The Associated Press
A look at things to watch in the Big Ten before the conference tournament semifinals Saturday:
GAME OF THE WEEK: Regular-season champion Purdue will play its Big Ten Tournament opener on Friday against a very motivated opponent, be it Michigan or Illinois. The Wolverines and Illini, the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, play on Thursday after splitting their regular-season games. Michigan (20-11) has closed strongly and should be safely in the NCAA Tournament field. If the Wolverines can beat Illinois, they’ll be able to improve their NCAA seeding by knocking off a Boilermakers team they beat 82-70 on Feb. 25. The Illini (18-13), if they get past Michigan, would help their chances of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament if they avenge a 23-point loss to the Boilermakers in January.
LOOKING AHEAD: Ohio State coach Thad Matta and Penn State’s Patrick Chambers got statements of support from their athletic directors earlier this week. Nebraska’s Tim Miles did as well, right after the Cornhuskers’ 76-67 overtime loss to the Nittany Lions on Wednesday. Athletic director Shawn Eichorst tweeted that he looked forward to next season under Miles’ leadership and that the future is bright. That leaves two coaches with uncertain futures. Indiana’s Tom Crean, the 2016 conference coach of the year after leading his team to the regular-season title, is getting static after the Hoosiers dropped to a tie for 10th place. Illinois’ John Groce appeared to have saved his job with a late run in which the Illini won five of six. That was before a road loss to last-place Rutgers on Saturday, and now it might take an NCAA bid to bring him back.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Six schools have won the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State has claimed a conference-best five tournament titles. Ohio State has won four, Wisconsin three, Illinois and Iowa two apiece and Purdue one. … Conference player of the year Caleb Swanigan of Purdue needs one double-double to tie Jerry Lucas (three times) and Brad Sellers for the Big Ten’s single-season record (26). … Wisconsin won at least 12 Big Ten games for the eighth consecutive season, the longest active streak in the conference.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michigan has won nine of its last 14 games, and senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. is a big reason. He’s averaged 17.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists over that stretch, with five straight games with 20-plus points and four double-doubles.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: Maryland (30-2) won the Big Ten Tournament for the third straight year is probably is looking at being a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Four or five other teams also are in position for NCAA bids. Ohio State (27-5) knocked off Maryland in the regular season and was the top seed in the conference tournament. Michigan State (21-11) won four of its last five regular-season games and made it to the Big Ten semifinals, where it gave Maryland a competitive game. Purdue (22-12) helped itself by reaching the conference championship game. Michigan (22-9) has lost four of its last five and is on the bubble.
Compiled by AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska.
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