Michigan State overcame a 27-point deficit on Saturday afternoon to beat Northwestern, 65-60, for a memorable Big Ten road win. It’s the biggest comeback win in Big Ten history while also matching the largest college basketball comeback of the last decade.
Trailing by 22 points at halftime and by 18 points with 14 minutes left, the comeback for the Spartans was slow and methodical at first, as Michigan State’s defense slowly suffocated the Wildcat offense.
And when the jumpers started falling with a Josh Langford (eight points) three with a little over 13 minutes left, the Spartans made their big push.
Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston was a major catalyst in the comeback for Michigan State as he buried multiple top-of-the-key threes and pull-up jumpers to help give the Spartans a new-found confidence. Winston finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as he came through in a major way in the second half. With star Miles Bridges (eight points) battling foul trouble in the second half, Winston and other Michigan State role players stepped up in a big way. Big man Nick Ward grinded to 15 points and a lot of key stops on the defensive end. Matt McQuaid knocked down some big shots while taking a charge and playing well on both ends. Jaren Jackson had the go-ahead three-point play to finally give the Spartans their first lead.
This was a team comeback in which Michigan State (26-3, 14-2) used the sum of its parts to slowly dismantle Northwestern. It was one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory. Doing commentary for Fox, Steve Lavin said this was one of the biggest one-half swings in his 30 years of being around Division I basketball. The win probability chart for this game is definitely unique.
While beating Northwestern isn’t some sort of monumental achievement this season, Michigan State didn’t have a huge comeback win this season. The biggest deficit that the Spartans had overcome to win this season was only 13 points. Now we know that Michigan State is capable of making a comeback from a very large deficit as they showed they’re capable of coming through with the offensive firepower. And Bridges, the team’s leading scorer, only had two field goals.
This is the Michigan State we’ve wanted to consistently see this season. Michigan State getting stops is nothing new. The Spartans held Northwestern scoreless for over 11 minutes at one point in the second half as the Wildcats were brutal shooting the ball in the first half. But if Michigan State’s offense gets rolling like that because of balanced inside/outside contributions from role players? That’s the Spartans everyone keeps hoping will show up in March.
Big Ten Conference Reset: Michigan State, Purdue are running away with the league
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy, and what is left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big Ten.
MIDSEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
One of the pleasant surprises in college basketball this season, the 6-foot-6 junior has emerged into one of the sport’s most consistently productive players. Owning 15 double-doubles in 15 Minnesota games this season, Murphy is the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 19.1 points per game and is second in the nation at 12.6 rebounds per game.
Not only is Murphy beating up on low-major opponents, he’s getting it done against postseason-worthy teams. The Gophers have already played Providence, Arkansas, Miami and Alabama. Murphy was productive against all of them. It’ll be fascinating to see if Murphy can sustain this double-double production going against a league that has played him for two seasons.
THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM
JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota
DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue: One of the nation’s premier perimeter defenders has also had a quality offensive season. The senior is third in the league in assists (4.9 per game) while also playing incredibly efficient ball.
KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State: Third in the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding, the junior forward is finally playing like the high-end four-star prospect he was out of high school. Bates-Diop is also averaging more than one block and one steal per game while shooting 38 percent from three.
MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State: Averaging similar numbers to last season, it’s no surprise to see Bridges on this list. Although the sophomore has much more talent around him this season, he can still take over a game.
TONY CARR, Penn State: The sophomore has put up big numbers all season as the Nittany Lions are off to a solid start. Putting up efficient shooting splits (including 52 percent from three) Carr can score on any team in the country.
1. MICHIGAN STATE IS A LEGIT TITLE CONTENDER: We had a feeling Michigan State was going to be very good entering this season and there is a reason many had them as a top-five team. With depth, experience and star power, Sparty had all of the necessary ingredients to be a major title contender. And that isn’t even factoring the ever-popular “Izzo in March” trope.
