Big Ten

If you have to pick a Big Ten Tournament favorite, Purdue's it for more than just being the No. 1 seed


If you have to pick a Big Ten Tournament favorite, Purdue's it for more than just being the No. 1 seed

This year's Big Ten Tournament might be the most wide-open edition of the event ever.

Media observers and Tom Izzo alike are sharing that assessment at the dawn of championship week, though I'd put more stock in what Izzo has to say. After all, he's coached in every one of these things.

The league is deep with teams that can take home a conference-tournament title and teams that can knock off presumed favorites. Heck, even the bottom three seeds — Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers — have combined to beat every other team in the conference besides Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin, only one of which is a top-five seed.

But while this year's Big Ten Tournament is as wide open as Izzo says it is, there's still a favorite.

It might seem counterintuitive to even bother picking a favorite in a field such as this, but let's give the Purdue Boilermakers some credit. They're the No. 1 seed, but there's more than just their regular-season record that makes them the team to beat in D.C.

Unlike every other team in the league, Purdue has managed to avoid two- or three-week speedbumps, glaring stretches of the schedule filled with losing and poor play.

A lot of those teams have experienced those stretches quite recently. Take a look at the rest of the teams that earned bye's in this tournament, the Nos. 2 through 6 seeds. Wisconsin lost five of six before a double-digit win over Minnesota in the regular-season finale. Maryland lost five of seven before winning back-to-back games at the end of the regular season. Minnesota had a five-game losing streak in the middle of conference play before rattling off eight wins in a row. Michigan State went through a four-losses-in-five-games stretch earlier in the season and just finished the regular season with back-to-back losses. Northwestern, despite last week's thrilling win over Michigan and an impressive effort in a loss to Purdue, has lost six of nine entering the Big Ten Tournament.

Purdue just hasn't been through that. The Boilers' worst stretch of the season was losing two of four early in conference play. They finished the regular season with wins in eight of their final nine games. There were close calls in there, for sure, sweating out a one-point road win at Maryland, needing overtime to edge out a road win at Penn State and besting Northwestern by only four points Sunday in Evanston.

But remember that the majority of those close calls have still ended in Purdue wins, something head coach Matt Painter is pretty happy about and some experience that serves a team real well come the Madness of March.

"We've won close games before. You just want the most experience you can have," Painter said after Sunday's win over Northwestern. "As a coach you don't want close games, you want to win by 20. But the more close games you can get in that you win, that helps your guys' confidence."

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How Purdue has done that, though, is more pertinent to why it's this week's favorite.

Of course it begins with Caleb Swanigan, the newly minted Big Ten Player of the Year who leads the league in rebounding, ranks second in scoring and ranks among the league leaders in all the shooting percentages, including free-throw percentage, an important part of winning close tournament games.

Purdue's roster is loaded with talent and experience past Swanigan, too. Vincent Edwards is fresh off a 25-point performance at Northwestern. Dakota Mathias can knock down 3s and play great defense. Carsen Edwards has been explosive throughout his freshman season. Isaac Haas is a near-impossible cover coming off the bench at 7-foot-2.

But as good as some of those guards are, the plan is always to feed the guy who could be the national player of the year, and relying on a collegiate superstar is another good way to win in March.

"We're a little different because a lot of times late in games you see point guards. You see (Northwestern's Bryant) McIntosh, (Maryland's) Melo Trimble, you see guys of that nature making those plays. And we have good guards. They're steady, they can take care of it, they can shoot it. But we want to go through our horses, so we want to give those guys the basketball," Painter said. "Sometimes that's hard because other people are trying to take that away. So if they don't get the ball in those situations, now we have to go to Plan B. So we work really hard to try to stick with Plan A and be able to do those things."

And so that's why Purdue is the favorite in Washington. The Boilers have things the rest of the field just doesn't have, chiefly season-long consistency and the best player in the tournament. It doesn't mean an upset-minded team won't knock Purdue off as early as Friday. But it means that the other 13 teams will be chasing the boys from West Lafayette.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?