Checking in on… the Big TenPosted by jstevrtc on February 10th, 2010
Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
The big thing from the past week:
- The Big Ten is wide open – So much for Michigan State being in the driver’s seat. The Big Ten has now split itself almost completely in half. There are the teams in the top who have a legitimate shot at winning the conference, and the rest that have absolutely no shot except for the role of spoiler. Michigan State has lost three straight, Ohio State has won five straight, Purdue has won six straight, and Illinois has won five straight. Now the race is on. There are few head-to-head matchups of top teams in the next week, so be on the lookout for upsets as the only way to continue the conference shakedown.
Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Purdue #6, Michigan State #10, Wisconsin #11, and Ohio State #13.
- Purdue 20-3, 8-3
- Michigan State 19-6, 9-3
- Wisconsin 17-5, 8-4
- Ohio State 18-6, 8-3
- Illinois 17-8, 9-3
- Minnesota 14-8, 5-5
- Northwestern 16-7, 5-6
- Michigan 11-12, 4-7
- Indiana 9-13, 3-7
- Iowa 8-16, 2-9
- Penn State 8-15, 0-11
- Michigan @ Minnesota – February 11th – 7:00 ET – ESPN – This is really the battle of the two teams in the Big Ten with some of the most unfulfilled potential, at least as far as the pre-season rankings are concerned. Rather surprisingly, these two teams have yet to meet this season, but at home, I am leaning toward a victory for the Gophers, but I look forward to seeing what Team Sims & Harris have to say about that for the Wolverines.
- Ohio State @ Illinois – February 14th – 1:00 ET – CBS – This is the first of two great Valentine’s Day games in the Big Ten. I know it might get you in trouble to watch this game instead of doing some more traditional things that won’t get you in trouble. For the single guys, or those who are married and who want to get in trouble, this should be a great game, especially in terms of how the Big Ten standings will shake out. It is very likely that, as of press time, Illinois and Ohio State will be tied with Michigan State for the top of the Big Ten. This will be the first matchup for these two teams, so it will be interesting to see what Illinois does to compensate for their lack of size and strength against the Buckeyes. I think OSU is playing too well right now to lose this game, even though Demetri McCamey is going toe to toe with anyone in the Big Ten right now for Illinois.
- Minnesota @ Northwestern – February 14th – 5:00 ET – This game means more to Northwestern than for Minnesota, at least as far as postseason hopes are concerned. Minnesota won the last matchup by 4 points at home, but it should be a different game on the road. The Gophers have struggled on the road this year, especially against decent teams, so the edge goes to Northwestern, especially if the Big Ten hopes to have five or six teams in the tournament this year, which might be a stretch, based on the conference’s RPI ranking.
Breaking It Down
- Oh where, oh where have the Spartans gone? Michigan State’s leadership is firmly vested in Kalin Lucas. Unfortunately for Michigan State, three games ago, when taking on Wisconsin on the road, Lucas sprained his ankle, and the Spartans haven’t been the same since. The Spartans with Lucas don’t lose against Illinois, but I am not sure he could have overcome Purdue at 100%. The problem area for MSU has been their defense and the inconsistent play of Durrell Summers. In their first matchup, Wisconsin shot 33.3% for the game against MSU’s 38.1%. In the second matchup, Wisconsin shoots 50.9% to MSU’s 37.0%. Same with the Illinois games. In the first matchup, Illinois shoots 34.9% compared with their 52.5% for the second. Durrell Summers was good for double figures in losses to Illinois and Wisconsin, but only 2 against Purdue. Summers can’t be that inconsistent for the Spartans to win, especially with Lucas not back at full strength yet.
- Purdue has now established itself as the top team in the conference again. The Big Three for Purdue are really playing well right now, and that has turned the Boilers around. At times during their losing streak not all three cylinders were firing at the same time, but now they are. E’Twaun Moore just had a season high against Michigan State with a 25/6 asst game. Robbie Hummel is always solid, but now JaJuan Johnson is now much more consistent as well. Johnson averaged 6 PPG during their slide, but has been averaging just shy of 19 PPG in this six game winning streak. Purdue will take care of Iowa, but winning against Ohio State on the road is something that the senior class has never done.
- Wisconsin loses at home. Wisconsin had an 18-game winning streak and a 51-game winning streak against unranked opponents in the Big Ten under coach Bo Ryan snapped in the past week. I would have expected someone like Purdue or Michigan State to pull off the upset, but instead it was Illinois. Wisconsin actually blew out Michigan State at home, so it is even more surprising that Wisconsin lost this game. There are some interesting differences between the Michigan State and Illinois games. The first has to do with bench minutes. Against the Spartans, the Badgers were able to rest their starters a little bit more with Rob Wilson playing for 24 minutes and putting up 10 points. Against Illinois, the Wisconsin bench only played a combined 18 minutes and contributed 7 points. Keaton Nankivil also had a deep drop in production and shooting percentage against Illinois, once again relying too much on the long range bomb, and only having one drop. The good news for Wisconsin is that their schedule only includes two games that might be tough in the future in Minnesota and Illinois on the road.
