Big Ten

The impact Purdue's A.J. Hammons will have on the NCAA tournament


The impact Purdue's A.J. Hammons will have on the NCAA tournament

INDIANAPOLIS — When the lists get made of the most important players in this year's NCAA tournament, you'll see Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, you'll see Oklahoma's Buddy Hield.

One name you might not see is Purdue's A.J. Hammons, but he will most certainly be one of the most important players this March.

The Boilermakers' All-Big Ten First Team seven-footer has already made plenty of noise since the calendar turned to the year's maddest month, and he had one of his best games of the season in Purdue's win over Michigan in Saturday's Big Ten Tournament semifinal. Hammons led the Boilers to a berth in the conference tournament title game with 27 points and 10 rebounds, displaying an eye-popping variety of post moves and even coming up with a highlight-reel shot block. It was Hammons who put the team on his back when Michigan shrunk a big lead down to just six late in the second half, scoring nine straight points for Purdue to halt the Wolverines' advances.

Hammons deserved his spot on the All-Big Ten First Team just as much as Valentine or Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, and he will surely make a big impact on the Big Dance.

[MORE BIG TEN: Behind Hammons, Purdue beats Michigan to advance to Big Ten Tournament title game]

How exactly? Well, while Hammons is certainly not the only Boiler big man — he along with fellow seven-footer Isaac Haas and the mere 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan make up the "skyline" frontcourt — he's the best and the perfect example of how a Purdue team clicking on all cylinders can wreak havoc on just about any NCAA tournament foe.

Let head coach Matt Painter explain.

"That's the game plan every game. We're going to try to get the ball inside," Painter said. "So we're trying to get him the basketball as much as we can, trying to get A.J. in the game. Our other guys have really done a good job of understanding that this doesn't, you know, dismiss their abilities to be players or scorers. But, you know, they have to have the right of first refusal. You know, you're going shoot a high percentage from five to six feet (away from the basket). You're going to get to the free throw line. And (Hammons and Haas) both shoot 70 percent. And you're going to get the other team in foul trouble. There's so many positives to getting the ball to good low post players.

"At times I think some of our guys it takes away from them in their minds. Now they're starting to realize how it's beneficial. But it's also beneficial because those guys are now doing a better job of passing once they are getting doubled."

[MORE BIG TEN: Was performance in Indy enough to get Michigan into NCAA tournament?]

Hammons has the ability to dominate and often does. He's averaged 16.1 points per game in 20 games against Big Ten opponents this season, scoring in double figures in all but one of those games and scoring more than 20 points three times. He can take on just about anyone in the paint, has great touch around the basket and — as he described himself Saturday — is a great shot-blocker.

But even if Hammons isn't scoring, he can affect the game. Just ask John Beilein, whose Michigan Wolverines were torched by Purdue Saturday but also in an early January game in West Lafayette, when the Wolverines' objective was to shut Hammons down.

"He's an elite player. And I've been in this league for a while," Beilein said. "He's a versatile big man because he can pass. You saw him shoot the 15 footers today as well. And they run action where he passes. And then he's really got some crafty stuff in the post. We tried to double him at Purdue. And it was a catastrophe when we doubled him. He just found open people."

That there is the key, as Hammons' mere presence makes Purdue a better team and a dangerous one. If Hammons doesn't pile up the points himself, he'll let the Boilers' cadre of shot-making guards do it. In Friday's walloping of Illinois, Hammons scored just 10 points, but Purdue as a team hit 13 3-pointers.

[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Purdue gear right here]

And the same goes for guards scoring inside, too. Saturday, Purdue's 9-0 burst to open the second half determined the outcome of the game, both coaches agreed. The first three baskets were scored by guards. Hammons, Swanigan and Haas are so big that they create driving lanes for the smaller guys on the team.

Purdue buried Michigan in points in the paint, 44-28, and though a lot of damage was done by the big men, it wasn't just them.

"(Hammons) and Swanigan," Painter said. "When Swanigan gets down there and gets physical and posts strong, that's really hard on face up (power forwards). They've got to do a lot of work to get in front of him. They've got to do a lot of work, for Hammons and Haas, to get around them. So, if our guards can beat their initial defender, whether that's in transition or bust them on a closeout, now they can get to the rim. That back line defense is either non existent or it's late."

Purdue and the way it's playing of late, with wins in its last five games, looks like it could be a team destined for a long NCAA tournament run. It can make an even grander statement with a win in Sunday's conference tournament championship game against Michigan State.

And if the Boilers run all the way through the alliterative rounds of the Big Dance, look no further than the big man, Hammons, as the one who fueled their run.

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?