Who said the Big Ten conference wouldn’t be entertaining in the 2016-17 season? Sure, the top of the league may not be nationally elite, but the first few weeks of the conference have been one heck of a ride.
With that in mind, we here at talking10 give you a new weekly basketball feature. It is our way to make sense of the chaos and take stock of the league from the past week. Along with our newly minted weekly power poll, look for us to have a heavy dose of basketball coverage every Monday morning for you throughout the rest of conference play.
So, let us not waste any more precious words and let us get right in to the fun of breaking down the week that was in Big Ten basketball.
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers
When you are in a conference that is a complete log-jam, just simply winning out for the week can work. Such is the case this week as we pretty much had to go with the Boilermakers on this one.
Caleb Swanigan nailed a free throw to give his team a one-point win on the road to Ohio State, then followed it up with an incredible one-man effort in an 11-point win over No. 13 Wisconsin just yesterday. That win alone should’ve been enough, but coupled with what took place around the league in total, this was an easy call.
Add in an 11-point win over arguably the second-best team in the conference in Wisconsin? Well, the call gets real easy at that point. It wasn’t just the final margin of victory, it is how it happened that was so impressive.
Wisconsin just couldn’t get much going offensively thanks to the effort Purdue put in on the defensive side of the ball. Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter were a combined 6 of 16 from the field and a lot of that had to do with the defense played on the perimeter against them.
No one is going to run away with this league if early results hold firm, but should there be a run-away winner, look no further than the team that won a game on the road and took down the best team they’ll see all season at Mackey Arena.
Player of the Week: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Sensing a theme here? Well, when you happen upon a pair of double-doubles and sink a pressure free throw to win the game? You bet this was the easy and the right choice this week.
Swanigan put up 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win at Ohio State, while putting up an even more impressive 18 points and 13 boards against Wisconsin. He also happened to shoot 50.0 percent (11-of-22) from the field, 60.0 percent (3-of-5) from three-point range and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the free throw line for the week.
Weeks like this could also make it a very easy choice for Player of the Year, with Swanigan third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game and topping the league in rebounding (12.9 per game).
Most Surprising Win: Penn State over Michigan State
The whole neutral court (well, at least in name in this case) thing should be old hat for the Spartans by now. It turned out to be exactly the same as before for the Spartans, as they were dropped at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia by a game Penn State program.
It was a raucous environment, one in which the Nittany Lions actually felt like they had a home-court advantage for a change. But, what made this result so surprising is that it came with Miles Bridges rounding back in to form.
Even his return to the lineup could do nothing to stop the bleeding that took place in Philly.
This is also the type of win that can change some minds and hearts in Philly recruiting circles. Pat Chambers has made significant inroads in the city, but this win is going to make everyone in the Philly basketball world stand up and notice Penn State basketball just a bit more.
PSU’s win was also a first, a first for Pat Chambers. He had previously never beaten Tom Izzo in a coaching matchup, and getting over that hurdle is a major one in a make-or-break season in Happy Valley.
Of course, doing something to build off the win is imperative, but that isn’t our worry here.
Most Disappointing Loss: Nebraska to Northwestern
If ever a game from this past week showcased the parity that could be on display in the Big Ten this season, the contest in Lincoln between Northwestern and Nebraska was exactly that.
So, why is it disappointing to see this loss? Well, if you’re Nebraska it is doubly disappointing. First off, you were one of the two undefeated team left in the conference coming in to Sunday and had a chance to cement yourselves in the conference title discussion early on.
That’s now gone.
Additionally, this was a home game. Winning at home is imperative in the Big Ten and not holding serve against a team that has been up and down so far in league play.
Home field advantage? That’s now gone too.
But, the most disappointing aspect of this loss is how it happened on the court — mainly a second half outburst from Northwestern that became a 14-0 run to whip out what was a double-digit Nebraska lead.
You simply can’t do that at home or anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. The road only gets tougher for the Huskers from here too. So, we’ll see if they can rebound from this defeat and continue to threaten at the top of the conference.
For a team many believed weren’t very good out of conference, they have been easily the biggest surprise in league play (sorry, not sorry Minnesota).
Northwestern Wildcats measure up as they bow out of NCAA Tournament
The Northwestern Wildcats had plenty of emotions as they bowed out of their first NCAA Tournament. But the one that matters most? This is just a start.
The emotions for the end of a breakthrough season were still raw as the players began filing toward the locker room following the 69-63 loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Chris Collins had gone ballistic on an official, getting a technical foul and, in some sense, costing his team a chance to complete a 21-point second-half comeback. Very clearly (unless you were sitting in the upper bowl right behind the basket and so obstructed from its view) a Gonzaga defender had blocked a shot by poking his hand through the cylinder.
The basket would have made it a three-point game, one possession late in the game and tantalizingly close to completing the impossible once again.
