Big Ten to Big Ap­ple

Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment tips off tonight at Gar­den

The Republican Herald - - SPORTS - By Genaro c. Armas

The Big Ten men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment be­gins tonight at Madi­son Square Gar­den.

MADI­SON, Wis. — What an odd year in the Big Ten.

Michi­gan State looks Fi­nal Four-wor­thy but faces of­f­court ques­tions. Wis­con­sin looks bet­ter of late but still faces a los­ing record.

And Ne­braska — Ne­braska! — is up.

It’s time to take this Mid­west hoops show back on the road again.

The Big Ten Tour­na­ment be­gins to­day, one week ear­lier than usual at a rather un­usual venue: Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York. While well out­side of the league’s pre­dom­i­nantly-Mid­west foot­print, the Gar­den can’t be beat as one of the tra­di­tional hubs of col­lege bas­ket­ball.

No bet­ter place for a po­ten­tial NCAA bub­ble team like Ne­braska to make a stand. The Corn­huskers had a school-record 13 con­fer­ence wins to bust its rep­u­ta­tion as a lower-divi­sion dweller.

“Per­son­ally I think so,” guard An­ton Gill said when asked af­ter a 76-64 win Sun­day over Penn State if Ne­braska had done enough to make the NCAAs. “But we’re not go­ing down to New York just to play around. We want to win that, too. We feel like we have the best team in the Big Ten.”

That ti­tle ac­tu­ally be­longs to Michi­gan State.

Coach Tom Izzo’s team won the con­fer­ence crown out­right and the top seed in the Big Ten tour­ney by grind­ing out a 68-63 win at Wis­con­sin in a matchup of the last two con­fer­ence teams to make the Fi­nal Four (2015).

Each school has had had chal­leng­ing sea­sons for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

The young Bad­gers en­dured grow­ing pains and an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic los­ing sea­son. But there are signs that the in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers sur­round­ing Ethan Happ are fi­nally get­ting it af­ter win­ning four of five games be­fore end­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son with a close loss to Michi­gan State.

In the locker room, guard Brad Dav­i­son had a mes­sage for his fel­low Bad­gers af­ter the fresh­man scored a ca­reer­high 30 points.

“I just told them, ‘I’d rather beat the next week any­way,”’ Dav­i­son said, re­fer­ring to the Big Ten tour­ney. “It’s not col­lege foot­ball. It’s col­lege bas­ket­ball, where the reg­u­lar sea­son is kind of washed away.”

Michi­gan State’s most press­ing is­sues have come off the court.

Ques­tions have swirled over how the school han­dled al­le­ga­tions against dis­graced for­mer sports doc­tor Larry Nas­sar, lead­ing to broader ques­tions about how Izzo and other coaches at the school have dealt with var­i­ous al­le­ga­tions against play­ers.

Fol­low­ing a Ya­hoo Sports re­port last week, Michi­gan State said its com­pli­ance of­fice dis­cov­ered that Miles Bridges’ fam­ily had din­ner with an agent last win­ter with­out his knowl­edge, com­mit­ting an NCAA vi­o­la­tion. The school said the find­ing Fri­day made Bridges in­el­i­gi­ble, lead­ing it to ap­ply for re­in­state­ment, which was granted the next day by the NCAA.

Ques­tions are likely to come up again in New York. On the court, the Spar­tans have pressed on and head into the post­sea­son with a 28-3 record, the best start in school his­tory.

“Han­dling the ad­ver­sity that they’ve han­dled I think is go­ing to make them bet­ter men for the next 60 years,” Izzo said.

Other story lines and things to watch at the Big Ten Tour­na­ment:

SPARTY’S STARS: Bridges draws the most at­ten­tion from op­pos­ing de­fenses, while Nick Ward and Jaren Jack­son Jr. pro­vide heft up front. But in the back­court, Cas­sius Win­ston of­fers bal­ance with 3-point marks­man­ship. He’s 16-of-20 from be­hind the arc over his last four games, in­clud­ing a 6-of-6 ef­fort against Wis­con­sin.

BUCK­EYES ARE BACK: Chris Holt­mann’s first sea­son coach­ing at Ohio State was a hit af­ter the Buck­eyes ex­ceeded pre­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions to fin­ish 15-3 in the league to get the sec­ond seed in the tour­na­ment. For­ward Keita Bates-Diop (19.2 points, 8.9 re­bounds) won league player of the year honors.

BOIL­ERS BACK UP: A three-game los­ing streak in mid-Fe­bru­ary ended Pur­due’s chances to win the Big Ten. But the Boil­er­mak­ers have stead­ied them­selves with three straight wins headed into the con­fer­ence tour­ney. They might have an ideal mix to do post­sea­son dam­age with tested se­niors and balanced scor­ing.

WHAT HAP­PENED?: North­west­ern took a step back one year af­ter mak­ing the NCAA Tour­na­ment for the first time in school his­tory. The in­jury-plagued Wild­cats (15-16) likely need to win the con­fer­ence tour­ney to re­turn to the NCAAs.

WOLVER­INE Ws: Look­ing for a con­tender out­side of the top four? Fifth-seeded Michi­gan en­ters the tour­na­ment hav­ing won five straight games and seven of eight. The Wolver­ines face the win­ner of the Illi­noisIowa game on Thurs­day, then could face Ne­braska on Fri­day. Michi­gan lost to Ne­braska by 20 in Lin­coln in Jan­uary.

Mi­ami 91 No. 9 N. car­olina 88

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Ja’Quan New­ton hit a run­ning 30-footer at the horn to help Mi­ami up­set North Car­olina in a wild fin­ish.

New­ton’s heave off his left foot came im­me­di­ately af­ter UNC’s Joel Berry II hit a tough 3 of his own to tie the game with 4.1 sec­onds left. Mi­ami pushed the ball up­court for New­ton’s shot over Berry, then the Hur­ri­canes im­me­di­ately mobbed New­ton near mid­court.

Of­fi­cials quickly de­ter­mined

the shot came in time.

No. 16 ten­nessee 76 Mis­sis­sippi state 54

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Ten­nessee stayed in the hunt for a South­east­ern Con­fer­ence ti­tle thanks to a stel­lar sec­ond-half per­for­mance on the road.

Ad­mi­ral Schofield had 24 points, La­monte Turner added 12 and the Vol­un­teers pulled away for a vic­tory.

saint Joseph’s 78 No. 17 rhode is­land 48

KINGSTON, R.I. — James De­mery scored 21 points, Tay­lor Funk had 17 and Saint Joseph’s stunned At­lantic 10 cham­pion Rhode Is­land.

Shavar Newkirk added 14 points for the Hawks (14-15,

As­so­ci­Ated press

Michi­gan State guard Miles Bridges, right, goes up for a shot against Ohio State for­ward Keita Bates-Diop dur­ing their Big Ten game in Jan­uary. Michi­gan State is the top seed for the Big Ten Tour­na­ment that be­gins tonight at Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.