We’re just a few weeks away from the end of the college basketball regular season. We’re also exactly back to where we started in the Big Ten race — all square.
After Wisconsin’s 64-58 loss to Michigan on Thursday it brought up a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings.
It truly is an amazing feat considering just two weeks ago the Badgers looked like a team running away with it. A few games later and Wisconsin is on a two-game losing streak and no longer has a stranglehold on the B1G title.
We’ve got the preseason favorites of Wisconsin and Purdue in the mix, while afterthought Maryland also sits atop the B1G with a 10-3 conference record.
As we wind down the season, exactly which one of those three teams will end up winning a conference that no one seems to want to win? Could we even see a free-fall that allows Northwestern in the mix at
Let’s examine each teams chances…
The Case for Maryland:
Three of the final five games of the season are at home for the Terps. That’s a huge advantage in this scenario. In fact, the three most difficult games on the schedule — Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan State — all come at the Xfinity Center.
Maryland’s case is also helped by seeing Melo Trimble go off for a career night against its biggest recent competition — Northwestern. He went off for 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting in a 10-point Terps victory.
Seeing Trimble starting to play his best basketball down the stretch has to be good news for Terps fans.
The Case Against Maryland:
It’s biggest remaining game is against Wisconsin, and it is at the Kohl Center. That hasn’t been good news for a whole host of teams throughout the years. Even if Wisconsin has been literally limping around as of late, UW at home is always dangerous.
Additionally, this is a team that needs more than Melo Trimble to be successful. Trimble is averaging 15.6 points per game in the three losses in conference play, yet is averaging 17.2 points per game overall on the season.
Looking deeper than just Trimble, Maryland also is a team that struggles to get it done at the line in its losses. The Terps shot just 68.9 percent from the free-throw line in the three conference losses. Additionally, they sit just eighth in the B1G from the free throw line in conference games.
While not as bad as the Badgers are at the free throw line, those are points left off the board that would’ve been the difference between winning and losing. Could it be that when the pressure is on, this young team cracks a bit?
Well, the pressure of a Big Ten title is squarely on their shoulders. Let’s see how they react to that.
The Case for Purdue:
When you are looking at schedules, Purdue may have the best of the bunch going forward. It gets both Michigan State and Indiana at home and two its remaining three road games are not hostile environments. Going to Penn State and Northwestern? I think I’d take that road slate, any day of the week.
Oh, and if Purdue just holds serve it will be a two-team race against the winner of Maryland-Wisconsin on Sunday. Guess what? Purdue owns wins in the lone matchups against both teams this season.
Talk about the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed, huh?
That speaks nothing of having the monster that has become Caleb Swanigan. He leads all scorers with 19.1 points per game in conference play, leads all players with 13.1 rebounds per conference game and is shooting 50.3 percent from the field in conference games alone.
Few teams have the firepower up front to combat that kind of production, and if you do then Isaac Haas can light you up from the inside as well. That one-two punch is about as deadly as it gets in the Big Ten this season.
This team is built to withstand big challenges thanks to its frontcourt strength, and that will be put to the test in the final weeks.
The Case Against Purdue:
All of that is well and good, but the Boilermakers do have three road games in their final five games. One of them is the black hole that is the Bryce Jordan Center, while there is also the red-hot Wolverines to face and Northwestern’s formidable bunch to play at Welsh-Ryan arena.
Sure, Purdue owns a blowout win over Northwestern, but that was at home. Purdue’s true road record is not a good one, at just 4-3 on the season.
There are certainly games that can be pitfalls for Purdue’s hopes of a Big Ten title. Navigating what is a tough road schedule will be key to Purdue’s chances of getting a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
The Case for Wisconsin:
Up until the injury bug hit the Badgers, they were the clear-cut favorites to take the conference crown. Missing a healthy Koenig certainly wasn’t helpful on the road at Michigan, and the sooner this team gets him back to 100 percent the sooner things are going to click once again.
Additionally, few teams in the Big Ten have as efficient and dangerous an all-around player as Wisconsin does with sophomore center Ethan Happ. He is deadly around the basket on offense (22 points on 10-13 shooting on Thursday alone), but he also leads the team in rebounds, assists, blocks and steals in conference play.
Stopping Happ is more than not allowing him to score at will. You have to play well against him at both ends of the court.
