Player of the Week:
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan Wolverines
With each passing game, the legend of Hunter Dickinson continues to grow bigger and bigger down in Ann Arbor. While he is one of the most well-known players in college basketball at the moment, Dickinson had to be patient and savored every opportunity he had before he began to dominate. After coming off the bench for the first couple of games this season, the freshman was inserted into the starting lineup after five games and has not looked back. Nearly three months later, Dickinson and the Wolverines find themselves with a 16-1 record, with a Big Ten regular season title and #1 seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament all but locked up. Michigan began this past week winning at Wisconsin on 2/14, and then against Rutgers on 2/18. Dickinson had respectable games, but nothing spectacular. The 7’1 freshman gets the nod as player of the week due to his dominant performance in his team’s biggest game of the season, going up against a red-hot #4 ranked Ohio State team. The Buckeyes did not have anybody who could deal with Dickinson’s size in the paint, and as a result, the big man went for 22 points and 9 rebounds, leading his team to a thrilling 92-87 win. Michigan is absolutely on-fire right now, and with Hunter Dickinson continuing to prove himself and a deep supporting cast, the sky is the limit for the Maize and Blue this year.
Luka Garza, Iowa Hawkeyes
It is not often we get to witness a basketball player on any level put on the kind of performances Luka Garza has put on over the course of his career in Des Moines. In Iowa’s matchup against Penn State on 2/21, the senior center from Washington D.C. solidified himself as arguably the best player in the 125-year history of the Hawkeyes basketball program, when he received a pass off of a pick and roll late in the second half and laid the ball in the hoop, giving him two more points in the game, and 2,116 points scored in his career, a school record. Scoring has never been an issue for Garza, as he averaged 12.1 points per game as a freshman and then improved the average by a full point in his sophomore year. Luka then turned a corner and increased his scoring by nearly 11 points per game as a junior, and now averages 24.7 points per game as a senior, which leads the entire country. It has been no secret that Luka Garza is one of the toughest people to guard in all of basketball, thanks to his height, strength, soft touch around the rim, and ability to shoot it efficiently from deep. With a good amount of games still to be played in his college career, Luka Garza will look to further the gap between him and the rest in the Iowa record books as he continues to help his team win games.
This has been quite the week for Coach Mark Turgeon and company. Due to the craziness and uncertainty of this year due to COVID, the Terps found themselves with four games to be played in only 8 days. One would think the Terps would likely struggle with fatigue at some point during this stretch, but that just never happened. Instead, Maryland hunkered down on the defense end of the floor and used their physicality to win all four of those matchups, beating Minnesota, Nebraska in back-to-back days, and going into the RAC and taking down Rutgers. Defense has been the team’s identity, and they have been playing to their strength as of late, only letting up an average of 59 points per game in their last nine contests. It’s been an up-and-down season for Maryland, but it appears as if they are hitting their stride right when they need to. Sitting at 14-10 with three easily winnable games left, the Terrapins are officially back on bubble watch.
For one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten conference, this is not the way the Badgers envisioned the ending of their season going. They have lost three of their last four, including losses to Michigan on 2/14 and Iowa at 2/18. While their defense has been solid all season, having let up more than 80 points only once this year. The problem for them has been on the offensive side, and this problem is being exposed by the better teams of the conference. Even with the recent struggles, the Badgers are still ranked #21 in the country. With that being said, one more slip-up will see them out of the rankings, and possibly on the outside looking in come tournament time. If they can right the ship and make the tournament, the veteran experience of this team will definitely be an advantage come March.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Once one of the top teams in the conference, Minnesota has quietly had a fall from grace. They are 2-6 in their last eight games, and lost all three games this week at Maryland, at Indiana, and against Illinois. Their star guard, Marcus Carr has struggled immensely as of late, having only eclipsed the 20-point mark twice in his last ten games. It has been known that Minnesota would only go as far as Marcus Carr would take them, and with the trouble he is having efficiently scoring on offense, it makes sense that the Golden Gophers are struggling right now.
My Big Ten Regular Season Final Standings Predictions:
5. Wisconsin Badgers
Purdue currently holds the 5th spot in the conference standings, but are only a game in front of the Badgers. The two play each other in the final game of the season, a game with major possible implications on the standings.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes and Iowa still have one final matchup this year, and that game will likely determine who finishes fourth in the conference standings, and who finishes in third. I don’t believe that the Buckeyes will be able to find a way to stop Luka Garza, and Iowa will come out victorious.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes
For a while, it seemed like Iowa was going to be competing with Michigan for the top spot in the conference. While they have fallen out of the title race, Iowa is still sitting pretty, with a slim chance of catching Illinois for the #2 spot.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini
The Illini are only two games back from the top spot, and have won 7 in a row. They are as hot as anyone in the conference, and finish the regular season with matchups against Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State. I expect them to win 2 of 3 to keep Iowa off their heels.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Nobody expected this team to compete for a conference or national title this season, but Michigan currently finds themselves at 16-1 and a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are the most complete team in the conference and have the talent to compete with anybody in the country.