Edey, Purdue on top of wild Big Ten heading into tourney
CHICAGO (AP) — While Zach Edey and Purdue won the Big Ten title this season, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana had their share of big moments. Same for Boo Buie and Northwestern, and Tyson Walker and Michigan State.
The Big Ten Conference Tournament is back in Chicago this year, and — judging by the regular season — it could be a wild week in the Windy City.
“It’s March. You know it’s a good time of year, beautiful time of year,” Purdue guard Brandon Newman said, “and there’s going to be a lot of close games.”
Led by the 7-foot-4 Edey, a matchup nightmare and one of the front-runners for national player of the year, the top-seeded Boilermakers became the first team since Michigan in 2014 to win the Big Ten by at least three games.
Ranked No. 5 in the final AP poll of the regular season, Purdue could secure a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament with another championship at the United Center.
But the Boilermakers have split their last eight games — all in the Big Ten — and they blew a 24-point lead during a 76-71 victory over Illinois on Sunday.
“I think everybody in our league is battle-tested, and it’s hard,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “It’s really hard to go from game to game and adjust to some things.”
Behind the Boilermakers, a whopping nine schools finished with eight to 10 losses in Big Ten play. The No. 2 seed for the conference tournament wasn’t decided until Northwestern’s 65-53 victory at Rutgers on Sunday night.
The Wildcats set a school record with 12 Big Ten wins this season, and their 21 victories overall are the most for the program since the 2016-17 team went 24-12.
“I’m exhausted, but it’s really fun to compete in a league that’s this good,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said after the win over the Scarlet Knights.
The Wildcats swept No. 19 Indiana this season, winning both games by a total of three points. They could meet again Saturday in the tournament semifinals, but Maryland and Illinois also are on their side of the bracket.
“Our league is just a very competitive league with a lot of really good teams,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I would say all of them are good, and it’s going to be interesting to see which one’s going to be the last one standing, because now you’re playing in a neutral site.”
Walker and Michigan State have been playing with heavy hearts since last month’s mass shooting on campus that left three students dead and five more wounded.
The fourth-seeded Spartans closed the season with three wins in four games, including an 80-65 victory against Indiana on Feb. 21.
“I think the best thing is we’ve proven, playing arguably one of the toughest schedules in the league, that we can play with anybody,” coach Tom Izzo said. “Unfortunately a lot of teams can play with us.”
Edey led the Big Ten with 21.9 points and 12.8 rebounds per game this season, but there are a couple more stars who also could put together a big tournament.
Jackson-Davis is coming off two of his best games of the season. He had 26 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals in a 90-68 loss to Kris Murray and Iowa last week. He followed that up with 27 points during an overtime win against Michigan on Sunday.
“He’s had a stellar, stellar career here at Indiana, but he’s still got a lot of basketball left,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said.
Murray is averaging 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. He leads Iowa with 61 3-pointers in 178 attempts.
Wisconsin has played in 22 of the last 23 NCAA Tournaments, but it’s in jeopardy of missing out this year. After putting together an 11-2 start, the Badgers finished with a 17-13 record.
Coach Greg Gard’s team likely needs a deep run this week to make the NCAA Tournament field again. It plays Ohio State in the opening game on Wednesday.
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