The 3 for 3 blog, bouncing around thoughts on the best of the best …
1: BEST OF THE BIG TEN — Sorting out the best player in Big Ten men’s basketball got more difficult — rather than less — on the final day of the season Sunday.
As the game sprinted more deeply into thes second half, it seemed like Indiana’s Victor Oladipo was the pick.
The junior was doing what he always seems to do for the Hoosiers — slicing to the basket for an acrobatic score, flying out of nowhere to rip away a rebound, rising up as few others can to block a sure dunk at the rim.
Then, Trey Burke of No. 7 Michigan — though struggling from the field — hit shots seemingly destined to stop second-ranked Indiana from winning the outright conference title on the way to a team-high 20 points.
In the final minutes, though, it was Cody Zeller who acted like the player of the year crown belonged on his head, scoring the go-ahead basket, making a hustle play to save a possession and altering Burke’s shot to win it in the final seconds of a 72-71 thriller.
Zeller finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Indiana won its first unshared title in, amazingly, 20 years.
My unofficial vote, though … Oladipo. He finished with a career-high 13 rebounds (seven offensive). And, no one can do more to change a game at spots all around the court.
Oladipo can create a highlight reel all on his own, defensively. He’s a potential game-changer at any minute.
As long as we’re voting, let’s talk about the Wooden Award …
2. BEST COACH IN IOWA — I’ve often said the best basketball coach in the state, regardless of the gender wearing the uniforms, is Bill Fennelly.
On Sunday, he strengthened the case again.
All the Iowa State women’s basketball team did in the Big 12 tournament was …
… beat Oklahoma, the third-best team in the conference by 19 points, in a game that was even more out of hand than the final score indicated.
… destroy the Sooners on the glass, out-rebounding them 49-28.
… pile up 23 assists as the model of offensive precision and efficiency.
And it’s not just this season. It’s every season.
Fennelly inherited a program that had never averaged more than 1,000 fans. Now, Iowa State routinely averages 9,000 to 10,000. The program has been to every NCAA Tournament since 2007, and the man behind it owns a winning record on the toughest, mettle-testing stage.
Iowa State’s reward for its dismantling of Oklahoma? The Cyclones play No. 1 Baylor tonight in the conference tournament championship.
If the Bears and national player of the year Brittney Griner fall — in their home state of Texas — there will be far more people talking about Fennelly’s considerable set of skills on the end of the bench.
3. BEST ON THE MAT — When the smoke cleared at the Big Ten wrestling tournament Sunday — and Iowa failed to crown a champ for the first time since 2006 — alarm bells rang mightily for the black and gold crowd.
Two-time NCAA champ and three-time finalist Matt McDonough created the most immediate cause for concern, allowing four takedowns in a 10-4 loss to Illinois sophomore Jesse Delgado.
The “up” on the roller-coaster came in the quarterfinals as Iowa rolled and secured nine spots for the NCAA Championships, set to begin March 21 in Des Moines. The Hawkeyes, though, finished 3-9 in the last session as the roller-coaster chugged downward and resulted in a third-place finish in the team standings.
Iowa also proved vulnerable at 157 pounds, where top-ranked Derek St. John finished third — and found out how much hill remains to be climbed in matchups with No. 1s. Logan Stieber of Ohio State edged No. 2 Tony Ramos after a regulation tie 3-1 at 133, and third-ranked Mark Ballweg fell to Buckeye 141-pounder Hunter Stieber, 8-3.
What was learned: Top-ranked Penn State, the Big Ten team champion and two-time defending NCAA best, is still the team to beat — despite Iowa’s win in a dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season.
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