Collins was incensed and the technical foul he received made it a seven-point game. The task was that much tougher. And Bryant McItnosh and his team ran out of gas against a long and feisty Gonzaga team.
The headlines around the nation focused on that call and its effect on the strategy late in the game. It had an effect, Collins said. It shifted momentum as the Wildcats came so close to completing the comeback.
The reality is Northwestern was too sloppy and inconsistent in the first half. Trailing by 18 points at halftime and looking like the team might get run out of the gym was the reason the team lost. The Wildcats struggled to adjust to the Bulldogs’ length and speed on the perimeter. They fell behind and looked tight and pressured as they tried to get back into the game.
It did not come until the desperation seeped in during the second half. Northwestern had to make a slow climb back into the game, but with each stop, each dive on the floor and each dig, the team came back. The Wildcats made the top-seeded Bulldogs sweat.
Northwestern showed its program’s truest colors in that second half. The team was going to fight to the very end of the game. The Wildcats were not going to see this season end with a whimper, it was going to end with nothing left on the floor.
And so, while Northwestern gave itself plenty of reason to lose before that moment, the goaltend was something that mattered. It took the fight away from the Wildcats. They were not going to win or lose on their own play, shooting or mistakes. It was someone else’s. One they could not get back.
Nobody wanted to see this season end. And so it was angry to see its end at least partially taken out of their power. The Wildcats at least wanted the fair chance to win on their terms.
The anger was palpable for that reason.
Soon it gave into the reality and sadness of finality. Northwestern’s season was over. Its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament was done. Another team would move on and the Wildcats would be done.
It was always going to be this way. Northwestern was not about to win the national championship. But this fan base and this team probably were not prepared for that final moment when it came.
What team really is? Even if they did not expect to do much more than to make the Tournament field.
The feeling started to seep in when Dererk Pardon fouled out. He received a hug from every member of the coaching staff on his way to the bench. Fans started chanting “Dererk Pardon” in appreciation of what he did — famously his lay-in against Michigan but more generally his strong contribution on the block and even in this game against Gonzaga’s group of big men.
It continued as Sanjay Lumpkin came off the floor for the last time. Then Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law. The Wildcats’ season ended with all five starters getting their standing ovation. Deservedly so for the history this group made.
After the game, Collins was sad this team’s season was over. The Wildcats played their best basketball at the end of the season. The run through the Big Ten Tournament and Thursday’s NCAA Tournament win and even the second half Saturday were all signs the team had found its mojo and were ready to make noise.
The Wildcats made noise. Northwestern is still the talk of the tournament one way or another — whether it be as the darling newcomers or the team that got robbed of an upset.
There is no guarantee this group will get back here. Sanjay Lumpkin was the heart and soul of the team. His leadership will be missed. And now everyone knows Northwestern can do this. How does a team handle those expectations? Do the Wildcats try to get too aggressive living in the shadow of this historic group?
Those might be questions for the offseason and before next season. For now, it was the appreciation and sadness of this team’s season ending.
After the team had done its press responsibilities, every player, still in uniform, came out of the locker room and into the arena bowl, climbing into the stands to greet their parents and fans. There was a special appreciation reserved for this team.
— Philip R-R (@RiseNU) March 19, 2017
That would be the last anyone would see of this team together in public. The Wildcats thanking those who supported them and generally still enjoying everything about each other, the family and this season.
Northwestern accomplished a lot.
And there is still more to do. That defiance and optimism were present too as Northwestern filed off the court after the game. Northwestern fans stood and cheered the team after the final buzzer for everything it had done.
There were bowed heads and gestures toward the crowd in appreciation.
And then there was freshman Barrett Benson thumping his chest and soaking in the love. Benson seemed ready to go again and get the next season started.
He and all other classes coming after him will no longer view it as acceptable to miss the NCAA Tournament. The feeling from this weekend in Salt Lake City was that Northwestern is here and here to stay.
With the Wildcats losing only Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn and gaining back Aaron Falzon and freshman Rapolas Ivanauskas, expectations will be high in Evanston.
Nothing is guaranteed. But Northwestern certainly should feel it has a Tournament-capable team in 2018. And all the pent-up frustration and rage that were present at the end of the game Saturday have some place to go — becoming a two-time Tournament participant and a Sweet Sixteen team in 2018.
Only time will tell if they get there. But Collins repeated what he said on Selection Sunday on Saturday: This is only the beginning.
Fans of the three other teams in the Salt Lake City pod complemented Northwestern fans on their way out the doors at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday. Northwestern came to the city and took over it as a fan base and proved the team belonged on the court.
It is only the beginning for the program.
Northwestern Wildcats feel right at home in the NCAA Tournament
The Northwestern Wildcats took over Salt Lake City and made themselves right at home in their first NCAA Tournament game.
Northwestern’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament is not about what happened on the court — not completely.