So far, Michigan State has lived up to its preseason hype. With only a loss to Duke during the first week of the season at the Champions Classic, the Spartans have been on a roll ever since as they continue to figure out new weapons to utilize. They’ve scored at least 100 points in four consecutive games. Michigan State has blowout wins over ACC contenders like North Carolina and Notre Dame. This team is everything we wanted them to be and they still have room to get better.
2. PURDUE IS FINE WITHOUT CALEB SWANIGAN: Losing All-American big man Caleb Swanigan was a major (and expected) blow for Purdue. The man known as “Biggie” was a double-double force of nature who made everything easier for the Boilermakers last season.
So far, Purdue has been very good without its former Player of the Year candidate. Despite a sluggish trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis that saw them lose two out of three, Purdue has looked very good for most of this season. A veteran team at multiple spots, seniors like Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias and Isaac Haas have all remained steady. Sophomore guard Carsen Edwards has also emerged as one of the Big Ten’s most potent scorers — capable of taking over a game if he gets hot from the perimeter. With conference wins over Maryland and Northwestern already in the fold, Purdue is off to a great start in conference play as well. Right now, they clearly look like the second-best team in the Big Ten.
3. THE REST OF THE BIG TEN IS WAY DOWN: With many new coaches and players throughout the Big Ten, this was expected to be an odd transition year in the conference. But with the way veteran teams like Minnesota and Northwestern struggled at times in non-conference play, things are even worse than they appear in the Big Ten this season.
This is a wide-open league with a lot of question marks outside of Michigan State and Purdue. When Big Ten teams played two early-December conference games, only three teams finished 3-0 in that stretch. If teams in the league continue to beat up on each other, then where does that leave the Big Ten in March? Are we only going to see four or five teams from the storied league make the NCAA tournament?
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. WHO EMERGES AS THE THIRD TEAM IN THE BIG TEN?: As previously noted, the Big Ten only had three teams start the conference season at 2-0. One of them is Ohio State (more on them in a minute). No disrespect to the Buckeyes, but not many are counting on them to sustain that kind of success.
That means the Big Ten needs someone to step up behind Michigan State and Purdue. Minnesota and Northwestern are both capable of stringing together wins but they haven’t proven anything yet. Maryland is still young and inconsistent as they try to figure out how to close tight games without Melo Trimble. Michigan has been up and down with some puzzling stretches of poor play. Wisconsin is no longer Wisconsin.
So who breaks through and makes a run here? Somebody is bound to start a winning streak and emerge as a threat. But that answer, right now, isn’t blatantly obvious.
2. IS OHIO STATE A CREDIBLE THREAT?: With a surprising 11-4 start and 2-0 beginning in the Big Ten, Ohio State is one of three unbeaten teams in conference play in the Big Ten right now. Considering that head coach Chris Holtmann took the job in June, and had a limited number of scholarship players due to roster turnover, and this is a pretty solid accomplishment.
Can Ohio State keep this going? We know the Buckeyes are going to be a tough out on any given night. Being a tough out also doesn’t always equate to making the NCAA tournament. Ohio State is going to need to keep winning games if they want turn this surprising start into actual success. Thankfully for the Buckeyes, junior Keita Bates-Diop has developed into one of the league’s better players and veterans like C.J. Jackson and Jae’Sean Tate are also producing at a solid rate. Freshman big man Kaleb Wesson has been a pleasant surprise. With the league being so down, it wouldn’t be a shock if Ohio State continued to stay high in the standings but they have to prove they’re for real.
3. WILL WISCONSIN TURN IT AROUND?: In the past, we could always count on Wisconsin to make the NCAA tournament and to figure things out if they were off to a sluggish start. But after this season’s 8-7 start that saw the Badgers lose five of six games at one point, Wisconsin doesn’t look anywhere close to an NCAA tournament team.
Ethan Happ is still one of the league’s best players. Head coach Greg Gard hasn’t found a lot of consistent production around him. A young team that has struggled to compete against power-conference competition, Wisconsin needs to figure things out in a hurry if they want to make any kind of postseason.
