Big Ten

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

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USA TODAY

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.

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

Big Ten to play conference-only NCAA football schedule 'if able'

The Big Ten announced on Thursday that they will not play any non-conference games this fall, if they’re able to play at all.

The move comes after the Ivy League cancelled all fall sports earlier in the week.

In the statement the Big Ten said, “By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.

“In addition, the Conference announced that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities. Furthermore, Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”

The Big Ten also said they’re prepared to cancel their fall sports entirely, if needed to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes.

This all leads to more questions as to how the Big Ten schedule will ultimately take shape. For instance, the first three games on the University of Illinois’s schedule are all non-conference games. Will more in-conference games be scheduled to replace them, or will the Fighting Illini simply begin their season on Oct. 3 with their first conference game against Rutgers?

All of that remains to be seen, as the conference said more details regarding the conference-only schedule will be released later.


RELATED: Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

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USA Today

Northwestern football will not host Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field

Northwestern football will no longer host their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Wrigley Field. The university announced the decision on Wednesday.

The Wildcats were supposed to play the Badgers at the Friendly Confines on Nov. 7. Although the university didn’t officially announce it, team's website says the game will be played at Ryan Field.

“This is a disappointing conclusion to reach, but absolutely the right one in our current environment,” said Jim Phillips, Northwestern’s Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. “The uncertainty of football and baseball schedules, and the possibility of limited attendance, made this an easy choice to make for our student-athletes and fans.

“We’re grateful for our outstanding partners from the Cubs, and look forward to bringing the passion and pageantry of college football gameday to the city’s north side when we can do so safely and securely with a packed house.”

Northwestern initially brought college football back to Wrigley in 2010. Previously the last college football game at Wrigley was played in 1938. Since then, Northwestern has hosted both lacrosse and baseball games at Clark and Addison.

The university is still on track to kick off their season on Sept. 5 at Michigan State.

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