In case you were too busy marching on Washington this weekend to pay attention to Big Ten hoops, here are the five B1G-gest things you missed.
1. Anunoby done for year, but Indiana on mini surge
Last week, Indiana star OG Anunoby came down awkwardly in the final seconds of the first half against Penn State. Originally announced as out indefinitely, the injury to his knee will cost Anunoby the remainder of the season. That's a massive blow to the Hoosiers, who lose not only one of their best players but one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten. It remains to be seen how Anunoby's absence will affect Indiana's attempt to crawl back into the Big Ten race, but so far the results have gone in Tom Crean's crew's favor. James Blackmon Jr. has played hero in each of the last two games, first giving the Hoosiers a win with a buzzer-beating 3 in that Penn State game, then dropping 33 points in Saturday's win over Michigan State. Blackmon hit six 3-pointers and also grabbed four rebounds in the big win over the Spartans, the Hoosiers' third straight. Indiana, which started off conference play in ugly fashion, right back in the thick of things after those three straight wins, 4-3 in the conference. Only four teams have better league records. Certainly the Hoosiers have the capability to bounce back from a slow start and compete for a Big Ten title. This could be the start of that.
2. Northwestern keeps flying high
You have to go all the way back to 1968 to find the last time Northwestern started conference play with a 5-2 record. Well, nearly 50 years later, the Cats are there again, looking like one of the league's best teams following their fourth straight win, a road takedown of Ohio State on Sunday. It was Northwestern's first win in Columbus since 1977, and it snapped a 12-game winning streak in the series for the Buckeyes. Things continue to look good when it comes to the Cats making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever. They're tied for third place in a more mediocre Big Ten than usual, which helps. Finish in the top five and you should get in. But they're actually playing well enough to deserve it, too. Yes the shooting was a little atrocious after halftime on Sunday, but Northwestern found a way to win, capitalizing on the opportunities Ohio State presented. The Buckeyes turned the ball over 13 times, and the Cats turned those giveaways into 17 points. The Cats were 14-for-16 from the free-throw line, including 11-for-12 in the final minute of the game. Scottie Lindsey continued to pour in the points, scoring 19. He's scored in double figures every game this season. Quite simply this is the best 20-game start Northwestern has ever had. There should be another first coming in March.
3. Nebrasketball falls to Earth
Nebraska's hot start to conference play — the program's best since the 1970s — was one of the more feel-good stories of the early portion of the Big Ten season. Well, consider those good feelings over. The Huskers have lost four straight since a 3-0 start, including a pair of losses this past week on last-second buzzer-beaters. First it was Ohio State getting an inbounds layup to beat the clock and beat Nebraska. Saturday in New Jersey, Rutgers got its first Big Ten win of the season on a Corey Sanders putback off an offensive rebound with one second left on the clock. Those losses are heartbreakers for the Huskers and games they could've won, for sure, but in the big picture, they're struggling. On Jan. 5, Nebraska was 3-0 with road wins at Indiana and Maryland and a double-overtime victory over Iowa. Since, it's been losses to Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers. The Huskers lost starting big man Ed Morrow to injury, and his absence has shown, getting beat on the boards against Ohio State and Rutgers.
4. Michigan 'white collar' no more
After Illinois blew out Michigan on Jan. 11 in Champaign, Illini forward Maverick Morgan described the Wolverines as "white collar," a descriptor of their effort, one assumes. Well, Michigan didn't like that, and the comment has lit a fire. The defensive numbers show maybe Morgan was onto something. Michigan was and remains the worst defensive team in the conference, allowing opponents to shoot 46.8 percent overall and 51.4 percent during Big Ten play. But without a doubt the Wolverines responded this weekend in a rematch with Illinois. Michigan held the visiting Illini to 45.8-percent shooting from the field, allowed them to make just two 3-pointers and forced a whopping 17 turnovers, which they turned into 22 points at the other end. Michigan responded. D.J. Wilson — who had a monster day with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a block — said after the game that Michigan wasn't the white-collar team in this matchup. And he was right. As the Illini's season continues to spiral out of control, the Wolverines have bounced back after that "white-collar" game sent them to 1-3 in the Big Ten. Since have come wins over Nebraska and Illinois and a narrow defeat at Wisconsin. Two games each against Indiana and Michigan State come over the next five on the schedule, but if Michigan steps up like it has since getting insulted, the Wolverines could be right back into things in a mediocre Big Ten.
5. Wisconsin gets clutch to stay atop the standings
There's something in the water in Madison that's giving these Badgers some clutch super powers. Tested twice last week against Michigan and Minnesota, Wisconsin dug out some big wins, getting huge performances down the stretch from its stars. Against Michigan, Bronson Koenig had a personal 10-0 run to surge Wisconsin into the lead with under four minutes to play. He scored on four straight trips down the floor, and the Badgers pulled out a midweek win. Saturday up at The Barn, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes combined for 49 points in Wisconsin's overtime win against Minnesota. Happ's stat line was ridiculous: 28 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. And the majority of that damage came in the second half, when the Badgers outscored the Gophers by a bucket to force overtime. Happ had 22 points, nine rebounds and two blocks after halftime. Koenig had zero points in the second half but found his clutch in overtime, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, including a go-ahead one with 44 seconds left that proved the game-winning basket. This veteran-laden Wisconsin team is still the Big Ten's best because of those three guys. Koenig and Hayes are veterans of those Final Four runs, and Koenig especially has a knack for big-time shots at big-time moments. Expect those to keep coming.