey sidelined for the third consecutive game, the Cats' defense took over, silencing Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Ethan Happ in a sensational showing. Bryant McIntosh scored 20-plus points for the fourth straight game, coming up with some big plays down the stretch. While the Cats had a nine-point lead at halftime, it was how they responded to the Badgers' 10-0 run to open the second half, outscoring them 16-6 from there and building a lead as big as 10 before holding on for the 66-59 win. It was a great way to stop a two-game slide that had plenty of folks worrying, but more importantly it was a signature win on the season that should all but guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. Heading into Sunday's game, Northwestern's biggest win of the season was a non-conference victory over Dayton. Sunday marked the Cats' first win of the season over a team in the top half of the Big Ten standings. If Northwestern can follow this one up with a home win over a ranked Maryland team on Wednesday in Evanston, the new question might be how high a seed can the Cats get come dancing time.

2. Bad weekend for the Badgers

Wisconsin has never been a team that's gonna break any scoreboards, but the offensive woes of late might be a good reason why the Badgers were surprisingly left out of this weekend's top-16 reveal from the NCAA tournament selection committee. Folks were talking about Wisconsin as a potential No. 1 seed at this time last week, but the committee doesn't feel the Badgers have earned anything better than a No. 5 seed at the moment. Sunday's loss to Northwestern won't Wisconsin look any better, the Badgers held to 59 points and Ethan Happ shut down in a stellar defensive effort by the Cats. But this is a growing trend for Wisconsin, which has seen offensive production fall off a cliff in games throughout the season. While the Badgers are the conference's top defensive team, allowing an average of just 60.4 points a game, they're seventh in scoring, averaging just 73.8 points a game. The defense is usually enough to make up for that, but in the last seven games, there's been a loss to Northwestern and wins over mediocre Big Ten teams Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska that all necessitated overtime. It's still pretty clear that Wisconsin is the Big Ten's best hope come March, but it's also understandable why the committee did what it did.

3. Great Lakes State clinging to tourney life

Both Michigan and Michigan State racked up wins this weekend that kept them in the NCAA tournament conversation (and in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket projection). The Wolverines yet again bested Indiana, this time at Assembly Hall, and while the Hoosiers are in a free fall, the win will be noteworthy enough to keep John Beilein's team in the projections. Despite continual disappointments on the defensive end — Indiana shot better than 50 percent in the second half Sunday — the wins have come, Michigan now with back-to-back victories over Michigan State and Indiana. While the Wolverines might not be able to stop the shots from going in, they are forcing a lot of turnovers, a total of 36 in the two wins. As for the Spartans, they topped Iowa on Saturday night, raising their Big Ten record to 7-5 and putting them on the cusp of a top-four spot in the league standings. A defense that allowed Michigan to shoot better than 60 percent earlier in the week held Iowa to just 32.8 percent Saturday. The two teams are in the top seven in the standings and had a good weekend after the selection committee announced its lack of confidence in the Big Ten has a whole.

4. Things keep getting worse for Hoosiers

Don't look now, but Indiana is in danger of going from last year's Big Ten regular-season champion to playing on the first day of this year's Big Ten Tournament. It's been a free fall for the Hoosiers as they've dealt with injuries to OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr. Blackmon has since returned from a three-game absence, but the results haven't improved. Sunday brought a loss to Michigan, Indiana's second since late January. All in all, the Hoosiers have dropped five of their last six games, the only win in there being a triple-overtime bout with Penn State. Michigan scored 20 points off 15 Indiana turnovers Sunday, with the Wolverines going 15-for-19 from the free-throw line compared to the Hoosiers' 9-for-14 mark. Indiana is squarely out of most NCAA tournament projections at this point, a near-incredible change of events from the non-conference schedule that featured wins over Kansas and North Carolina. If this trend continues, it'll be an even more remarkable journey from this time last season, when the Hoosiers were wrapping up a conference championship and earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Now Tom Crean's crew is potentially barnstorming toward a Wednesday game against the likes of Rutgers.

