clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What we learned from the Big Ten Tournament, capping off a crazy year for the conference

The ‘Cats didn’t advance this weekend, but we still learned some valuable information about the Big Ten heading into March Madness.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Conference tournaments have come and gone. Selection Sunday is over and done with. All that’s left is the Big Dance. We now know that Northwestern is (as many projected) a seven seed, and will play 10-seed Boise State on Thursday at 6:35 p.m. CT. The ‘Cats are also one of just eight Big Ten teams to make the tournament this year after the committee somewhat surprisingly elected to omit Rutgers from the field. Here’s what we learned about the ‘Cats and the rest of the Big Ten over the past week at the United Center during the Big Ten Tournament:

The Northwestern offense needs to find some sort of rhythm

It looks dreadful out there. The ‘Cats have the conference’s Defensive Player Of The Year in Chase Audige, and their vaunted trap defense has continued to stymie opponents, but they can’t put the ball through the hoop. And that is a problem. In its loss against Penn State, Northwestern shot the ball at 32% clip. It felt worse than that.

Ty Berry was especially awful, shooting just 1-of-10 from the field and missing seven of his eight three-point attempts. Audige continued his poor offensive stretch, scoring just six points on a 3-of-14 shooting night. Even Boo Buie looked a bit rattled out there on the big stage, air-balling a couple of threes and only shooting 6-of-17 from the floor.

The bottom line is, players have to start scoring for the ‘Cats if they want to advance in the tournament. They might be able to get away with a mediocre offensive output against Boise State if they play sound defense and don’t give the ball away. However, their odds in the second round, likely against UCLA, are next to none without improvement.

The key here is probably Audige. The slashing senior is a massive reason why Northwestern is where it is at this point in the season. Without him, there’s no guarantees this roster would be dancing. But it’s okay to admit at this point that he’s suffered some serious regression on the offensive end of the floor in the past month. This is the time for him to pick up the pace. The ‘Cats offense is in desperate need of it.

Penn State is a problem

The Nittany Lions won three games in Chicago this weekend and were a three-pointer away from upsetting Purdue in the championship game. Jalen Pickett is legit. Seth Lundy doesn’t miss even if you get a hand in his face (Northwestern knows this better than anyone). Andrew Funk, outside of his performance against Purdue, has been shooting the lights out.

The team’s weakness is size. Penn State had absolutely no answer for Zach Edey on Sunday when the Big Ten Player Of The Year dropped 30 points on them and also had 13 rebounds. Even so, this team has proven that it is as much of a threat to win some games in the tournament as any Big Ten squad. Texas A&M certainly isn’t a great draw, but it isn’t an unwinnable matchup either.

Purdue and Zach Edey are the best team in the conference without any rivals

We kind of knew this the whole time, but it’s worth pointing out to extinguish any level of doubt. Purdue won the conference in the regular season, won the Big Ten Tournament, and is now a one seed in March Madness. The Boilermakers are, and always have been, the best team.

It’s all because they have Edey. Nobody in the Big Ten besides Indiana (who beat Purdue twice) has ever really had anyone to match up with Edey. The junior had a ho-hum 16 points in his first game of the weekend against Rutgers. He then promptly exploded for 30-plus in each of the next two contests, powering the Boilermakers to the championship.

Northwestern rode a defensive effort from Matt Nicholson that was just good enough and a miraculous appearance of early-season Chase Audige in the last four minutes to victory against Purdue. But outside of a few losses like that, and the two to Indiana, Purdue has been world-beaters all year.

This was legitimately a ridiculous year in the conference

All year we talked about how the parity we were experiencing in the Big Ten was unprecedented. The tournament proved that it was. Purdue took care of business just as it did in the regular season, but everything else was a complete mess of upsets.

Day One featured an Ohio State win over Wisconsin followed by a Minnesota win over Nebraska. The next day, three of four results were also upsets; Minnesota was the only underdog that couldn’t get it done. On Friday, Northwestern lost to Penn State after Ohio State beat Michigan State by 10 for its third win in three days. Then, in the semis, Penn State shocked everyone and beat Indiana to advance to the Big Ten Championship. Madness.

Regardless of how things go for the conference in the next week, it’s important to step back and understand what we just watched for the past two-and-a-half months. This was a crazy, ridiculous year of Big Ten basketball.