Archives for posts with tag: Badgers

Somewhere on paper this seemed like a great idea…especially with that “grow the footprint” guy in the conference office.  What better way for the Big Ten to grow its brand than to plant the flag at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden?  Forget that New York City is within 300 miles of just three of the 14 Big Ten schools (for those counting, Maryland is actually closer to the Big Apple than Penn State by about 14 miles).  Never mind that instead of waiting for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to open up or choosing to play in the usually available Prudential Center in Newark, they had to move the tournament a week early because the Big East has MSG locked up through 2025.  That’s why we had conference games played the first weekend of December.  And that’s why there will be teams potentially working on a two-week layoff going into the NCAA Tournament.  And let’s not realize the residual effect of the men’s tournament sucking all of the oxygen out of the room while the women’s tournament takes place in Indianapolis at the same time (the league should have considered moving the women’s tournament to next weekend to give it maximum exposure).  Of course, if the conference lands an extra at-large team than expected and if the Big Ten dominates the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament this will turn out to be the stroke of genius.  Thank goodness the tournament returns to Chicago next March.

Fun Fact- while the top seed has won the tournament eight times, don’t sleep on the #6 seed which is 29-19 over the years with one title and three finals appearances.  More recently, the #8 seed has more tournament wins (7) than the regular season champ (6) over the last five years.

Teams to Beat-  Michigan State won its last 12 games to earn the #1 seed for the first time since 2012.  The Spartans led the conference in scoring, shooting and rebounding–the only thing they don’t do well is take care of the ball (last in the league in turnover margin).  Purdue was in first place for most of the season before some late hiccups and there’s no better team in the Big Ten at shooting the three.  They’re also a year older than the team that went one and done as the #1 seed last March.  Ohio State under Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann beat both the Spartans and Boilermakers but somehow got swept by Penn State.

Players to Watch- the Buckeyes’ Keita Bates-Diop was a big reason for OSU’s resurgence;  the junior ranked second in the conference in scoring and rebounding on the way to being named Big Ten Player of the Year.  Myles Bridges may not have the numbers, but the Michigan State Sophomore is arguably the most talented player in the league and is the most productive one when necessary.  Purdue forwards Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are the typical skilled but gritty big men Midwest teams seem to run off of the assembly line each winter (perhaps we can get a few shipped to College Park).

Bubble and Bench Watch- Nebraska is in an odd spot as the #4 seed.  Despite winning 8 of 9 down the stretch the Cornhuskers don’t have a great at-large profile: credit a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 297th in the nation as one reason why ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them one of the “first four out” in his latest field.  They’re likely going to face #15 Michigan in the quarterfinals, and the Wolverines bring a five-game winning streak into Madison Square Garden while looking beyond awesome in their dismembering last Saturday of Maryland.  An early exit from MSG for coach Tim Miles’ team could mean banishment to the NIT.  Meanwhile, the Nebraska bench has become a lightning rod for their antics that depending on your age and mentality could be called “creative” or “obnoxious”.  It’s cute the guys at the end of the pine pantomimed Olympic bobsledding after a big bucket…but beware:  the last team to pull such shenanigans was Monmouth and they were left out of the field despite a 27-7 mark that included wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Wednesday’s “First Round”-  one of the costs of doing business in a 14-team league is the unfortunate bracket where the first day features a doubleheader of despair:  unlike a 12-team format where you potentially have bubble teams battling and at worst a 5 vs 12 game where one of the schools is headed somewhere we get the “dreaded first round”.  (I’m checking with legal on the rumor that we have to refer to it as “dreaded” at all times, like “Lowly Rutgers”).  Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and “Lowly Rutgers” went a combined 15-57 in league play and these four schools will square off in a doubleheader of depression:  two of those schools’ fan bases get 40 more minutes of watching their sub-500 squads fumble around on the court (although 6th seed Indiana isn’t much to talk about).  The ACC, SEC and Atlantic 10 subject us to this as well; it’s commonly referred to by the media as “the day we pick up our credentials and test the phone lines while watching as little actual hoops as possible”.

 

Thursday’s Second Round-

Maryland (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten) vs Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), noon.  The Terps won the lone regular season meeting between the two schools 68-63 on Super Bowl Sunday in a game where they blew a ten point halftime lead.  Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 23 points in 39 minutes that afternoon–and for the record, the sophomore has played in 234 of 240 possible minutes since.  In a season where injuries and last-minute losses have all but dashed the Terps’ NCAA hopes (a bid is coming only if they cut down the nets at MSG Sunday), Cowan has been the major bright spot–ranking in the top three of the Big Ten in assists and steals while leading the conference in minutes played.  His play along with Kevin Huerter (the two combined for 14 of the team’s 23 baskets in the win over the Badgers) will be paramount if the Terrapins want to be playing in the quarterfinals Friday.