5. Here come the Nittany Lions?

Penn State won't be challenging for a conference championship or for an NCAA tournament spot, but don't discount what Patrick Chambers' team has done this season, currently positioned higher in the standings than you'd normally expect to find it. A win over Illinois on Saturday — and losses this weekend by Indiana and Ohio State — has Penn State sitting ninth out of the league's 14 teams. Now, sure, the Lions are just two games over .500 on the season and still under .500 in conference play. But this is Penn State we're talking about, a program that hasn't finished above 10th place during Chambers' tenure. This season — one that's coincided with the incoming of a heralded freshman class — has featured wins over Michigan State and Maryland plus two wins over Illinois. The Lions have won back-to-back contests and have seemingly winnable games remaining against Nebraska, Minnesota, Ohio State and Iowa. It could be a fun finish for Penn State.

Purdue bests Indiana in Bloomington for second straight road win

caleb-swanigan-0209.jpg
USA TODAY

Purdue bests Indiana in Bloomington for second straight road win

James Blackmon finally returned for Indiana, but in the end the result was the same as two of the three games he missed.

Purdue scored its second straight road win, going back and forth with Indiana over the majority of the second half and holding off its rival in a 69-64 win Thursday night in Bloomington.

Vincent Edwards had a monster game for the Boilermakers, scoring a game-high 26 points, and Caleb Swanigan contributed his typical double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Thomas Bryant was sensational for the Hoosiers, scoring 23 points, 17 of which came after halftime.

Purdue got off to a good start and was powered by Edwards and his 15 first-half points. But Indiana punched back, outscoring Purdue by a 21-11 margin over the final 10 minutes of the half. Blackmon scored seven points in the first half as the Hoosiers shot 41.9 percent over the first 20 minutes, while the Boilers got points from just four different scorers and shot just 36.7 percent from the field.

Indiana's lead got as big as seven in the early stages of the second half, but a 12-3 run by Purdue put the visitors in front. Bryant's surprising third 3-pointer of the night put the Hoosiers momentarily back in front, the start of a back-and-forth battle down the stretch.

The key run proved to be a 6-0 spurt by the Boilers that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead, Edwards scoring the first four of those points and P.J. Thompson adding the third bucket. After a Bryant jumper, Swanigan gifted the Hoosiers a chance with two missed free throws, but Blackmon was stripped on the other end. Swanigan converted a three-point play to make it a five-point game. A bunch of free throws followed, the most clutch of which was Carsen Edwards' with nine seconds left to turn a three-point game into a four-point game and effectively end things.

Purdue shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half, while Indiana shot just 34.6 percent from the field. The Hoosiers made eight 3-pointers to the Boilers' six, with the teams pretty much even in most other stat categories.

Carsen Edwards joined Vincent Edwards and Swanigan in double figures with 13 points. Just three other players scored for Purdue, Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Isaac Haas combining for 14 points.

Blackmon finished with 11 points in his return from a three-game absence, during which the Hoosiers went 1-2 with losses at Northwestern and Wisconsin and a triple-overtime win over Penn State at home. He and Bryant were the lone Hoosiers in double figures.

The win made it two straight impressive road victories for the Boilers, who were coming off a weekend win at Maryland. Purdue has firmly exorcized any road woes that led to losses at Iowa and Nebraska and now stands at 20-5 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten.

The Hoosiers, meanwhile, have dropped four of their last five. Indiana has a 15-10 overall record and a 5-7 league mark.

Five B1G-gest things: Purdue impresses on the road, Indiana keeps hurting

swanigan-crean-0206.jpg
USA TODAY

Five B1G-gest things: Purdue impresses on the road, Indiana keeps hurting

Too busy planning, executing and cleaning up your Super Bowl party to pay attention to hoops this past weekend? Well here are the five B1G-gest things from the past two days in Big Ten basketball.

1. Boilers battle back

Purdue made a statement Saturday afternoon with a comeback win on the road against Maryland. The Boilermakers have had their road woes during conference play — losses at Iowa and at Nebraska — but they dug themselves out of a 12-point second-half deficit and benefited from the Terps going without a made basket over the final seven and a half minutes of the game to edge out a one-point victory over what was then one of the two first-place teams in the conference. Purdue narrowly won despite poor shooting most of the day, getting a clutch play from Carsen Edwards in the final seconds. The freshman guard drew a foul with two seconds left and knocked down a pair of free throws to win the game. That is, the Boilers won after dodging a last-second 3-point heave that stemmed from an inexplicable traveling violation from Isaac Haas. Of course Caleb Swanigan was again terrific, with his 20th double-double of the season. Combine this big victory over Maryland with the blowout win from earlier last week against Northwestern, and Purdue might've swung itself into the title of the Big Ten's most impressive team.

