Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2010

Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Three things from the past week:

  • Spartans in the driver’s seat – Michigan State had a scare from Minnesota on national TV and another from Michigan, but being the experienced and tough-nosed team that they are, closed out the game, while Minnesota and Michigan let them get away. They are two games ahead of Wisconsin now, and even more ahead of Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois. Will the Spartans run the table? They have to get by Purdue twice before the season is over, so I am not betting on it.
  • Superman shut down in the 2nd half Evan Turner was putting up big numbers in the first half against West Virginia, but then couldn’t get it going in the second half. He had 13 at intermission, and ended up with an 18/11/4 asst game. Anyone other than Evan Turner would be happy with those stats. West Virginia had the answer in the second half for Turner though, and his name is Da’Sean Butler, who ended up with a 21/8/5 asst, and won the game for the Mountaineers.
  • Iowa is on a roll – Looks like Iowa is picking off opponents in reverse order these days. First Penn State and now Indiana. Who’s next? Michigan? Northwestern? Who knows. Iowa is hitting the boards well and playing a very physical brand of basketball these days.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #10, Wisconsin #16, and Ohio State #20.

Power Rankings

  1. Michigan State                  18-3, 8-0
  2. Purdue                                   16-3, 4-3
  3. Wisconsin                            16-4, 6-2
  4. Ohio State                            15-6, 5-3
  5. Illinois                                   13-8, 5-3
  6. Minnesota                           13-7, 4-4
  7. Northwestern                   14-6, 3-5
  8. Michigan                              10-10, 3-5
  9. Indiana                                  9-10, 3-4
  10. Iowa                                         8-13, 2-6
  11. Penn State                            8-12, 0-8

Coming Up

  • Wisconsin @ Purdue – January 28th – 7:00 ET – ESPN – This game is Purdue’s chance to get back at Wisconsin for starting Purdue’s three game slide. Wisconsin has a huge advantage at the Kohl Center, but given that Wisconsin should still be without Jon Leuer, this one could be all Purdue at Mackey Arena.
  • Michigan State @ Wisconsin – February 2nd – 9:00 ET ESPN – This could be the most likely game for Michigan State to lose prior to the matchup with Purdue. If Jon Leuer is back, it could be a closer game, but even without him, the home court advantage of Kohl’s Center could be the 6th man that Wisconsin needs.

