Big Ten tournament preview
March, 11, 2011
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- Three things I can't wait to see in Northwestern-Ohio State:
- Can Michael Thompson continue his roll? The spunky little Northwestern guard set a Big Ten tournament scoring record with 35 points against Minnesota Thursday. Theoretically, he'll be facing a tougher defense against the Buckeyes, so it will be difficult for a 5-foot-10 guard to dominate a game. But Thursday he very much looked the part of a senior who is driving to extend his career as long as possible, so we'll see what carries over to Friday.
- Can Jon Diebler continue his roll? The Ohio State senior sharpshooter has been ridiculous of late, making 17 of 20 3-point shots in the Buckeyes' last two games. Four words for Northwestern: get a hand up. And even that might not be enough.
- Can Northwestern shock the world? You may not remember, but the Wildcats just about had Ohio State beaten in Evanston in late January before letting it get away. Northwestern had the ball in a tie game in the last 20 seconds before turning it over, then fouling Jared Sullinger with three seconds remaining. He made one free throw for the victory. With that as a backdrop, Northwestern doesn't go into this game lacking hope the way most of us probably think it should.
- Can the Wolverines sew up a bid? Actually, I think they probably already have, but with fellow bubble-dwellers such as Colorado, Boston College and Georgia winning, Michigan would enhance its peace of mind with a victory today. Nobody wants to spend all day Sunday dithering about whether they're playing in the Big Dance or the NIT.
- Does Illinois have a run in it? The likelihood of the Illini making a major statement in this tournament seems remote, because they haven't won consecutive games since early January. But even though they're seemingly in the NCAA tournament, there needs to be some reason for Illinois fans to expect something noteworthy next week. Time to give them some hope.
- Which guard shines brighter, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Demetri McCamey? Hardaway has been on fire lately, averaging more than 20 points per game in his last six -- and his famous father is in Indy to watch him this weekend. As for McCamey, the senior for Illinois has had a fairly disappointing senior season but has shot a higher percentage in the last four games -- he's 27-of-49 from the field in that span. In fact, McCamey's 18 points in Illinois' two-point victory last month triggered his return to form.
- Can the Spartans walk, much less play? Point guard Kalin Lucas had an ice pack on his right ankle Thursday night after re-injuring it against Iowa. Power forward Delvon Roe had ice on his chronically problematic right knee, and playing back-to-back games will be tough for him. The Spartans don't have the bodies to endure a lot of injuries, especially in the backcourt.
- Does Purdue bounce back? The Boilermakers have had a great season, but they ended the regular schedule with a brutal two-point loss at Iowa. A lot of people, including the NCAA selection committee, will be watching to see if that was a blip or the beginning of a negative trend. Getting a No. 2 seed could depend on the showing today.
- How Purdue-intensive is the crowd? With Indiana having a terrible year and already being eliminated from the tournament, will Conseco Fieldhouse be an ocean of old gold and black? It will be tough to rattle veteran Michigan State, but having the fans behind you never hurts.
- Will Talor Battle ever sit down? The Nittany Lions point guard has played 238 of a possible 240 minutes in his last six games, including the full 40 Thursday night against Indiana. It will be tough to maintain that pace in Indy against a fresh Badgers team.
- Will Jordan Taylor ever get sloppy with the ball? The Badgers point guard leads the nation in assist-to-turnover margin, and his numbers in that area have only gotten better in recent weeks. He has 24 assists and three turnovers in his last five games.
- Can Penn State upset Wisconsin again? The Nittany Lions beat the Badgers in State College in late January and split the season series. Given their motivation level to keep winning and get into the NCAA tournament, expect the best that Penn State can bring to the table.