What we learned from the B1G's top teams on a truly super Tuesday
Of the 5 teams that entered the week still in contention for the Big Ten title, 4 met one another in a pair of massive Tuesday night matchups.
The championship picture didn’t necessarily get clearer. There’s now a 3-way tie for first between Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Ohio State could throw its name into that mix with a win at Rutgers on Wednesday night, and Michigan State is still only a game off the pace.
Here is what we learned from No. 3 Purdue’s 84-68 domination of No. 13 Illinois and No. 14 Wisconsin’s 70-62 win over No. 17 Michigan State.
Jaden Ivey can make this THE year for Purdue
Illinois point guard Trent Frazier has been a shutdown defender against just about all comers this season, and Purdue’s Jaden Ivey was the latest opponent tangled in his web in the first 20 minutes of Tuesday’s game. Ivey had just 4 points on 1-of-5 shooting in the first half.
Matt Painter figured out different ways to get Ivey loose in the second half, and as a result what felt like it was going to be the best game of the season in the B1G turned into a Purdue massacre.
Ivey showed he’s capable of playing at the next level — like, next week — with a dominant second-half performance. The sophomore finished with 26 points and 6 assists.
Less obvious, but just as important, was Ivey’s play on defense. Frazier, who is typically Illinois’ No. 2 or 3 scoring option, finished with just 2 points in 33 minutes.
Fortunately, March comes up on the schedule before the NBA Draft does. And Ivey is the player Purdue fans have been waiting to see for the past 40 years.
For as good as the best Purdue teams were under Gene Keady in the ’90s, they were built around frontcourt studs — Glenn Robinson, Cuonzo Martin, Brad Miller, Brian Cardinal and the like. The thing keeping the Boilers from the Final Four was the lack of an NBA-caliber playmaker handling the ball.
With Ivey, Purdue finally has that guy — not to mention a pair of Keady-like frontcourt monsters in Zach Edey and Trevion Williams.
This team represents Purdue’s best shot at making the Final Four since 1980. Period. And that includes 2019, when the Boilers were just 6 points away.
Illinois is still in fine shape to win B1G
We’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating: Purdue is the worst possible matchup for Illinois in the Big Ten. Maybe even in the entire country. And every reason was put on display Tuesday night.
The Boilers can neutralize Kofi Cockburn in a way virtually no other team can. Edey can bang around with him in the low post, and Williams is quick enough to float out to the high post to score over him. Ivey is the lone point guard in the Big Ten who can outplay Frazier.
It’s the perfect recipe for beating the Illini.
But good news, Illinois fans: The soonest you’ll be seeing Purdue again is in the Big Ten semifinals. And that means there’s still a very strong chance Illinois will head into that event with the regular-season title and No. 1 seed.
Illinois might be back in the presumptive No. 1 spot by the time it faces Northwestern this weekend.
The Boilermakers have a COVID makeup game at Michigan on Thursday. Both the Wolverines and Boilers played Tuesday, so neither team is at a disadvantage. But that’s still a quick turnaround after an emotionally charged win.
Michigan desperately needs to stack wins for its NCAA tournament résumé, and the Wolverines were competitive in an 82-76 loss at Purdue last Saturday. Purdue also travels to Wisconsin in the penultimate game of the season, meaning one of the teams currently tied with Illinois is guaranteed at least one more loss.
If the Illini can throw Tuesday night’s loss in the trash can as well as they did with an inexplicable 20-point defeat to Cincinnati in November, they’ll be just fine.
Wisconsin is the real deal
We expect the Badgers to be close to unbeatable at the Kohl Center, but the measure of a truly great Wisconsin basketball season is when that success carries onto the road.
This would be one of those years where the Badgers can travel.
Wisconsin now has wins at Mackey Arena and Breslin Center in the same season for the first time ever. The only time the Badgers previously won at Purdue and Michigan State in the same year was 1963, when Michigan State played at Jenison Field House and Purdue at Lambert Fieldhouse. Just be happy we’re not showing you pictures of the shorts.
Given the consistent success Wisconsin’s program has had in the past 20-plus seasons, that’s a remarkable stat.
When you look at Wisconsin’s remaining schedule, only 2 of the 7 games can even be classified as toss-ups: at Indiana on Feb. 15, and a visit from Purdue on March 1. And Wisconsin has already beaten both of those opponents, which means running the table is a viable possibility.
In that scenario, Wisconsin would be 26-4 heading into the Big Ten tourney and absolutely in the driver’s seat for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State is a pretender
Michigan State’s roster is not strong enough to win the Big Ten. And as good as Tom Izzo’s coaching has been to get the Spartans into contention, this team doesn’t have the depth to win it all over the long haul.
Though the Spartans are getting better play at point guard than last year, that’s the definition of faint praise. AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker are ranked 86th and 88th, respectively, among all Big Ten players in turnover percentage.
Walker’s line against Wisconsin was exceptionally poor: 1 point, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and a minus-13 point differential in the 12 minutes he was on the floor.
Point guards are naturally more turnover-prone due to the nature of the position, but Hoggard and Walker are behind the curve in that regard. Both turn it over on just over 26% of Michigan State’s possessions. Peer rates include Illinois’ Trent Frazier (17.1%), Wisconsin’s Chucky Hepburn (16.6%), Purdue’s Jaden Ivey (15.7%) and Northwestern’s Boo Buie (14.1%).
If the Spartans had an all-Big Ten scorer or 2 to make up for that deficiency, they might be able to contend. But they don’t. Due to its lack of star power, Michigan State can only win if it is playing completely in sync.
It’s impossible to do that on a nightly basis with subpar point guards.