Breaking It Down

  • The Spartans are beatable, but haven’t succumbed yet. Michigan State has won its last two games by a total of two points. Sure, one could say that it is luck, or maybe they are headed for a loss, but at the same time, to me it says that they are a team that has what it takes to close out games. The Spartans are solid across the board when it comes to scoring, even though they are led by Kalin Lucas. Raymar Morgan tore it up against Michigan with a 20/8 effort that is even more impressive because it came on 8-9 from the field and 4-5 from the line. I would give the ball to him all day long when he is shooting like that. I think the Spartans will take care of Northwestern at home as well as Wisconsin on the road, unless the Badgers can summon some big bodies to stop the Spartans in the lane.
  • What about Purdue’s bench play? Purdue has started to turn around its slide in the Big Ten, winning their last two games against Illinois and Michigan. What I find potentially troubling in their last game is their bench play, which was practically nonexistent from a statistical point of view. Last game their bench only contributed five points. Is that a problem? Well, not exactly, but when I looked at their losses, the same trend appears. The bench scored nine in their loss to Wisconsin, two in their loss to Ohio State, and five in their loss to Northwestern. This team needs to find a couple guys to come off the bench to contribute, or else any sign of foul trouble will spell doom for the Boilermakers. Let’s see what happens against Wisconsin at home, though.
  • Wisconsin almost loses to who? That’s right folks, Wisconsin needed a heroic effort by Jordan Taylor to escape an upset by winless Penn State. Credit Taylor for pouring it on with a 20/6 asst game, but still, how far has this Wisconsin team sunk? They escaped a close one at home against Michigan and then a nail-biter against Penn State. I think everyone will see what this team is made of in their next two at Purdue and then Michigan State at home. The results, in my opinion, probably will not be pretty for Wisconsin.
  • Ohio State evens it up for the Big Ten against West Virginia. The momentum had been building for Ohio State the whole week leading up to West Virginia. Each team claimed one of the two halves:  Ohio State won the first half, West Virginia the second. Like their respective teams, one player won the first half and the other won the game. Evan Turner was his usual self in the first half, and then disappeared in the second, whereas Da’Sean Butler was nowhere to be seen in the first, and then puller a superhero down the stretch to put it away. It proved that Ohio State is a tournament team, because West Virginia clearly is as well. The bad news for Ohio State is that they had to travel to Iowa last night to grind out a win against a much-improved Hawkeyes team, and then continue on the road in a tough battle at Michigan State.
  • Minnesota can’t close out the close ones. There are a couple trends that are easy to see with this year’s Minnesota team: they can’t win on the road and they can’t win close games. There are a couple exceptions to that: a win at Iowa and a close win against Penn State and Northwestern. Winning on the road and winning the close ones takes mental toughness and this team doesn’t have it. They have a lot of other things: great upside with Ralph Sampson, great scoring ability and athleticism from Devoe Joseph, and Lawrence Westbrook has had some great moments throughout the year. This team won’t be going to the tournament unless they shock everyone by winning the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Illinois’ scheduling luck has run out. Illinois came out for a quick start in the Big Ten, and looked like they might contend for a Big Ten title, until they started playing teams that were better than them, and they haven’t been able to stop their downhill slide yet. It’s interesting to compare the first Northwestern game with the second. In the first, Illinois won by six in OT; in the second, they lost by five in regulation. Digging deeper reveals what happened. In the first game the big men dominated. Mike Tisdale had a career night with 31 and Mike Davis was good for 20. That’s 51 of the team’s 89 points. Fast-forward to the second game: Tisdale with 14 and Davis with zero. Looks like we have a paint problem, here. Northwestern has gotten more aggressive, and Illinois has gotten less aggressive. There’s the season right there. Illinois beat Penn State on Wednesday, and needs to continue with wins against Indiana and Iowa to salvage this slide.
  • Northwestern bouncing around, but is that enough? Northwestern is definitely much-improved from last year, and is seen as a credible opponent in the Big Ten this year. But is that enough? How will the committee take into account what the Wildcats have done outside of the conference, as well as in it? I think they need to go over .500 in the Big Ten to make the tournament. They stand at 3-5 now, and with ten games left, they are going to have win six or seven of them. I think it might come down to the wire because as I see it, the teams that they have the best shots at beating are Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Penn State. If they win all of their games against those opponents, they will be 10-8 in the Big Ten.  With a win against Chicago State, that will get them to overall record of 22-9, and definitely good enough to make the tournament. Can they do it? I am not sure, as some of those road games will be tough.
  • Was the UConn game the peak of Michigan’s season? On Tuesday, Michigan lost a tough game against Michigan State at home, one they should have won. This team is erratic, and usually has to rely on the two man show of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. They continue to shoot too many threes, and miss more than their fair share. The upside is that they are continuing to hang with top teams, and have a nice break in their schedule if they wanted to go for a  big run late in the season. I feel that all of their games left are winnable with the exception of Ohio State and the regular season-ending rematch with Michigan State. Lets see what the Wolverines can do.
  • Indiana has to be the underdog. Indiana has surprised teams all year, in that they can hang around against just about anyone. They beat Pitt, they beat Michigan, Minnesota, etc. The theme with all of those games was the expectation that they shouldn’t have won, but they did. It has been said that Tom Crean is ahead of schedule as far as returning Indiana to its past glory, but the game against Iowa was an exception. Against Iowa, Indiana was actually the favored team. They didn’t play like it. They didn’t have any cockiness or swagger, no real energy at all. Seeing the Hoosiers play right after the Colts’ victory was a huge letdown. There was no fight in the team that time, but fortunately for Indiana, they have a whole week of practice to find some of that fighting ability before traveling to Illinois. They will need it, too, as Illinois is enduring its own freefall, and will look at this game as a must-win. Indiana needs to rebound better, and take both Davis and Tisdale out of the game. Tisdale destroyed Indiana in their past matchup.
  • Iowa has Hawkeyes. Iowa couldn’t buy a win earlier.  Throw in a sprinkle of their second leading scorer getting suspended, and you have the recipe for a disaster of a season. Someone didn’t inform Iowa, though, as they are actually picking it up each game, and had a chance to score a huge upset against Ohio State. Jarryd Cole destroyed Indiana with his 11/10 night, with eight of those rebounds on the offensive end. Aaron Fuller has been solid all year for the Hawkeyes, but the real surprise was Brennan Cougill, especially when the big man stepped out and knocked down two big threes against the Hoosiers. He literally played a perfect 13 minutes of basketball, not missing a field goal or free throw.
  • Penn State is still winless. OK, I haven’t had to change the title here for a while, and plan on keeping it this way until Penn State wins a game. With the exception of their first Wisconsin game, this squad has kept every Big Ten game close…and has still yet to find a W. I hate to say it, but after looking at their remaining schedule, I am not sure this team will win a game this year. Their best bets have already come and passed. Surprise me, Penn State. I will put you in the headlines if you do.
jstevrtc (547 Posts)

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