B1G thoughts: Wisconsin holds its breath, Illini earn it, Michigan's not in yet
If the final weekend of the Big Ten regular season was any indicator, we’re in for an extraordinary week of basketball in Indianapolis this week.
There was no lack of action, with much of it coming from unexpected sources.
For me, these were the biggest takeaways from the conclusion of the regular season.
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Wisconsin’s luck takes a terrible turn
As we waited for an injured Johnny Davis to return from the Wisconsin locker room Sunday afternoon — and that moment never came — it became difficult for minds of a certain age not to drift to Kenyon Martin.
Martin was the national player of the year for top-ranked Cincinnati when he broke his leg in the first round of the 2000 Conference USA tournament. The shell-shocked Bearcats lost that game to Saint Louis, and as a result fell to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament. Cincinnati ended up being upset by Tulsa in the second round.
Hopefully for Wisconsin, Davis’ story has a better ending. But with no diagnosis beyond “lower body injury” released as of Sunday night, Wisconsin fans will understandably be holding their breath until further notice.
Davis’ value to the Badgers was made quite clear in the second half of Sunday’s game.
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Wisconsin squandered a 10-point lead to last-place Nebraska in the final 11 minutes. This despite the Cornhuskers being without top player Trey McGowens, who was ejected for a flagrant foul on the play that injured Davis.
If Wisconsin is without Davis for a prolonged period of time, it’s a blow to the entire Big Ten. The Badgers potentially represent the league’s best shot at the Final Four. They’re not getting there without the likely Big Ten player of the year.
It’s a particularly cruel twist for a team that’s been considered one of the luckiest in the country this season. After beating Purdue on a pair of banked 3-pointers to clinch the Big Ten title, Wisconsin looked like a team with a lucky horseshoe hanging over its bench.
That horseshoe may have flipped upside-down the moment Davis went down.
Illinois earns its share of the title
No team benefitted more than Illinois from Wisconsin’s unexpected slip-up to Nebraska, and the Fighting Illini made sure not to squander it in pursuit of their first regular-season title since 2005.
But it certainly wasn’t easy.
Iowa entered Sunday night’s game as the hottest team in the Big Ten, and is still positioned very well to make a run in the B1G tournament. The Hawkeyes showed why they’re so dangerous at State Farm Center, roasting Illinois’ vaunted defense for 43 points in the first half. At one point, Iowa scored buckets on 11 consecutive possessions.
Brad Underwood pushed all the right buttons at halftime. Illinois limited Iowa to 34.5% from the field and 29 points in the second half.
But to be honest, Iowa still probably should have won this game. The Hawkeyes were an inexplicable 6-for-16 at the free-throw line in the second half. Both Kris and Keegan Murray were fouled in the act of taking 3s, and combined to go 1 of 6 at the stripe in that clutch situation.
Michigan still has work to do
Michigan is in the NCAA tournament. Or at least that was the consensus of every Fox Sports talking head following the Wolverines’ 75-69 win at Ohio State.
Slow down, fellas. There’s still some work to do.
Yes, beating the Buckeyes without Hunter Dickinson was a huge step for Michigan. But it’s still possible to take a step backwards.
If Michigan loses to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, a trip to Dayton for the First Four is likely the best the Wolverines can hope for. And if there is enough bid stealing done around the country, Michigan could very well slip out of that spot.
With a win against the Hoosiers, Michigan would improve to 18-13, which should be enough to get in comfortably. But nothing has been clinched yet. Especially when Indiana still needs another win or 2 to have a shot to make the tourney in its own right.
Rutgers did what now?
Officially official 👀
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 7, 2022
No need to call your eye doctor. What you’re seeing is real. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and won’t have to play another game until Friday after earning the double-bye.
You also aren’t alone in your shock. Even Rutgers star Geo Baker can’t believe it.
Damn bro my freshman year we were the last place seed with 3 wins. I don’t think y’all even understand my emotions rn 😭❤️
— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) March 7, 2022
With a loss to Penn State on Sunday, Rutgers potentially could have slipped all the way down to the No. 8 seed and opened the tournament against No. 9 Indiana in the Hoosiers’ home state. And that scenario was just a missed Nittany Lions buzzer-beater from playing out.
Instead, Rutgers’ wins over Iowa and Ohio State served as the tiebreaker giving the Scarlet Knights the last of the coveted tournament double-byes. Rutgers now needs just 3 wins in 3 days for its first conference championship since winning the Atlantic 10 in 1991.
A potential Rutgers-Iowa quarterfinal matchup would be the best game of the day on Thursday’s schedule. The winner will have a real shot at making a run to the title game.
Ohio State has forgotten how to defend
After beating Illinois on Feb. 24, Ohio State looked like a lock for a top-4 seed in the Big Ten tournament. And based on their remaining schedule, the Buckeyes even had a strong shot to contend for at least a share of the regular-season title.
But rather than serving as the Buckeyes’ launch pad, the Illinois win actually began a troubling trend.
Ohio State lost 3 of its last 4 games after beating the Illini. And in each of their final 5 games, the Buckeyes have allowed opponents to score at least 1 point per possession. Ohio State didn’t face either of the Big Ten’s most explosive offenses (Purdue and Iowa) in that stretch, either.
Almost every team deals with slumps in a season. Rutgers, for instance, was fortunate to get its slump out of the way in November.
Ohio State’s has come at the worst possible time.