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March Madness 2017: Big Ten Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big Ten Player of the Year: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

A no-brainer for this award, Swanigan posted a ridiculous 25 double-doubles this season while averaging 18.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Nearly unguardable in the post without a double team at the college level, Swanigan has expanded his offensive game as he hurts defenses from every level of the floor. A 44 percent three-point shooter who also makes 79 percent of his free throws, Swanigan has rare touch for a player his size.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

Minnesota looked like they might be in serious trouble entering this season but Pitino has done a remarkable job of helping turn things around while saving his job. After only eight Big Ten wins the last two seasons, the Golden Gophers finished with 11 Big Ten wins this season as they finished in fourth place. Mixing veterans, transfers and true freshmen, Minnesota has a top-15 defense and the future looks solid.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue (POY)
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: The Terps lost four starters but Trimble (16.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.4 rpg) was once again one of the nation’s most clutch players. Trimble scored Maryland’s game-winning points five times in the final 30 seconds this season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ clearly emerged as Wisconsin’s best player this season, putting up 13.9 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Defensively, Happ is perhaps the Big Ten’s best player.
  • Peter Jok, Iowa: One of the nation’s best offensive players, Jok scored in bunches (2o.2 ppg) but also improved his all-around game (5.7 rpg, 2.7 apg) while leading the Big Ten in free-throw percentage at 92 percent.
  • Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan: Finally healthy for a full season, Walton was brilliant in his senior season as he gets a slight nod over Nate Mason. Walton had good numbers (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg) and was very efficient (43% FG, 41% 3PT, 85% FT)

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Nate Mason, Minnesota
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State
  • Tai Webster, Nebraska
  • Malcolm Hill, Illinois
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Big Ten Tournament moves east to Washington D.C. for the first time this season as it will be very intriguing to see which fanbases travel to catch this event.

As for the tournament action itself, this has been a strange year for the Big Ten.

Since the committee didn’t give the Big Ten a top-four seed during February’s early bracket reveal, we know that the conference likely has work to do to get even one top-four seed. With the way Purdue has played lately, they have the best chance to win this event and gain a respectable seed, but the Big Ten is going to have to prove itself in March with some pretty undesirable seeds.

The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.

Final: Sunday, March 12, 3 p.m. EST

Favorite: Purdue

The Boilermakers are the easy favorite for this event as they won the Big Ten regular season by two full games and enter this week as winners of eight of their last nine games. With the Big Ten’s best player in Caleb Swanigan and a great supporting cast that was built to play around Swanigan’s unique skillset, the Boilers are motivated to earn a better NCAA tournament seed by winning this event. Matt Painter made that clear in the postgame interview following the Northwestern win.

And if they lose?: Wisconsin

Based solely on recent play, Wisconsin has no business being in the title conversation this week. The Badgers had lost five of six games before Sunday’s win over Minnesota as they went into a freefall. But the rest of the Big Ten is still very mediocre and Wisconsin has a veteran group that knows how to win in tournament settings. The win over the Golden Gophers was convincing enough that Wisconsin might have figured things out just in time.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Maryland: As long as Melo Trimble is on the floor, you can’t count out Maryland. One of the nation’s elite guards is still great in close games and he has plenty of talent around him.
  • Minnesota: The Big Ten’s biggest surprise has an elite defense anchored by Reggie Lynch, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, and an offense led by breakout guard Nate Mason.

Sleeper: Iowa

The Hawkeyes have quietly crept into the bubble picture by winning four straight — including impressive road wins at Wisconsin and Maryland. The Big Ten Tournament draw also happens to lay out very nicely for Iowa. Potential matchups in the first three rounds come against Indiana, Wisconsin and Maryland — three of the four teams Iowa just beat. With something to play for, a potent star senior scorer in Peter Jok and a favorable draw, Iowa could be a team to watch in D.C.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Illinois: A shocking road loss to Rutgers might leave Illinois out either way. A win over Michigan in the first round has to happen at the very least and Illinois might even have to beat No. 1 seed Purdue to get in.
  • Iowa: If Iowa beats Indiana and gets the best of the Badgers again in the quarterfinals then they might be dancing.

Defining moment of the season: The Big Ten didn’t have a lot of great moments this season but Purdue clinching the Big Ten title against rival Indiana on Senior Day was pretty cool.

CBT Prediction: Purdue over Wisconsin

Michigan picks up good Big Ten home win over No. 14 Purdue

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Michigan stayed hot by winning its fifth game over the last six as they ran past No. 14 Purdue 82-70 on Saturday afternoon for a Big Ten home win.