For a program that hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 1998, this has been a difficult year for the Badgers. But you also have to keep in mind that Gard turned around a sluggish Wisconsin team that was 8-7 entering conference play in 2016. That team eventually went to the Sweet 16. Obviously, Wisconsin doesn’t have veterans from back-to-back Final Four teams to right the ship this time, but Gard has worked miracles before. Can Wisconsin pull another one this season?
1. MICHIGAN STATE MAKES THE FINAL FOUR (BUT FALLS SHORT OF THE TITLE): It’s been noted that the Big Ten hasn’t won a national title since Michigan State hoisted the trophy back in 2000. And with the way the Big Ten dominated the Bowl season in College Football the past few weeks — with no team in the College Football Playoff to show for it — the league is hungry to prove themselves on a national stage in a different sport.
In a year with no juggernaut teams, this is a huge chance for Michigan State to end the title drought. Miles Bridges is a major star. The team’s other best players, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Jaren Jackson Jr., are all underclassmen with room to grow. It’s scary to think that Michigan State could actually get better as the season goes on, but that is certainly possible. The Spartans might have the highest floor of any team in the country.
But the Spartans don’t have the highest ceiling. The Duke loss already showed us that. Other teams like Arizona have more go-to star power. It’ll be fascinating to see if Michigan State can make a title run, but the Big Ten isn’t going to prepare them as well as it would in most seasons.
2. NORTHWESTERN MISSES THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: Expectations were sky-high for Northwestern entering this season. Coming off of the first NCAA tournament run in school history and returning most of that roster will do that to you.
The Wildcats, unfortunately, haven’t lived up to the high billing.
Playing as the hunted has been far more difficult for Northwestern this season. Stumbling against most of the good teams on the non-conference schedule, the best win the school might have at the moment is a two-point road win at local rival DePaul. Northwestern hasn’t beaten any good teams yet. Now that senior point guard Bryant McIntosh is dealing with a knee injury, that’s something else to keep an eye on. Home-court advantage disappeared for Northwestern this season when the team had to move to AllState Arena as Welsh-Ryan Arena (rocking by the end of last season) undergoes renovations. Things just aren’t adding up for Northwestern right now. They have a lot of work to do to make it back to the Big Dance.
3. MICHIGAN EMERGES AS THE BIG TEN’S OTHER TEAM TO WATCH: It’s hard to get a feel for Michigan this season. Lately, the Wolverines have put together some solid wins against UCLA and Texas. There’s still also the lingering reminder that Michigan has blown second-half leads to teams like LSU and Ohio State.
So which Michigan are we going to see in conference play? Knowing what we know about head coach John Beilein, his teams tend to get better as the season rolls along. Last season’s Michigan team that peaked in March is proof of that. So I’m banking on Michigan to emerge as another team to watch in the Big Ten.
Charles Matthews has emerged into a solid two-way player for the Wolverines and vets like Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson are also still capable scorers. The big key for Michigan is point guard play. Sophomore Zavier Simpson hasn’t been steady enough to take the job full time and graduate transfer Jaaron Simmons hasn’t lived up to the preseason expectations placed on him. If Michigan figures out point guard, they have intriguing weapons all over the floor.
Four Takeaways from No. 10 Miami’s win at No. 12 Minnesota
After beginning the season with five consecutive wins, the toughest of which coming against La Salle in Lonnie Walker IV’s “homecoming,” No. 10 Miami was going to answer some questions about itself one way or another in Wednesday’s game at No. 12 Minnesota. The Hurricanes passed that test, beating the Golden Gophers 86-81 behind a balanced offensive effort in which Jim Larrañaga’s team found its way into the paint for much of the night.
1. Miami’s perimeter options make the Hurricanes a nightmare to defend.
This group of Hurricanes isn’t as experienced across the board as Larrañaga’s best teams at Miami have been, but what they do share with those teams is having a host of options capable of breaking down defenses off the dribble. JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown Jr., Chris Lykes and the aforementioned Walker are all capable of making plays, either for themselves or their teammates. Miami was able to break down the Minnesota defense on a consistent basis, either by using the dribble to beat a defender straight-up or in ball-screen actions.