- Ohio State might be the second best team in the Big Ten, if not the best. Ohio State has only lost one game in the Big Ten since Evan Turner has been back, and only two games overall. Ohio State was #13 nationally before Turner went down, #18 the week after, #17 the week after that, then #13, and then dropping from the Top 25 following losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. They are back where they started, but I believe they are a much stronger team now. I don’t think Turner will let this team lose, at this point. The rest of the team didn’t do a ton against Iowa, so Turner went off for a 32/7/5/4 steals game, matching his career high in points. Did we mention this guy is only a junior? Talk about simply amazing. Ohio State has games ahead with Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State that will ultimately determine who wins the Big Ten.
- Minnesota wins on the road behind Lawrence Westbrook. Minnesota got blown out on the road against Evan Turner and Company, and almost blew another game against Penn State, but some last second heroics by Lawrence Westbrook, helped to dash the Nittany Lions hopes as well as preserve Minnesota from being the first team to lose to Penn State this year in the Big Ten. Four of the five starters have been playing well as of late, with the exception of Devoe Joseph. Where has this guy gone? I saw him at Indiana, and was very impressed, but his production has fallen off a cliff. It might be due to confidence, or something else, but without Joseph, they can’t win the big games. The Michigan game could go either way, and they could take off Northwestern’s glass slipper if they are able to win on the road.
- Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten, really? I wrote last week that I thought most of Illinois’s success in the Big Ten was due to their scheduling. I don’t think I wrong on that assessment up until a week ago, but the reason Illinois is tied for the lead in the Big Ten is that they have really stepped it up as of late. Beating Michigan State and Wisconsin were huge wins, and really demonstrated the parity in the Big Ten this year. Demetri McCamey has turned himself into an animal in the Big Ten, and making the case that he should be a first team All-Big Ten guy at the end of the year if he keeps this up. He beat Indiana at the buzzer, took over against Wisconsin, and destroyed Michigan State from long range. Give it to Mike Tisdale for exploiting Wisconsin’s lack of height, as he can’t play with the big boys, which has been shown all year. Illinois is atop the Big Ten, but is far from out of the woods. They still have OSU twice, Purdue, and Wisconsin. If they can survive that gauntlet they might be able to prove that they are a tournament team.
- Northwestern needs to continue to win the must-wins. Northwestern did a great job against Indiana at home, especially with a very balanced scoring attack, with all five starters in double figures. They took the game early and never looked back. They will need to do the same against Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State, and Indiana. They really only have one game left that could get them into trouble, and that’s Wisconsin. I look forward to seeing how Northwestern does when they’re in control of their own tournament destiny.
- Can Michigan be a spoiler? Michigan has hit the skids in the Big Ten. Ever since their win against UConn, they’ve gone straight downhill. Sure, they beat Iowa, but that’s not really news. At this point, Michigan can only settle for spoiler. The games I see on their schedule in which they would most likely fill that role are Illinois at home, and Ohio State and Michigan State on the road. I am not sure they have enough firepower to beat either OSU or MSU, but they could have a shot against Illinois. Sure, they beat OSU earlier, but that was sans Evan Turner, so I heavily discount that win. Let’s see what Michigan can do.
- Indiana’s slide continues. Indiana can’t seem to perform with the same level of energy in back-to-back games these days. They brought everything they could against Purdue and took it to the wire against the sixth-ranked team in the nation at home. Then they came out flat against Northwestern on the road and got blown out. Now they have lost four straight with maybe only one game that they should win left in Big Ten play. That could be a good sign for the Hoosiers who tend to play much better as underdogs, anyway. Verdell Jones continues to put up big numbers, but it looks like Christian Watford might have solved his scoring slump against Northwestern, which is a good sign for the Hoosiers.
- Will Iowa win another game in the Big Ten? Iowa has now lost four straight in the Big Ten, and it doesn’t look good for the foreseeable future. Their best shot is Indiana at home, and that might be the only other game they win this year. Of course, Indiana doesn’t want to repeat what happened to them at home at Iowa, so it is hard to predict what will happen with that game. The good news for Iowa — more for next year than this year — is that they aren’t getting blown out. The bad news is that they are only scoring in the high 40s and low 50s in their games, clearly not enough offensive production to hang with the big boys who are used to putting up a lot more points. To add insult to injury, Iowa is shooting in the 30%-range, and having to rely on offensive put-backs for offense. The Hawkeyes gear up for Northwestern at home before taking on Purdue on the road.
- Penn State is still winless. It is unfortunate that when looking at the headlines about Penn State games, it is usually about the other team’s heroics in pulling out the big games. The fact is that the Nittany Lions have yet to win a game this year. Their last win goes back to December 21st against American. Maybe Penn State should have been as clever as Iowa to schedule an easy non-conference game in the middle of the year to make sure their confidence doesn’t wane. One would hope that they could pull out one of these close games, but so far they continue to come up empty, with the latest disappointment coming from Lawrence Westbrook’s heroics at the buzzer. Talor Battle continues to be the best player to play on a losing team. Penn State takes on Michigan State at home before hitting the road to take on Northwestern and Michigan.