The Wolverines (19-10, 9-7) continued to look more-and-more like an NCAA tournament team by thoroughly outplaying one of the conference’s best teams during an impressive win. Forward Moritz Wagner paced the Michigan offense with 24 points while senior point guard Derrick Walton continued his strong recent play with 17 points and 11 rebounds and five assists.

Michigan shot 55 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range in the win as their offense looked incredibly efficient with Walton playing so well.

Purdue (23-6, 12-4) came out completely flat in a game in which they could have really helped their Big Ten title chances as they are now tied with Wisconsin in the loss column heading into the final week of the regular season. Maryland is also creeping within striking distance as the Big Ten conference race is getting interesting.

All-American candidate Caleb Swanigan finished with 18 points and five rebounds while Carsen Edwards also added 18 points.

No. 23 Purdue earns critical road win at No. 17 Maryland

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The afternoon started off strong in the Big Ten on Saturday as No. 23 Purdue closed out a huge road win to beat No. 17 Maryland, 73-72.

Big man Caleb Swanigan shook off a slow start as the sophomore had 26 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Boilermakers. Even though junior guard Melo Trimble did everything he could to win Maryland this game the Terps didn’t have enough help for him in the end.

Maryland, who falls a game behind No. 10 Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings, is 20-3 on the season but still without a win over a ranked team this year.

Here are four takeaways from this one:

1. This is the road win Purdue needed to be considered a Big Ten contender

Entering Saturday’s game at Maryland, Purdue had lost eight consecutive road games against ranked opponents. Even though the Boilermakers didn’t have great interior play outside of Caleb Swanigan, they were able to hit some big shots and fight back for its biggest win of the season.

With a favorable schedule the rest of Big Ten play, Purdue has to have a lot of confidence after knocking off two top-25 opponents in one week. The win over Northwestern was just okay since it came without Scottie Lindsey but beating Maryland on the road is legitimate.

Indiana has a lot of issues right now and that is Purdue’s next road game. After that Purdue only travels to Penn State, Michigan and Northwestern on the road. That isn’t the toughest draw, and as long as Purdue and can stay healthy and knock down some perimeter looks (more on that below), they should be right in the race.

2. Melo Trimble remains college basketball’s best closer (but he needs help)

Maryland was able to almost beat Purdue because Melo Trimble willed himself to the free throw line time-after-time during the last six minutes of the win. In a tight game and both teams already in the double bonus, Trimble realized that Purdue’s guards couldn’t defend him, so he went into full attack mode going to the basket.

The junior finished with 22 points and five assists as he was 14-for-15 from the free-throw line.

This often resulted in Trimble getting calls as it he so good at changing speeds and getting defenders to hit his body in one way or another. Trimble’s movements force refs to make a call and it can result in two points for the Terps. In the instance of one foul on Isaac Haas while he was called for a block, he was also whistled for a tech and Trimble was able to add another point onto the possession.

Over the last three years Maryland has been outstanding in close games because Trimble loves the pressure of big games and he isn’t afraid to get to the free-throw line. This team still needs to get better at executing crunch-time offense when opposing teams adjust to their offense over the course of a game but they at least have Trimble to help get them over the hump in a lot of close games.

They couldn’t get over the hump in this one, however, because Trimble didn’t have enough help. Freshman Kevin Huerter had 11 points but he was 4-for-11 from the field. Maryland doesn’t have anyone who can consistently create a shot except for Trimble and it came back to bite them in this one.

3. Purdue needs its perimeter shooters to reach full potential

Since Purdue’s frontcourt outside of Caleb Swanigan was off on Saturday, they needed perimeter shooters to step up and make up for the lack of scoring. The Boilers have to be encouraged by what they saw out of certain perimeter options.

Getting two three-pointers each from Dakota Mathias (12 points), P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline was huge as the perimeter shooting got Purdue back in the game with 10 minutes left when it looked like Maryland could run away with the game.

Freshman guard Carsen Edwards also had 12 points on Saturday. He wasn’t able to knock anything down from the perimeter but he hit the two critical go-ahead free throws with 2.1 seconds left after he confidently attacked the basket and drew a foul.

If Purdue can consistently make shots and free up space for Swanigan and the other big men to operate, it helps out Purdue’s offense so much. Swanigan’s ability to stretch the floor (he was 3-for-6 from three-point range) also helps when he has to play with other players who need space inside.