The question that seems to be facing Wisconsin right now is if it can find more than one person to carry this team across the finish line. What made Wisconsin dangerous earlier on this Big Ten season was its ability to have three or four players scoring in double digits and stretching defenses because of it.
That is no longer the case, as teams double and triple-team Happ down low and dare the Badgers to beat them any other way. if Wisconsin finds its swagger from earlier in the season this team can and will beat anyone in front of them. Will they find that swagger though?
The Case Against Wisconsin:
Great teams are just hitting their stride heading in to the final weeks of the season. Wisconsin is stumbling and stumbling bad as of late. Blame injuries all you want, but this team was having major offensive troubles before injuries really hit.
While Wisconsin is averaging 73.2 points per game on the season it has hit rock bottom in conference play. It was once the deadliest of offenses, but is now 12th in the Big Ten during conference games — scoring just 68.4 points per game.
Inconsistent offense, uncharacteristic turnovers and no bench help outside of D’Mitrick Trice is not a good recipe for success. That’s especially true with Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota still on the schedule.
Of the three big contenders, no team has more unanswered questions or are playing on the back foot like Wisconsin is. That’s not good news down the stretch, but we’ll see if they can pull it all together for Sunday’s all-important matchup against Maryland.
Who Wins Big Ten Regular Season Title?
We’re going to rock with Purdue taking the Big Ten title. Not only does it have a nicer path to the title with its five remaining games, it also owns the wins needed to break any tie at the top of the standings.
I’ll also rock with Caleb Swanigan at any point in time, and he seems to be the one player who can be consistent for the three top contenders.
Look for Matt Painter’s crew to find a way to get the job done in a season in which anything and everything has already happened.
Badgers basketball lands pair of 4-star players in 2021 class
Witnessing a win over the Northwestern Wildcats must have done the trick, because two of Wisconsin’s biggest targets in the 2021 class both committed on Sunday.
First to commit was the more surprising name, as Top247 point guard Chucky Hepburn.
The No. 23 ranked point guard and No. 141 ranked player in the country per the 247Sports composite rankings chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota, Nebraska, and Creighton. He also was beginning to see interest from some of the bigger names in college basketball, but chose to pick a team that had been on him for awhile.
“I called coach Gard 30 minutes ago and committed,” Hepburn told Badger247. “The education part was really great. I loved all the academic advisors are part of the basketball program and how they work with them.
“With the basketball side, I fit perfectly with the system they run. I feel like the assistant coaches will help me get where I want to be, because they all played professionally before.”
But, not long after that news broke, word of the biggest target on UW’s list committing would break as well.
Wisconsin would add 4-star forward Matthew Mors to the mix as well.
Mors comes to the Badgers ranked as the No. 115 player in the country and the No. 22 power forward in the nation as well.
The Badgers had been on Mors since his eighth grade year and the persistence paid off, despite other offers across the Big Ten and Big 12 coming to him.
Mors chose Wisconsin over names like Creighton, Iowa State, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, TCU, and more.
With these two pledges, the Badgers have solidified their 2021 recruiting class rather early and they hit on all their top priority prospects as well.
Hepburn and Mors join fellow 4-star player in 6-8 power forward Chris Hodges. With three 4-star players to their name, the Badgers currently own the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.
Yes, Wisconsin isn’t likely to own that No. 1 ranking by the end of the class, but there’s no doubt that the Badgers have done something special in the 2021 class.
It is a huge statement for head coach Greg Gard after the program missed out on some massive in-state names in the past few classes. Many had begun to wonder if the Badgers could ever hit on big targets with Gard as the head coach.
Those thoughts should be put to rest with this class and how the Badgers closed out the 2020 class prior to this.
It should also be noted that assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft was the lead recruiter on each of the last four overall commitments for the Badgers, including 2020 names Steven Crowl and Ben Carlson.
Of course, we won’t know for a while how these big recruiting numbers stack up once they get on the floor for some time. But, winning on the recruiting trail like this puts the Badgers in a much better spot to be competitive for a very long time than previously thought.
Carlson commits to Badgers 2020 basketball class
It appears the 2020 Wisconsin Badgers basketball class has come to a close.
The four-star center chose the Badgers over a who’s who of basketball offers in the Midwest including Ohio State, Xavier, Stanford, Purdue, Creighton, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa State, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and others.
Much like Crowl, Carlson took his official visit to Madison earlier this month for the Central Michigan football game.