The Hurricanes shot 50.7 percent from the field and 10-for-25 from three, with many of those looks coming by way of dribble penetration that opened up shooters such as Brown, Anthony Lawrence II and D.J. Vasiljevic. To make plays offensively against the teams Miami beat for its first five wins is one thing; to go on the road in a tough environment against a quality opponent and do it is another.
2. The value of Dupree McBrayer was evident in Minnesota’s first defeat of the year.
This was part of the reason why Miami was so successful with its dribble penetration. With McBrayer, who was sidelined with a right leg injury, out of the lineup Minnesota went up against a team loaded with quality ball-handlers without an athletic off-guard who at 6-foot-5 has some size to him as well. Isaiah Washington made his first collegiate start as a result, and while the focus of some may be the freshman’s off shooting night (6-for-17 FG, 14 points) what Minnesota lost defensively was of even greater importance.
McBrayer’s a solid defender, and his versatility offensively — as he can operate either with or without the ball in his hands — makes the junior a valuable member of Richard Pitino’s rotation. It was clear that Minnesota missed McBrayer’s presence, especially when Miami was able to get rolling offensively via dribble penetration.
3. Dewan Huell continues to build on his positive start to the season.
With his 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting Huell, a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, scored in double figures for the sixth consecutive game this season. By comparison, as a freshman the 6-foot-11 Miami native reached double figures six times the entire season. With his athleticism Huell was able to finish multiple pick and roll actions above the rim, and despite the low rebound total (two) he more than held his own against the Minnesota tandem of Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch.
Huell’s play throughout the night afforded Miami the luxury of being able to devote more defensive attention to Murphy, who still went off for 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks (he’s that damn good). Miami shaded its defense towards Murphy for much of the night, and while he still got his Minnesota’s experienced front court tandem was not able to dominate the game. Lynch added 12 points, ten rebounds and seven blocked shots in a solid effort.
4. The Big Ten really needed Minnesota to come through.
With its win at Providence and Saturday’s neutral site win over Alabama, Minnesota’s got some quality results on its early-season résumé. As for the rest of the Big Ten outside of Michigan State and Purdue? Not so much, with Maryland having two wins over KenPom Top 100 teams in Butler and Bucknell. And given how much the Big Ten has struggled in this edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Minnesota finding a way to come back and defend its home court would have provided a needed boost in what has been a rough week for the Big Ten.
Minnesota will be fine; Washington and Nate Mason should get more comfortable sharing the court as two primary ball-handlers and McBrayer’s eventual return will help as well. But a team that’s gotten off to a good start to the season could have given its slumping conference a much-needed boost by beating a Miami team that at minimum has the look of an ACC title contender.
Last September, Wisconsin landed a pledge from a highly regarded 2018 prospect as shooting guard Tyler Herro announced that he would remain in state and play for Greg Gard. Tuesday evening Herro, considered to be a Top 50 prospect by many of the major recruiting services, announced that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.
“After a lot of conversations with my family and prayer I have decided to reopen my recruitment and explore all of my options,” Herro said in a statement released via Twitter. “The past year since I committed I have grown not only as a basketball player, but as a person. My drive to become the best on all levels has been the fuel that drove this decision.”
With Herro’s change of heart, Wisconsin is now without a verbal commitment in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native picked Wisconsin over Arizona, Florida, Indiana, DePaul and Marquette, and given his talent Herro’s recruitment should not take long to pick up following his decision to open things back up.
The Badgers added three scholarship freshmen to the program this summer, with two being perimeter players in Brad Davison and Kobe King. Wisconsin currently does not have a senior in its perimeter rotation, which helps from a numbers standpoint when it comes to 2018. But to lose a recruit of Herro’s caliber, and an in-state prospect at that, is a major hit for the Wisconsin program to absorb.
With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.
Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.
Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.
Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.
Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games
Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Wink Public Relations
We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring. The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.
The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.
It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.
Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.
The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.