2. Terps fail first test

Maryland nearly beat a top-25 team, but the result was still a loss when the dust settled from its first showdown with a ranked foe this season. Despite heading into Saturday's game with a silently impressive 20-2 record, the Terps were getting all sorts of flak for a soft schedule. So what did we learn Saturday? Well, that's tricky to say. Surely the game was close, and Maryland probably played better than Purdue did for the majority of the afternoon. Particularly impressive was the defense against Isaac Haas, and even Caleb Swanigan at times, with the Terps' big-man tandem of Michal Cevosky and Damonte Dodd blocking a combined 10 shots on the afternoon. Going the final seven and a half minutes without a made basket wasn't very good, though give them credit for holding the lead during much of that stretch thanks to a constant parade to the free-throw line, chiefly the doing of Melo Trimble. All in all, a loss to Purdue doesn't look too bad on the resume, no matter where it comes. But the question still lingers: Is Maryland going to beat a ranked team this season?

3. Hoosiers hurting

James Blackmon Jr. remained out — and Indiana obviously lacked done-for-the-season OG Anunoby — meaning more trouble for Tom Crean's crew. In a matchup against the Big Ten's best in Madison, the Hoosiers never held a lead in Sunday's loss. They mustered just 24 points in the first half, turned the ball over 15 times leading to 16 points for the Badgers and despite shooting well in the second half sent the Badgers to the free-throw line 21 times after halftime and 31 times on the game, while visiting the charity stripe just 12 times themselves. Indiana, once ranked in the top 10 and still boasting wins over Kansas and North Carolina, is squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Monday's latest bracket projection from ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Hoosiers as one of his last four teams in the tournament field. Things could get to the point, too, where Indiana isn't in these projections at all. The schedule still contains three games against the Big Ten's upper echelon — two against rival Purdue and one against Northwestern — plus three road trips to Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio State. The one game yet to be mentioned comes against Michigan, a team that roasted Indiana by 30 points on Jan. 26. Simply put, there's no easily winnable game left on the schedule. It'd be shocking for the Hoosiers to go winless the rest of the way, but it isn't hard to see them losing most of those, which would likely axe their tournament hopes.

4. Gophers end skid

Once looking en route to a magical season, Minnesota's season has crashed hard. After winning just eight games a season ago, the Gophers started this year with a 12-1 showing in non-conference play and won three of their first four league games, at one point owning a 15-2 record. But a five-game losing streak followed. Three of those games came on the road, and the two home games were against Wisconsin and Maryland, two top-25 teams. Well, Richard Pitino's team finally got back to its winning ways Saturday, beating a reeling Illinois squad by nine in Champaign. The game was tied at the half, but the Gopher defense showed up over the final 20 minutes, holding the Illini to 24 points and 30-percent shooting after halftime. That might be more Illinois being Illinois — the Illini have had a nasty habit of the offense falling off a cliff — but Minnesota will surely take a win that keeps its tournament dreams alive. The remaining schedule is reasonable, as well, with the next three games coming against Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan.

5. Hawkeyes in position?

Projecting which Big Ten teams will make the Big Dance has been a head-scratching task this season. Four berths seem solidified at the moment: Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern. The rest are completely up for grabs, though the bracketologists seem intent on reserving seven or eight total slots for the conference. The aforementioned Lunardi has Indiana clinging to a berth, and he wisely dropped unimpressive Michigan out of his latest projection. For what it's worth, CBS' Jerry Palm still has the Wolverines in. So with so much uncertainty over who will own the league's final three or even four spots, why not Iowa? The Hawkeyes currently sit sixth in the Big Ten standings after beating Nebraska this weekend. Yes, the non-conference schedule was a bit of a mess, with a four-game losing streak in there as well as a big win over Iowa State. But with a mediocre Big Ten, there are always opportunities to impress, and certainly that's the case for Fran McCaffery's squad. Four of the final seven games come at Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin, with the three home games coming against Illinois, Indiana and Penn State. If Iowa could take care of that relatively easy-looking home cooking and win just two of the four road games, you'd think they'd most definitely be in the tournament discussion.