Carlson comes to the Badgers as the No. 15 ranked forward in the entire country per the 247Sports composite rankings, the No. 82 ranked player overall and with a .967 grade from the composite.
He was high up the Badgers list for a long time, even as they targeted other highly rate options at forward like Jalen Johnson. However, as the board began to shake out, it was clear the Badgers wanted Carlson no matter what Johnson or anyone else was going to do in this class.
It appears that the relationship that Carlson formed with the current roster while on his visit is what put the Badgers over the top in this lengthly recruitment.
“A big focus was on getting to know the players, so I hung out with them a lot,” Carlson told Badger247. “They talked about how the coaching staff tells you straight-up how everything is going to be, they don’t sugarcoat anything. They told me about how much they liked it there.”
“I had a pretty good idea of how Wisconsin was going in,” he continued. “The biggest thing was getting to know the players and I really liked them. I know about the history and the campus, but getting to know the players was big for sure.”
Adding this type of nationally known name to an already big class is huge for the Badgers. In fact, UW has the No. 4 ranked class per the 247Sports composite team rankings.
It would be the highest the Badgers have ever finished in the rankings, with the 2006 class under Bo Ryan the next highest at No. 20 in the country.
Wisconsin is getting easily one of the most skilled big men in the class and an instant impact type of player. What has been a question mark up front could easily be a strength of this team quickly thanks to Carlson and Crowl’s commitments to the class.
Badgers add 4-star center to 2020 basketball class
What could be a historic recruiting class for the Wisconsin Badgers got another boost on Tuesday as 4-star center Steven Crowl verbally committed to the Badgers.
He went on his official visit this past weekend and apparently it was all he needed to see.
Crowl has since cancelled trips to other contenders like Colorado, Iowa, and Northern Iowa. He also had an offer from the in-state Gophers and was thinking about a visit there.
However, his official visit for the Central Michigan football game weekend was all he needed to pull the trigger on a commitment to Gard and the Badgers.
Crowl joins an already loaded Badgers 2020 class that includes in-state star Johnny Davis and his twin brother Jordan Davis, as well as the No. 25 ranked point guard in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings, Lorne Bowman.
This class also already has preferred walk-on Carter Gilmore, who chose that offer over other mid-major D1 offers and saw his recruitment pick up considerably in the July evaluation period.
While his name wasn’t a hot one on the recruiting trail, he was a late riser and currently sits as the No. 102 ranked player in the class overall and the No. 17 center in the nation per the 247Sports composite rankings.
The St. Paul, Minn. native is also continuing the pipeline of players coming from the cross-border rival Gopher state. He comes from the same AAU program — Minnesota D1 — that produced both Tyler Wahl and Nate Reuvers.
With Crowl in the fold, Wisconsin has added 12 players from the state of Minnesota in the 247Sports composite era, according to Badger247.
When you take a look at Crowl’s film, what you see is someone that has begun to both physically and mentally mature. He’s got the skill set that UW likes out of their bigs as well, with a nice looking shot from the outside.
However, what you also see on tape is someone that may need to take a year to adjust to the college game and that may be perfectly fine with the coaching staff as they still will have Nate Reuvers and Tyler Wahl to work with up front as starters.
It will be interesting to see how Crowl digests the speed of the college game early on. If he can adjust to that and the physicality, he may indeed find himself in the rotation quickly though.
He is certainly in the mold of what has become the classic Wisconsin big man.
Former Badger Jon Leur traded to Milwaukee Bucks
They say you can always go home, and for one former Wisconsin Badger he’s coming back to a state he called home for four years.
Former Badgers forward Jon Leuer was traded early on Thursday morning from the Detroit Pistons to the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange for Leuer, the Bucks gave up the 30th overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft and traded away Tony Snell.
Last season, Leuer played in 41 games for the Pistons and made just one start. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in his ninth season in the NBA.
Leuer is a very similar player to Snell, but comes at a much more team-friendly salary.
In trading away Snell, the Bucks free up an additional $4 million in salary this year and another $12 million next year.
This could be seen as a way for the Bucks to pony up the big money that Khris Middleton wants from the team in order to stay in Milwaukee.
As for Leuer, he is 17th on the all-time Badgers scoring list with 1,376 points to his name. He also finished his career with 551 rebounds.
Leuer’s final season in Madison was his best statistically, as he helped lead the 2010-11 Badgers team to the Sweet 16. He averaged 18.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game that year.
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