Wisconsin has endured a winter of discontent as well:  instead of thinking about a potential third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen under coach Greg Gard, the team that received votes in both preseason polls is likely going to finish with a losing record for the first time since 1998.  But they did conclude the regular season with four wins in six games (and their two losses were against Michigan and Michigan State).  The Badgers’ bright spot is junior Ethan Happ;  the 6-foot-10 forward scored 18 points in College Park earlier this month and paces leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks (but is a 9% shooter from three-point range-slacker).  Freshman guard Brad Davison has given them feast (30 points against Michigan State) and famine (5 on 1-4 shooting earlier in the week at Northwestern) in varying doses but is their number two option.  At the beginning of February it appeared as though Wisconsin was a year away from being a factor;  there’s no reason not to expect they’ll be a handful Thursday.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The four local Division I FBS schools have all played six games…and while each had a different set of expectations coming into the season those hopes often change by mid-October.  For instance, nobody thought Virginia would double its win total from the previous year before Columbus Day and be in position to go bowling for the first time since 2011.  The Cavaliers’ glass (read below to see what they’re pouring) is more than half-full.  Virginia Tech came into 2017 expecting to compete for another Coastal Division title…and barring a hiccup at home over the next two Saturday’s that’s what they’ll get in early November at a nationally ranked Miami team.  Navy learned it’s in for a long battle to return to the AAC Championship game…but is safe at quarterback for the time being in Zach Abey.  And Maryland?  Right where we were in late-August…looking to scrape together six wins and make a bowl.  Looking ahead they need victories over Indiana and Rutgers to have a prayer…and somehow need an upset over Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan or Wisconsin.   All four of those schools are currently ranked in the Top 20.

Alma Mater Update– eight days after it’s improbable victory over #2 Clemson, the Orange visit #8 Miami.  Somehow I don’t think this is going to end well.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Hurricanes over the last decade, it’s that they’re often downgraded to tropical storms in mid-October.  I have an annual column saved in my computer for that purpose.  I’m not saying that Eric Dungey can get it done…but the U does rank 12th in getting off the field on third down.  Breaking out two bleu cheese containers to let one wing soak while I eat the other.

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at #5 Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0), noon, FOX.  Another national showcase involving the not-ready-for-prime-time Terps has them battling the Badgers at high noon…although it will technically be 11 a.m. in Madison.  Hopefully the dining halls will open up early so the students can load up on Monte Cristo sandwiches before heading to Camp Randall.  The Terps defense that’s allowing a Big Ten-high 36.5 points per game will have its hands full with Jonathan Taylor (a Big Ten-best 164 yards per game with 10 touchdowns this fall) and an offense that converts 54% of its third downs.  Wisconsin is also #1 in the league at stopping the run… and we saw what happened last week when the Terps’ tailback tandem averaged under three yards per carry.  I fully expect Max Bortenschlager to get the ball to DJ Moore a ridiculous amount of times…but also fully expect the conference’s best pass rush (20 sacks in six games) to plant Max in the turf early and often.  Terrapins tumble, 41-16.

 

Virginia (5-1, 2-0 ACC) vs Boston College (3-4, 1-3), 12:30 p.m., ACC Network.  Does one credit the Eagles with a 45-42 upset of Louisville or realize that the Cardinals are major frauds this fall?  What isn’t up for debate is the 272 rushing yards produced by freshman AJ Dillon…and that the Cavaliers rank ninth in the ACC in stopping the run.  But they’ve been solid everywhere else on that side of the ball, from #1 against the pass to #4 on getting off the field on third down.  BC is the very definition of “one dimensional” this fall (13th in the conference in passing and last in passing efficiency) and last weekend’s outburst was the first time the school had posted 30+ points in a league game since 2014.  Kippy & Buffy can taste bowl eligibility as well as a Cross Key Cabernet Franc: “aubergine and opaque in the glass; redolent of raspberry compote with hints of fennel.”  Strong suggestions of bleu cheese on Triscuits to complete the fun.  Cavaliers come through, 26-16.

 

#14 Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1 ACC) vs North Carolina (1-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2.  Somewhow UNC has already lost more games this fall than they did in all of 2016.  Blame the worst defense in the ACC…as well as an offense that ranks last in converting third downs.  It doesn’t help that the Tar Heels have a mess at the quarterback position…as the freshman-grad transfer combination of Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris has produced just the wrong combination of inexperience and limitations (as opposed to potential and experience).  Speaking of quarterbacks, the Hokies Josh Jackson has thrown four interceptions over his last three games.  Good thing he’s going up against a very forgiving UNC D.  Hokies win big, 38-14.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) vs #20 UCF (5-0, 3-0), CBS Sports Network.  The Knights (they dropped the Golden last decade when they moved away from “Central Florida”-#branding) blew away Maryland last month…and haven’s slowed down one bit.  McKenzie Milton is completing 70% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (one coming at Maryland) for the highest-scoring offense in the AAC.  The Mids aren’t horrible against the pass, but they aren’t great against it by any stretch of the imagination.  UCF is also plus-8 in the turnover battle, and Navy’s minus-5 is the red flag no ship wants to fly.  Midshipmen fall at home, 33-22.

 

Howard beats Morgan State, Georgetown edges Fordham, Richmond falls at Delaware, James Madison beats William & Mary.

 

Last Week: 7-1.

Overall: 42-12.