Livin’ B1G: Role Reversal

    Northwestern - not Michigan State, like usual - is firmly in the NCAA Tournament, Indiana's life without O.G. Anunoby and Caleb Swanigan will hear it all from the Izzone in this edition of Livin' B1G.

    January 23, 2017

    Northwestern – not Michigan State, like usual – is firmly in the NCAA Tournament, Indiana’s life without O.G. Anunoby and Caleb Swanigan will hear it all from the Izzone in this edition of Livin’ B1G.


    For the last 20 years, two things have been certain when it comes to Big Ten basketball: Michigan State played in the NCAA Tournament, and Northwestern didn’t.

    That might not be the case this season.

    Michigan State finds itself in an unfamiliar position in late January, sitting firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Tom Izzo’s Spartans are 12-8 and 4-3 in a less-than-spectacular Big Ten conference after losing at Indiana on Saturday. Tom Izzo said during his Monday press conference that he’s trying to keep the heat off of his four freshmen – Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward – so that the talk of Michigan State not making the Tournament doesn’t eat at them.

    Either way, the Spartans are going to need to finish strong with Selection Sunday just 48 days away and Tuesday’s matchup with No. 20 Purdue looming. Losses to Arizona, Kentucky, Duke and Baylor aren’t anything to gloss over considering the level of competition, but it means they’ll need to start beating a good majority of solid opponents – not losing to Penn State on a neutral court.

    And while the young Spartans try to solidify a spot in the Tournament, veterans are helping bring Northwestern to the brink of a history. The Wildcats are the only major-conference team to never appear in the Big Dance, but coach Chris Collins has leaned on Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law to snap that drought.

    Northwestern enters Thursday night’s home game against Nebraska with a 16-4 record and 5-2 mark in conference play after beating Ohio State on Saturday for its first victory in Columbus since 1977. Lindsey had 21 points and McIntosh had 17 to help the Wildcats win their fourth straight game.

    It’s a major role reversal to have the Wildcats in such a great position so late in the season while the Spartans need to spruce up their resume to get into the Tournament, but that’s precisely the case at the moment.

    If James Blackmon felt any pressure to step up when O.G. Anunoby suffered a season-ending knee injury, he certainly hasn’t shown it. Anunoby went down against Penn State on Wednesday, and Blackmon responded by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Indiana a 78-75 victory.

    Then, in the Hoosiers’ first game without the standout sophomore, Blackmon went off for a career high-tying 33 points while hitting 6 of 10 from 3-point range to help Indiana beat Michigan State, 82-75. Losing Anunoby’s 11.1 points per game plus his versatility could’ve been a major blow for the Hoosiers, but Blackmon has keep them on track so far. They’ve won three in a row heading into Thursday’s game at Michigan.

    Michigan State’s student section, dubbed The Izzone, has been known to throw jabs at opponents, and you can bet that’ll be the case when Purdue sophomore Caleb Swanigan plays in East Lansing for the first time Tuesday night. It’s been nearly two years since Swanigan, who was rated as one of the top high school recruits in the country, sent out this tweet:

    Forever lasted less than a month, as Swanigan decommitted and signed with Purdue. Tom Izzo has said he holds no ill feelings toward Swanigan and continues to support him. Izzo was asked Monday what his team would look like with Swanigan and said, “I’ve got a lot better things to fantasize about than Swanigan.”

    Fair enough, but having a national player of the year candidate sure wouldn’t hurt the bubble-dwelling Spartans. Swanigan is averaging 18.5 points, leads the nation in rebounds per game (12.5) and double-doubles (16), and has four 20-20 games. The rest of the nation has seven such performances combined.

    Wisconsin survived at Minnesota on Saturday, winning 78-76 on Bronson Koenig’s go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of the extra session.

    Nigel Hayes scored 21 points in 42 minutes, but the real story for the Badgers was redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ’s best performance of his career.

    Happ finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds while playing 38 minutes and didn’t hide the fact that he was exhausted after that effort. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 19.5 points, nine rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 blocks in wins over Michigan and the Golden Gophers.

    That doesn’t exactly surprise Livin’ B1G, though.

    Well hey there, Maryland. The Terps quietly have improved to 17-2 and are tied with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten with a 5-1 mark in conference play. The loss to Nebraska on New Year’s Day took them off the radar a bit, but they’ve won four in a row since and now are ranked No. 22 in the AP Top 25.

    Melo Trimble, one of the few returnees from last season’s 27-9 team, busted out of his shooting slump to score 20 points in Thursday’s eight-point win over Iowa. Maryland hosts Rutgers on Tuesday night.

    MORE: Isaac Haas Believes Game At Michigan State Will Be Purdue’s Toughest

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