The Wildcats were more than game, taking as much as a 15-point lead in the second half. They were the dominant team, controlling the the game seemingly from the tip. Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew lauded the team’s physicality afterward.
Northwestern not only played the game, but played like it belonged.
So did Vanderbilt. The Commodores were advertised as a three-point shooting team and proved every bit of that. An 11-0 run behind the 3-point shooting from fireballer Matthew Fisher-Davis made the game tight.
It made it more than tight, it pushed Vanderbilt into the lead late and forced Northwestern into a back-and-forth game. The Wildcats were going to get to experience all the emotions of a NCAA Tournament game in their first appearance in the tournament.
And, yes, Northwestern advanced thanks to a puzzling foul from Fisher-Davis, giving Bryant McIntosh a take foul with his team up one and less than 30 seconds to play. The Wildcats frittered away their lead, unable to get shots consistently and got bailed out.
Thus is the madness of March. And Northwestern fans learned it firsthand for the first time. They felt the agony of uncertainty and the ecstasy of victory.
Survive and advance. Give up the game on free throws. Win the game on free throws. Get beat at the buzzer. Survive at the buzzer. All of it was wrapped into one.
But as the team and its fans descended upon Salt Lake City, there was also another unmistakable feeling. A feeling of how special this first trip to the NCAA Tournament is. And, more importantly, how at home everyone seems to be in this setting.
Salt Lake City is some 1,400 miles from Evanston, Illinois. But with the amount of purple that descended upon Vivint Smart Home Arena and the downtown area, it is unmistakably comfortable for everyone.
Northwestern packed the arena with its fans ready to witness history. The TBS broadcasters noted how it felt and sounded like a Northwestern home game — especially considering the dearth of Vanderbilt fans around. The players noticed it too on the court.
That feeling, though, permeated all of downtown Salt Lake City. Northwestern fans have taken over the city.
It did not matter if it was a Wednesday night bar packed with a hundred or so fans wearing purple. Or an alumni association tailgate teeming with purple-decked followers. Or a hastily planned post-party at another bar. Everyone greeted each other with “Go Cats!”
That is unusual for Northwestern. The rest of the Big Ten knows how quickly and easily opposing fans can pack that stadium. That is pretty much Northwestern’s reputation as a home team is giving up its home-court advantage.
This year has been different once fans got a whiff of the Tournament. And now that the Tournament is finally here, fans turned out in droves. It did not matter that this was not Evanston and they were not playing at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern had found a home in its first NCAA Tournament game.
It gave the team an added energy boost. Each Vanderbilt run was met with a critical play and a loud roar from the purple faithful all over the arena.
Northwestern played loose much of the afternoon. The team buried big shots and moved the ball. It closed out and held off Vanderbilt’s 3-point shooting. The Wildcats did not play like a Tournament novice.
Northwestern may have been playing with house money for some time. Since the Michigan win that seemingly clinched Northwestern’s place in the tournament, the team has played with a looseness and confidence that has been so rare in Northwestern’s history.
Even late in Thursday’s Tournament win, it felt like Northwestern was going to answer back. The team was going to have the answer.
Perhaps it was fate Vanderbilt made the play to erase any doubt, sending Bryant McIntosh to the line for his 24th and 25th point in this game. Perhaps Northwestern would have answered and won it anyway.
The Wildcats belonged on the floor. They belong in the second round.
And their fans get to revel in the victory in what is now seemingly a second home in Salt Lake City. Call it Evanston West for now.
Call it Evanston West, for now. The Wildcats certainly have made themselves at home.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Northwestern Locks up NCAA Tourney Berth on Buzzer Beater
No streak in college basketball may be more talked about than that of the Northwestern Wildcats and their absence in the NCAA tournament. You know, as in they’ve never made the NCAA tournament…EVER.
It isn’t something Northwestern fans aren’t well, well, WELL aware of on a yearly basis. Northwestern fans often joke about the NCAA tournament like Chicago Cubs fans have about the World Series prior to this year — you know, “there’s always next year.”
No season may be as memorable as the 2016-17 season, as the Wildcats have done everything but clinch a berth in the tournament leading up to the final days of the season. Well, after Wednesday night’s finish against Michigan, consider that ticket finally punched.
We can say that thanks to one of the most ridiculous plays of the Big Ten season.
Northwestern fans likely won’t forget where they were and who they were with when the witnessed this buzzer beater. After all, it was the buzzer beater that got them firmly in to the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.
Welcome to immortality Derek Pardon.
Welcome to trivia question for the ages Nathan Taphorn…as the one who made the full-court pass for the win.
Of course, the bottles will be put on ice for the next 10 days or so until the name of the Northwestern Wildcats will be named as part of the field of 64 officially. However, a win over Michigan in the final week and a winning record in the Big Ten?
You can bank on a NCAA tourney ticket with those kind of numbers.