Purdue hitting shots means the difference between losing early and making the second weekend.

4. Maryland’s post defense is solid

Usually the discussion around Maryland hovers around perimeter threats like Melo Trimble and the new freshmen contributors like Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. In other words, big men like Michal Cekovsky and Damonte Dodd don’t get a lot of love. The duo combined for 10 blocks and also scored 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting as they had a solid day on both ends.

The duo deserves a lot of credit for slowing down Purdue’s front court in which they limited the Boiler big men for much of the game. Caleb Swanigan still had 26 points and 10 rebounds but he was 8-for-18 from the floor and Maryland made him work for everything. Forward Vince Edwards went 0-for-7 from the field and was held scoreless while center Isaac Haas was held to nine points on 3-for-10 shooting.

Maryland’s post play wasn’t the issue on Saturday and they need more help from some perimeter shooting outside of Melo Trimble.

No. 15 Purdue goes small, lands comeback win over No. 21 Notre Dame

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Purdue went to a “small” lineup in the second half and made a big comeback to after trailing by 14 at halftime as they rallied to beat No. 21 Notre Dame 86-81.

The No. 15 Boilermakers (9-2) rarely used 7-foot-2 junior center Isaac Haas in the second half, instead opting to play 6-foot-9 forward Caleb Swanigan at center and 6-foot-8 junior Vincent Edwards at forward. The duo came up huge on the interior against Notre Dame and Swanigan was still effective as a rim protector and post scorer to help give Purdue the win. Swanigan finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds while Edwards had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The Irish (9-2) had another strong outing from Bonzie Colson (23 points, 10 rebounds) and junior point guard Matt Farrell (22 points, 10 assists) but senior Steve Vasturia was cold as he was 1-for-8 from the field for three points. Purdue’s smaller lineup in the second half allowed for them to defend Notre Dame’s perimeter-oriented attack more effectively in the second half. Vasturia had a bad game and senior V.J. Beachem was also held to 10 points.

This was a great comeback win for Purdue as they pick up the program’s first win over Notre Dame since 1966. By being able to go with the lineup without Haas the Boilers played with more urgency and speed as freshman guard Carsen Edwards’ aggressive style has helped the team’s offense. Edwards finished with 11 points and his speed gives Purdue’s offense a gear it hasn’t had the last few seasons.

The Purdue defense also switched on the perimeter and made driving tougher for Notre Dame’s guards like Farrell who were dominating in the first half.

Notre Dame has dropped two consecutive games to quality opponents when they held a lead in the second half. The Irish are clearly talented enough to be a team that once again makes a deep NCAA tournament run but they need to figure out some second-half defensive lapses while also finding a consistent offensive closer to get them through games. The Irish have a balanced offense that can score from all over but who is their go-to guy? Colson seems to be the team’s most consistently productive player but he’s also limited from three if Notre Dame is playing down.

VIDEO: P.J. Thompson drains halfcourt shot to end first half of Purdue/Villanova

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Purdue junior guard P.J. Thompson nailed a halfcourt shot to end a fun first half in the Purdue/Villanova game on Monday night.

The atmosphere at Mackey Arena is pretty big-time right now, especially for an early-season game. Thompson’s shot tied this game 39-all heading into half.

No. 3 Villanova eventually outlasted No. 15 Purdue for a nice road win.

Purdue to represent Team USA in 2017 World University Games

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Less than a year after Bill Self’s Kansas program represented the United States at the World University Games and won the country’s first men’s basketball gold medal at the event since 2005, another Division I program announced that it will represent the nation at next year’s World University games.

Tuesday morning it was announced that next summer it will be Purdue that represents the country at the World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan. Matt Painter’s program joins Kansas and Northern Iowa (2007) as programs that have been selected to represent the United States at the World University Games.

This won’t be Painter’s first experience with USA Basketball, as he was an assistant on Jamie Dixon’s staff that led the U19 team to gold at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships in New Zealand. He was also head coach of the 2011 World University Games team, leading the United States to a fifth-place finish in Shenzhen, China.

Amongst the players on the current roster, rising sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan was a member of the United States U17 and U19 teams, winning gold at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships and the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships.

Leading up to next year’s event it will also be interesting to see if Painter fills out his roster with a couple players from other programs. Last year’s World University Games roster had two non-Jayhawks, SMU point guard Nic Moore and FGCU shooting guard Julian DeBose.