Big 10 Wrapup & Tourney PreviewPosted by nvr1983 on March 11th, 2009
Josh & Mike from Big Ten Geeks are the RTC correspondents for the Big Ten Conference.
The Season That Was
Politicians often talk about “Two Americas” – there’s the super-rich, lighting Cuban cigars with $100 bills, and then there’s the rest of us. Well, this year, there were “Three Big Tens.” First, there was Michigan State, who won the conference title in a walk by four games. That’s the largest margin in a very long time (over 10 years). And just like this little credit crisis hasn’t forced Warren Buffett to fly coach [Ed. Note: Having read about Warren, he might fly coach anyways.], Raymar Morgan‘s long bout with pneumonia didn’t slow down the Spartans one bit. We predicted Michigan State to win, we just didn’t know it would be this easy.
Then there’s the middle, which was filled with parity. Second place through ninth place was separated by 3 games. Call it the Big Ten’s middle class. Purdue didn’t develop into the team everyone thought they would. Sure, Robbie Hummel‘s extended absence hurt, but it was really the big steps back taken by E’Twuan Moore and Keaton Grant that made the biggest difference. Illinois actually overachieved this season, after last year’s debacle. The truth is that the Illini weren’t that bad last year, but suffered a lot of close losses. A big turnaround was to be expected. But to go from 16 wins to 23 (and counting) without adding a single player of significance was beyond optimistic. That’s exactly what Bruce Weber‘s team did though. Wisconsin will see their streak of 30-win seasons come to an end this year, and despite what you might read or hear about this team, it was the defense that let them down. In fact, the Badgers sported the league’s best offense on a per possession basis. But without twin towers Brian Butch and Greg Steimsma, opponents shot much better from inside the arc.
Penn State continued its happy-go-lucky ways, going 10-8 in conference play despite being outscored (handily) by its opponents. But good for the Nittany Lions, it’s wins that punch Dance tickets, not scoring margins. Ohio State might have had the most talent in the league, but finished right in the middle of the pack. We said that before the season started that Ohio State would be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s performance. We were right – Thad Matta is finding out that landing All American Recruits isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Speaking of attrition, Northwestern had virtually none, and that went a long, long way into fueling their best post-war season. The Wildcats will come up short for landing an NCAA Tourney bid unless they win the conference tournament, but that shouldn’t diminish the job Bill Carmody‘s done. Another turnaround was present in Ann Arbor, where John Beilein has Michigan on the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in over 10 years. The Wolverines have looked like giant killers that took down Duke, UCLA, and nearly UConn; but this is also the same team that was outscored by opponents in conference play. They need to find that early-season magic for the stretch run. Minnesota has been somewhat of an oddball team as well this year in that this is the worst field goal shooting team in the conference, but they’re also tied for the best free throw shooting team in the conference. Clearly they have the talent to score more, but it just hasn’t happened.
Then there’s the third sector of the Big Ten, inhabited by Iowa and Indiana. It’s probably unfair to lump the Hawkeyes in with the Hoosiers – compared to Indiana, Todd Lickliter‘s team looks herculean – but these teams have taken quite a bit of abuse from the rest of the conference. Iowa continues to struggle with turnovers, though a late-season trend gave some reasons for hope going into next season. Jake Kelly‘s play down the stretch was also very inspiring.
For Hoosier fans, their season of torment is nearly over. It’s very popular to say that Tom Crean has done an excellent job this season, but I’m not sure you can measure the on-court results to figure that out. Indiana was about as bad as a BCS team can be this year, and the whole “could they have done worse?” discussion is just too hypothetical to take seriously. Besides, wins were never going to be the point this season. The point was whether Crean could keep his players happy, keep boosters happy, keep fans happy, and keep recruits happy. So far, so good. But as good as IU’s 2009 incoming class is, it’s not good enough so that Hoosier fans should start planning their Sweet 16 parties just yet. The fall is quick, but the climb back up the mountain is slow, sometimes painful, and often frustrating. Ideally the patience of Hoosier fans extends into 2010.
Outside of Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois, just about everyone in this league is on the freaking bubble. Ok, Iowa, Northwestern, and Indiana would each need to win the tournament, but everyone else will be doing some scoreboard-watching this week. Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State all appear to be on a better-looking bubble than Minnesota and Michigan. Even if those 3 lose their 1st round game (which won’t happen, because Wisconsin and Ohio State play each other, but you know what I mean), they’re probably in, unless the mid-major tournaments are uncharacteristically wacky. But Minnesota and Michigan probably each have to win their first games to feel good about their chances.
As for the tournament itself, it looks like four teams have a pretty good shot at taking home the hardware. But I don’t feel confident enough to place any bets, so I’ll just Chuck Kimmel this – one of these 11 teams will win the tournament, and the other 10 will almost certainly come up short.
Big Ten Geeks, going out on a limb.