Checking in on the… Big Ten

Posted by nvr1983 on February 25th, 2009

Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.

Looking Back
As Lester Bangs told William Miller, “you’ll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.” He could just as well have been talking to most of the Big Ten this season, as we now see 5 conference teams bunched up with 7 or 8 losses, all fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. Penn State got a big boost from their ugly 38-33 victory at Illinois, then lost a winnable game at Ohio State to rejoin the masses. Penn State now has a 3-2 record against the top of the conference (Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois), with a home game still remaining against the Illini. This ability to hang with the best of the conference is their sole basis for an at-large bid – their best non-conference win was at Georgia Tech (currently 1-12 in the ACC), so the Nittany Lions figure to need at least 10 Big Ten wins to even be considered.

Speaking of Illinois, they shook off the Penn State loss to get a nice road victory at Ohio State, putting them back on track for at least third place in the conference. Mike Davis continued his superb sophomore season, dropping floater after floater over Ohio State’s shot-blockers. Davis shot 11 for 14 from the field to finish with 22 points to go along with 8 rebounds and continues to lead the Big Ten in Defensive Rebound %.

Michigan State lost a big game at Purdue last week opening the door for the Boilermakers (and, to a lesser extent, Illinois) to make a run at the Big Ten title. The Spartans rebounded by protecting home court against Wisconsin in a game that would have strictly been a bonus for the Badgers. Wisconsin stumbled through January with 6 straight conference losses, then reeled off 5 straight victories before falling at MSU. The Badgers, contrary to popular perception, have gotten by with a very good offense that happens to play at a very slow pace. The defense, while not bad by any means, has been one of the worst of Bo Ryan‘s tenure, although it’s lately showing signs of improvement. Wisconsin figures to be a tourney team if they can reach 10 conference wins – with home games against Michigan and Indiana still remaining, that seems very attainable.

Michigan took a major blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes with an overtime loss at Iowa. Michigan’s offense failed them against the normally-permissive Hawkeyes, and now the Wolverines likely need to win two of their last three to feel good about their chances. Considering those three games are all likely losses – at home against Purdue then on the road against Wisconsin and Minnesota – Michigan may be staring down an NIT bid, despite big non-conference victories over UCLA and Duke.

Looking Ahead
The three teams at the top of the conference – Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois – have basically locked up their bids and are playing for seeding (and a possible a Big Ten title). After that, it gets rather messy. As mentioned, Wisconsin is in decent shape, but their Sunday match-up with Michigan looms large. A loss there, and the Badgers have to make up for it with a win at Minnesota, which is not an easy task – only Michigan State and Purdue have won at the Barn this season. Michigan needs a big finish to receive a bid and figures to be motivated against the Badgers.

Ohio State continues to be an enigma – the Buckeyes started the season as a dominant defensive unit, with wins against Miami, Notre Dame, and Butler. Dallas Lauderdale‘s insane shot-blocking numbers were a big part of that defensive start, and as his numbers came back to Earth, so did the OSU defense. Add in the injury to defender David Lighty, and Ohio State is now living off of their hot-shooting offense, led by POY-candidate Evan Turner and super-freshmen William Buford and B.J. Mullens. Throw in the occasional 28-point outburst by shooter Jon Diebler and you’ve got a top-25 offense, even with no point guard to speak of. The Buckeyes figure to need wins in 2 of their last 3 games to not be sweating on Selection Sunday – the games at Iowa and at home against Northwestern figure to be the best opportunities.

The Big Ten title is still very much up for grabs, with some huge upcoming match-ups. Michigan State will have to hold off both of the other contenders, as the Spartans play at Illinois this Sunday then close out the season at home against Purdue. A healthy Raymar Morgan would be a huge help to the Spartans – he’s been limited for the past month with various illnesses and hasn’t scored in double figures since January 14. Sophomore PG Kalin Lucas has helped to carry this team and is in the running for Big Ten POY.

A Look at the Numbers
Much has been made nationally of the resurgence of Big Ten basketball, and rightfully so, but it doesn’t seem that many outside observers recognize the potential residing within this conference for the next couple seasons. Via, here’s a look at the conference leaders in Offensive Rating (minimum 20% Possessions usage):.

  1. Robbie Hummel, Purdue 116.6 (21.4) 6-8 212 So
  2. JaJuan Johnson, Purdue 113.8 (24.0) 6-10 215 So
  3. Craig Moore, Northwestern 113.4 (20.6) 6-3 185 Sr
  4. Talor Battle, Penn St. 112.6 (26.9) 5-11 165 So
  5. Kalin Lucas, Michigan St. 112.6 (25.4) 6-0 180 So
  6. Raymar Morgan, Michigan St. 110.9 (24.1) 6-8 225 Jr
  7. Stanley Pringle, Penn St. 110.5 (23.0) 6-1 180 Sr
  8. Kevin Coble, Northwestern 109.8 (24.4) 6-8 210 Jr
  9. William Buford, Ohio St. 109.7 (21.1) 6-5 190 Fr
  10. Marcus Landry, Wisconsin 108.4 (23.6) 6-7 230 Sr
  11. Evan Turner, Ohio St. 107.7 (29.1) 6-7 205 So
  12. DeShawn Sims, Michigan 107.6 (24.8) 6-8 235 Jr
  13. Mike Davis, Illinois 107.2 (20.6) 6-10 210 So
  14. Lawrence Westbrook, Minnesota 106.6 (26.4) 6-0 195 Jr
  15. Mike Tisdale, Illinois 105.7 (22.4) 7-1 235 So
  16. Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin 105.7 (23.3) 6-0 193 Jr
  17. Manny Harris, Michigan 105.5 (32.3) 6-5 185 So
  18. Durrell Summers, Michigan St. 105.2 (21.0) 6-4 195 So
  19. John Shurna, Northwestern 104.6 (25.0) 6-8 210 Fr
  20. B.J. Mullens, Ohio St. 103.1 (23.9) 7-0 275 Fr

This top-20 list contains only 3 seniors, and only one of those seniors (Marcus Landry) could really be considered his team’s offensive leader. All in all, 12 of the top 20 offensive players in the conference are either freshmen or sophomores. Of course, there’s always the spectre of early entry to the NBA Draft, but there’s really not many guys on this list that seem likely to leave after this season (for various reasons). With eight RSCI top-100 players set to enter the conference this fall (4 for Illinois, 2 for Minnesota, and 2 for Indiana), not to mention some stellar 2010 classes (Illinois and Ohio State in particular), the Big Ten certainly appears to be on a major upswing. Now if only they can do something about that pesky ACC Challenge…

nvr1983 (1398 Posts)

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