Player of the Week:
Ayo Dosunmu, (Illinois)
You can teach a basketball player how to shoot, pass, and defend, but one thing you cannot teach is toughness. Toughness is something you either have or you don’t, and Fighting Illini faithful should feel extremely relieved, because their superstar and captain, Ayo Dosunmu, definitely has it. After getting hit in the face and breaking his nose going up for a layup against Michigan State on 2/23, Dosunmu was forced to sit out for three straight contests, including a matchup with #2 ranked Michigan, before he was finally able to return to the court against #7 Ohio State in his team’s final game of the regular season on March 6th. Dosunmu returned, sporting a superhero-like mask, and played like a superhero, dropping 19 points on a stingy Ohio State defense, including five points in the final 45 seconds of the game, which ended up being the winning points. The heroic effort by the junior from Chicago has definitely given Illinois a ton of momentum going into the conference tournament, and a solid performance there should provide the Fighting Illini with a #1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois Fighting Illini
In college basketball, the closer it gets to March, the more you find out what specific players and teams are really about. This past week, the final week of the Big Ten regular season, we found out that there is no doubt that Illinois is truly one of the best teams in the entire country, and this is the case even without star player Ayo Dosunmu. During Dosunmu’s absence, Illinois picked up wins over Nebraska and Wisconsin, and then this past week beat Michigan by 23 in their final game without their star guard on March 2. In their final game of the week, Dosunmu led his team to a big win over Ohio State, solidifying the #2 seed in the conference tournament. This win streak by Illinois, both with and without Ayo Dosunmu, is especially important for this team, as it shows they are an elite team with a ton of depth besides Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn.
Quietly, Purdue may just be the hottest team in the Big Ten at the moment. The two wins they picked up this past week against Wisconsin on March 2 and Indiana on March 6 give them a five-game win streak to close the regular season. The win over Indiana marked the Boilermakers ninth straight win over their in-state rivals, the longest win streak they put together against the Hoosiers since they won twelve straight series matchups from 1908-1914. Another thing to note about Purdue is that they are 14-1 in games played in their home-state of Indiana, and they will not have to leave the state for another game this season, as both the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament are both being held there.
It has been an up-and-down season in College Park, but it finally appears that coach Mark Turgeon and his team figured out their winning formula. They came into the week winners of five straight games over a two-week span, and playing the best ball they had played all year. They had gotten themselves back into NCAA Tournament consideration, all while establishing themselves as one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball. Then, they met with Northwestern on March 3rd in their only game of the week. Aaron Wiggins had a career night, dropping 26 points, but it wasn’t enough to carry his team offensively, as UMD allowed Northwestern to score the final six points of the game and steal a 60-55 victory. This is the type of bad loss that halts all momentum, and leaves Maryland’s future up in the air. Their regular-season finale matchup against Penn State on March 7th and their performance in the conference tournament will determine if Maryland will be dancing this year.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Heading into the final week of February, Ohio State was ranked #4 in the country, and on pace to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward nearly two weeks, and the Buckeyes are losers of four in a row. In their lone game of the week on March 6, OSU choked at the end and allowed a masked Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois to steal a big win. The Buckeyes have struggled offensively down the stretch during this losing streak, and as a result have slid down to fifth in the conference standings. A good showing in the conference tournament could bump the Buckeyes back into the 2 or 3 seed conversation, but this recent cold streak is definitely cause for concern in Columbus.
My Top 5 2021 Big Ten Tournament Predictions
5. Luka Garza continues to dominate
Having just recently gotten his #55 jersey retired by the Iowa basketball program, and inspired Garza will dominate the rest of the conference.
4. Purdue upsets one of the higher-ranked teams
Purdue has quietly been on fire recently, and it can be assured that the teams in front of them, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, definitely want to avoid the Boilermakers for as long as possible.
3. Penn State beats Nebraska & Wisconsin
The Nittany Lions play hard and with heart, and definitely have the talent to beat these two teams who have been struggling as of late.
2. Michigan does not win the Big Ten Tournament
While they are the most talented team in the conference and are the top seed, they have struggled a little bit as of late, and other B1G teams know that anyone has a chance to dethrone them.
1. Iowa beats Illinois in the final, Luka Garza named Player of the Tournament
The hardest matchup in the entire conference, Garza will dominate the paint on both sides of the ball and lead his team to hardware.