There is a lot to get here today, including a Q&A with Chad Markulics of Black Shoe Diaries, so let's get right to it.
Michigan 73, Illinois 55
This was a best case scenario for Michigan. They won in a blowout and were able to coast for much of the second half. That allowed them to rest some starters and save their legs to hit more threes today. As for Illinois, well, the Fighting Illini certainly did not play like they were fighting for a tournament bid. I think Purdue broke them.
Penn State 67, Iowa 58
Fran McCaffery couldn't resist getting a dumb technical at a key moment of the game. It led to a four point possession and Penn State built a lead it would not surrender. Now there is officially some buzz behind a team that could make a miracle run from Wednesday to Saturday. The upside to Penn State if they beat Purdue is that it moves their RPI into the top 100, meaning it avoids becoming a "bad" loss.
Indiana 71, Northwestern 56
Indiana might have played its way into the tournament by emphatically winning while Texas and Texas A&M went out and lost. They got to 20 wins, avoided a bad loss in the conference tournament, and by virtue of the bubble teams around them struggling they are probably safe now.
Ohio State 79, Minnesota 73
The Gophers tried to make it a game late and even got within two, but D'Angelo Russell is really good at this basketball thing. His step-back three with about two minutes left was an absolute dagger. Because of him I think the Buckeyes have a great shot tonight.
Now, onto today:
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Michigan, Noon, ESPN
Can the Wolverines keep hitting threes? That is their key. If they are hitting threes, this will be interesting. The Wolverines only lost by 5 at home to Wisconsin.
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Penn State, 2:30pm, ESPN
Is Penn State a team of destiny? We will find out after this one. Purdue should win against a team where fatigue could be an issue, but nothing is certain.
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 7 Indiana, 6:30pm, BTN
As I said above, Indiana is probably safe, but they are definitely safe (and they make us look better in the process) If they win the rubber game with Maryland after splitting the season series.
No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Ohio State, 9pm, BTN
I kind of like Ohio State in this one because Michigan State is horrid from the free throw line. They can keep any team alive as bad as they are.
A Penn State Q&A With Chad Markulics of Black Shoe Diaries
1. Is Penn State just getting hot at the right time or did it get a favorable set of matchups?
It's a bit of both. They had a little momentum heading into Wednesday after winning at Minnesota on Sunday, but I don't want to downplay the stylistic advantages Penn State had against Nebraska and Iowa. Neither of those teams shoot the ball particularly well, and Pat Chambers' decision to pack the paint against both squads has paid off big time so far. The Lions did set a conference tournament record with 16 blocks against the Huskers, but part of that was due to their reluctance to take outside shots. Still, that "schematic advantage" has been executed at a level previously unseen in 2015.
2. With D.J. Newbill leaving who will be the nest Talor Battle Memorial Great Penn State Guard Who Can Win A Game By Himself (the TBMGPSGWCWAGBH Award)?
I'm glad you asked me this, mostly so I can talk about what Newbill has meant to the program. Penn State was never a destination for Philadelphia kids. D.J. has almost single-handedly changed that perception. PSU is now in contention for almost every highly-rated recruit in the city. They don't get most of them, but it's a process, and the scales are slowly tipping in Chambers' favor. On the court, Newbill has obviously carried the team far more than any player should have to do. He's been playing every game with a sense of urgency lately, knowing full well every game could be his last in Blue and White.
As for the next man up, hopefully it's nobody. In an ideal world, Penn State won't have to rely on one guy like this in the future. But, gun to my head, if I had to pick one? It'd be Newbill's Philly protoge, Shep Garner. He's the best freshman PSU's had since Battle, and expectations are high for Flavor Flav's cousin. He needs to improve his court vision and decision-making, but he's got all the tools to be a very good player in the B1G.
3. What was Penn State's biggest problem in close games this year and have they solved it now?
It's a mental thing, right? That's how it is with everyone, not just with Penn State, but when the default mindset at a program is "well, we're Penn State, we're probably supposed to lose this game," then the prophecy tends to fulfill itself. It seems like they've gotten over the hump lately, but I'm still hesitant to say the issue has been solved.
4. If Penn State were to make a run to Sunday would it have enough gas left to win the auto-bid? Could it, dare I say, get an at large?
Nah, the at-large bid hopes died after the 0-6 start in the B1G (stupid sexy Rutgers). 4-14 teams don't make the big dance without the auto-bid. Might make the NIT with a win on Thursday though, and I think every Penn State fan would be pleased with that considering the way the season went.
5. How much will this being Penn State's third game in three days while Purdue has been rest play a factor?
This is always a double-sided coin, isn't it? Purdue is well rested, but they might not be able to match Penn State's energy level. Penn State has momentum, but they've got to be tired as hell having played two rock fights in two days. I think we'll find out early on in the game which side of the coin landed face-up.
6. A prediction?
Purdue is built similarly to Iowa, with their combination of talent and size, so Penn State probably won't have to change their gameplan too much. But Hammons and Haas are clearly superior to anything PSU has down low, and if one of them plays like they're capable, I can see this one finishing just out of Penn State's reach. I'll go with 70-63, Purdue.