Caris LeVert (AP Photo)

Big Ten Tournament: Michigan survives furious Ohio State comeback

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Caris LeVert finished with 17 points and eight boards, but it was his only offensive rebound of the night that was the single biggest play of the first Big Ten semifinal.

With 17 seconds left, Nik Stauskas missed a three with the Wolverines up 71-69, but LeVert came soaring in and grabbed the rebound from the outstretch hands of Aaron Craft. Spike Albrecht would hit a free throw and Craft would lose control of the ball as he tried to shoot a game-tying three to close the game as the Big Ten regular season champions advanced to the Big Ten tournament title game with a 72-69 win.

The win keeps Michigan in contention for the fourth and final No. 1 seed, and ironically enough, if Wisconsin can knock off Michigan State tonight, the Big Ten title may be played with a spot as a top seed on the line.

The Wolverines came out on fire on Saturday, hitting 8-for-13 from three in the first half, leading by as much as 16 before intermission, and then knocking down a triple on their first three possessions of the second half. But just like they did against Illinois on Friday, John Beilein’s club was unable to put Ohio State away. The Illini erased a big deficit in the second half and would have beaten the Wolverines if Tracy Abrams had made an open five-footer at the buzzer. The Buckeyes twice stormed back from double-digit deficits on Saturday.

The concerning part?

Neither Illinois or Ohio State are considered to be good offensive teams, and the Wolverines certainly aren’t considered a good defensive team. Is that just the result of March feistiness, or is this a trend that we need to keep an eye on moving forward?

Conversely, the last couple of days, Ohio State has done well to make themselves appear to be more of a contender than they looked for much of the season.

Michigan has their defensive issues, but scrapping back against them — twice! — when they were shooting as well as they were is impressive, especially when you consider that they expended a lot of energy digging themselves out of an 18-point hole against Nebraska on Friday night. 

We all know how good the Buckeyes can be defensively, but if they can find a way to tap into the offensive firepower they showed off in the last two games more consistently, they’ll make some noise in the next three weeks.

No. 4 Maryland refocuses, slows down No. 18 Purdue

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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No. 18 Purdue and No. 4 Maryland exchanged leads for most of the first 33 minutes before the Boilermakers scored five straight points on layups by Rapheal Davis (who was fouled on his make) and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue was getting the touches it wanted around the basket, and Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins weren’t doing a whole lot to keep it from happening either.

Turgeon called a timeout to get his team back in sync defensively, and as a result Maryland went on a 9-0 run that ultimately led to their winning by the final score of 72-61.

Maryland’s big men, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, did a much better job down the stretch of keeping Purdue from getting the ball inside to senior center A.J. Hammons. Hammons finished the game with 18 points and ten rebounds, but only two of those points came after Maryland’s 9-0 second half run. But keeping the ball from getting inside is just as much about the players defending the passers as it is keeping the big(s) from getting to his preferred spot.

Defensively Maryland took away the passing angles and essentially made Purdue’s guards make plays, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. That led to far too many perimeter shots for Purdue, which shot 3-for-23 on the day from beyond the arc. Add in the fact that they attempted just five free throws as a team, making two, and areas in which the Boilermakers can benefit went neglected in College Park.

By comparison Maryland was able to make a habit of going to the foul line, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe with Rasheed Sulaimon and Melo Trimble combining to go 17-for-19 on the day. The foul line helped Trimble make up for an off day from the field, as he shot 2-for-12, but the sophomore’s ability to work off of ball screens ultimately opened things up for Maryland even with his shots not falling.

Add in the fact that Sulaimon (21 points, ten rebounds) and Carter (19 points, seven rebounds) were able to pick up the slack, with Diamond Stone adding 12 points and six rebounds, and it’s easy to see why Maryland was able to turn things around down the stretch.

Maryland’s been a good defensive team this season, but they got away from that for a significant portion of Saturday’s game. A key timeout to get the team refocused paid off, the the Terrapins defending at a level that made it incredibly difficult for Purdue to get anything going. And as a result, Maryland remains within a game of leaders Iowa and Indiana in the Big Ten title race.

Darryl Reynolds shines, Kris Dunn struggles as No. 3 Villanova beat No. 11 Providence

Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds (45) dunks the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Villanova, Pa. Villanova won 83-58. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Replacing the injured Daniel Ochefu, who missed his third straight game as the result of a concussion, Darryl Reynolds finished with a career-high 19 points and 10 boards as No. 3 Villanova went into Providence and knocked off the No. 11 Friars, 72-60.

Josh Hart chipped in with 14 points and 13 boards (seven of which were offensive), Kris Jenkins notched a double-double as well and Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 points for the Wildcats, who improved to 10-1 in Big East play, keeping them all alone in first place in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win, which wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate, is that Villanova did it while shooting just 5-for-22 from three. The Wildcats have been reliant on the three during this recent run atop the conference, and on Saturday, they won by controlling the the glass and the paint.

Reynolds’ performance was something else. This is a guy who entered the game averaging just 2.3 points and a reputation for being little more than the reason that Ochefu played so many minutes, but it got to the point on Saturday that he was being double-teamed in the post to get the ball out of his hands. That’s pretty remarkable.

As if the fact that Villanova, playing without their best rebounder, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and totally controlled the defensive glass.

 

Much of that is likely due to the fact that Ben Bentil, the 6-foot-8 forward for the Friars that is the Big East’s leading scorer, was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at DePaul earlier this week. He finished 20 points, but much of that came in the form of jumpers and shots at the rim while his two rebounds was much more indicative of the impact that he was able to make with his ankle.

But what was really concerning for Providence was that Kris Dunn was downright awful. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, committed six turnovers and simply made the wrong decision too many times. Yes, he was likely pressing due to the fact that Bentil was injured and Villanova’s defense was keying on him, but it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what his floor is.

He’s Kris Dunn.

He’s going to be keyed on by defenses every single time he steps on a basketball court.

He has to be better than he was today.