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Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament

What a day of basketball! With big games occurring all around the nation, most college basketball fans had their eyes fixated on the Big Ten semifinals. While both games lacked the explosiveness and drama of the quarterfinals, fans will be in for a treat as Michigan and Purdue will square off for all the glory in the title game. Let’s look back and recap how it all went down.

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Michigan

Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament
Moe Wagner’s big second half helped Michigan topple Michigan State (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

The Wolverines ended the Spartans 13-game winning streak with a 75-64 victory. Michigan came out of the gates firing as they jumped out to a quick 13-4 lead behind two three-pointers from Charles Matthews. However, the Spartans quickly responded and took a 16-14 lead. For the remainder of the first half, the teams played each other evenly as the Spartans took a 29-26 lead at the intermission.

The story of the first half was Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines had two long scoring droughts and Moe Wagner went into the break with one point on zero-for-eight shooting. If Michigan were to keep pace with the Spartans, they would need some offensive spark from their versatile big man.

Michigan Coach Beilein recognized this and ran multiple set plays for Wagner coming out of the gate. Eventually Zavier Simpson threw a picture-perfect pass leading the big man to an open lay-up and that opened the flood gates. Wagner ended the game with 15 points on 28.5 percent shooting and eight rebounds.

The key to Michigan’s offensive development have been the recent play of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson. Abdur-Rahkman’s ability to either take his man off of the dribble or knock down shots from beyond the arc forces his defender to play him honestly. Simpson, effectively Michigan’s point guard, has steadied the offense and worked to create opportunities for his teammates in favorable situations.

As for Michigan State, this loss eliminates any hope for a potential one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Miles Bridges struggled for most of the game, only finding his jumper late. One knock on Bridges has been that he falls in love with the jump shot. Rather than capitalize on a smaller Michigan team guarding him, he kept pulling up from outside. Bridges ended up with 17 points and 7 rebounds.

One strategy that seemed to work for the Spartans was utilizing Jaren Jackson Jr. underneath the basket. Early on, the Wolverines had difficulty preventing Jackson from obtaining offensive rebounds. However, especially in the second half, Jackson received limited playing time and the Spartans offense stagnated.

Michigan will now have the opportunity to defend their 2017 Big Ten championship and significantly boost its stock heading into Selection Sunday.

No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 7 Penn State

Recapping the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament
Carsen Edwards steered Purdue to a dominant second half (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

This match-up created a lot of intrigue heading into the semifinals. Could the upstart Nittany Lions stun a top-10 Boilermaker team loaded with offensive play-makers? It was not meant to be for Penn State, as Purdue took care of business in the second half to win by a score of 78-70.

The early goings of this game was a defensive slugfest as neither team could find any rhythm on the offensive end. Both Tony Carr of Penn State and Carsen Edwards of Purdue had difficulty finding space and creating scoring opportunities. However, the play of Shep Garner, who poured in 33 points by the end of the contest, vaulted Penn State to a seven point lead near the end of the half. However, Purdue stole a two point lead going into halftime thanks to a couple of big shots from Edwards and a technical foul on Penn State Coach Pat Chambers.

Carsen Edwards took over this game in the second half. Edwards was unconscious from three-point range, shooting six of nine from deep. Edwards poured in 27 points on 50 percent shooting, hauled in four rebounds and dished out two assists. Edwards creates mismatches on offense thanks to his versatility. His range is unlimited and his ball handling skills allow him to blow past defenders that solely play the shot.

The smaller Penn State had difficulty handling seven-foot-two Isaac Haas. Without Michael Watkins, the Nittany Lions were outmatched in the post and Haas manhandled them down low. Haas scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots.

Penn States’ MVP, Tony Carr, struggled all afternoon. P.J. Thompson did a masterful job of slowing down Carr, who was arguably the Tournament’s MVP up to date. Carr ended the game with 12 points on 22.2 percent shooting. Thompson crowded Carr, forcing him to beat Thompson off of the dribble. Carr, a more methodical player, was ineffective at blowing past Thompson and struggled to create space.

Purdue can enhance its Tournament resume and make a case for a top seed in the Tournament by defeating Michigan in the title game.

 

Featured image by Brad Fedie/247Sports.

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