Checking in on the… Big 10Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008
Josh & Mike of Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
The Big Ten had a big week, taking down two top 10 opponents and several other strong teams. Minnesota had the most impressive and surprising win so far this season, taking down Louisville 70-64 on a neutral floor. The Gophers were in control the entire game, with their most important offensive player, Lawrence Westbrook, limited because of foul trouble. Up to that point so far this season, we didn’t know much about this team because of the inferior competition. I’m not sure this win defines them (Louisville played 2 days prior almost 2,000 miles away – “the trip from hell” according to Rick Pitino), but it’s a signature win for a team that figures to be on the bubble this season. If they’re going to make the dance, Minnesota will need forward Damian Johnson to keep up his solid play. If it weren’t for the poor rebounding, Johnson might be an early-entry candidate after this season. He makes his shots (59.7 eFG), has a healthy shot diet (22.6 shot percentage), and he’s a fearsome defensive player (11.2 block percentage, 4.7 steal percentage). Oh, and he creates and handles the ball like a point guard (26.3 assist percentage, 16.8 turnover percentage). also posted a quality win over Texas this past Saturday.
Michigan State also posted a quality win over Texas this past Saturday. A late three by Durrell Summers sealed it for the Spartans, who finally got a signature non-conference victory. MSU still needs to pick it up in conference play, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Izzo’s team has been very inconsistent on that end – they allowed The Citadel to score more points per possession than Texas. The offense has been clicking, however, which is impressive considering point guard Kalin Lucas is shooting 35% from 2 and 26% from 3. Despite the awful shooting, Lucas has been a very effective player thus far on the season. Once he starts making shots, MSU’s offense will be lethal.
Quietly, Illinois has risen to be the top of the Big Ten in Pomeroy rankings. Weber’s teams have always been solid defensively, and that is still true this season. However, the offense has surged in ways not seen since Dee Brown was on campus. The Illini “share the sugar,” as Steve Lavin would say, leading the country in assists per made field goal. The last time Weber’s team excelled in that area was 2004-05, giving Illini fans hope that the offensive excellence will continue.
Purdue haunted Stephen Curry this past weekend as well, hounding the elite guard into the worst game of his career. Curry was held to 13 points on 26 shots, and coughed up the ball 6 times against Purdue’s pressure. Purdue’s defense will probably rank as the Big Ten’s best all season, and the offense should improve as well, considering that both E’Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant are hovering around 30% on their three point attempts.
We’re only a few days away from the beginning of conference season, and for the most part the conference is taking it easy. Ohio State does have a tough game looming against West Virginia on Saturday. Don’t expect to see a lot of offense in that one, as these are two of the best defenses in the country. The Buckeyes’ lack of an experienced point guard will be tested against the Mountaineers, one of the best at forcing turnovers.
A Look at the Numbers
The Big Ten sure looks strong right now. As a conference, it sits at #2 in the Pomeroy Ratings, right behind the ACC. That’s all the more impressive considering Indiana has the lowest Pomeroy Rating of any team in a BCS conference. As it stands now, a week before conference play begins, every single team in the conference has a legitimate shot making the NCAA Tournament. That should make for an interesting conference season.