Checking in on… the Big Ten

Posted by rtmsf on February 24th, 2010

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

The big thing from the past week:

  • The race is on. Purdue moved into first place in the Big Ten and #3 nationally this past week with victories over OSU and Illinois. MSU slipped a bit with its own loss against OSU. Purdue is now in the driver’s seat, looking very closely into the rear view mirror where MSU and OSU are hanging on. I am looking for a spoiler to step in to shake things up a bit, but I am not sure who it will be.

Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #3 Purdue, #9 Ohio State, #14 Michigan State, and #17 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings

  1. Purdue                                 23-3, 11-3
  2. Ohio State                           21-7, 11-4
  3. Michigan State                  21-7, 11-4
  4. Wisconsin                            20-7, 10-5
  5. Illinois                                   18-10, 10-5
  6. Northwestern                   17-10, 6-9
  7. Minnesota                          16-10, 7-7
  8. Michigan                              13-14, 6-9
  9. Indiana                                 9-17, 3-11
  10. Iowa                                      9-18, 3-11
  11. Penn State                          10-16, 2-12

Coming Up

  • Purdue @ Minnesota – February 24 – 8:30 PM ET – Minnesota is coming on strong lately, blowing out both Wisconsin and Indiana at home. This game should be interesting because Minnesota plays very well at home even though Purdue is playing its best basketball of the year. Last game was a 17-point loss for the Gophers, but it was only the second game in conference play. Would be a big upset for Minnesota, and a game that Purdue should win.
  • Michigan State @ Purdue – February 28 – 4:00 PM ET – The way the season is shaping up, if Purdue beats Minnesota they will have a one-game lead on both OSU and MSU. This game, if Purdue wins, will most likely be enough to win the Big Ten outright. The last matchup was a 12-point victory for Purdue, but Kalin Lucas did come off the bench for the Spartans. The edge should go to Purdue in this one, especially at Mackey Arena. 
  • Illinois @ Ohio State – March 3 – 9:00 PM ET – This is the last regular season game for OSU and second to last for the Illini. In the grand scheme of things, this game could be meaningless, but it would matter more for Illini than OSU for a couple of reasons: this gives Illinois a chance to redeem themselves from their earlier blowout at home and it helps them make a case for the tournament, especially after racking up two losses lately against top 10 teams. Illinois will need to figure out the 1-3-1, and improve their shooting percentage to win this one.

Breaking It Down

  • Purdue is alone in First. Purdue’s Big Three has now morphed into a Big Four with Keaton Grant starting to pour in the points where Chris Kramer has been unable to do so all year. In the past two games Grant has averaged 14 points a game, besting his season average by almost 8 points. If the Big Three continue to do their thing, Kramer continues to be a beast on defense, and they get a solid offensive contribution from Grant, they could be off to the races. Purdue has Minnesota on the road, which could be tough if Minnesota comes to play. The following game against Michigan State at Mackey could prove to be the deciding game for the Big Ten Championship. I give the edge to Purdue, especially since they have Indiana and Penn State to end the season.
  • Ohio State loses then wins big. In the past week two different Ohio State teams showed up to play. Against Purdue, Evan Turner came to play, but the supporting cast didn’t pull their weight. The two OSU-Purdue games were eerily similar. Ohio State was down double figures in both games. Evan Turner played big in both games. One Purdue big man dominated in each game: the first game it was Hummel and the second it was Johnson. The difference for Purdue was Keaton Grant, but Ohio State didn’t have the same difference maker, and couldn’t get a big enough run in the second half to win. The Buckeyes went straight after Michigan State in their other game, and didn’t let up. Turner got his numbers, but William Buford had a double-double also, and David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale were both close as well. Jon Diebler did what he does best: hit big threes when it counts. Even though OSU did what they had to do against MSU, their destiny is not in their own hands the rest of the way. They have to rely on MSU knocking off Purdue, and hope for another spoiler to be able to get a share of the Big Ten Title. They might have to settle for second place though. 
  • Michigan State suffers a big setback at home. Michigan State has slipped of late. They don’t seem to be able to win the big games like they were able to earlier in the year. During their three-game slide it was a defensive problem, and now the woes have shifted to offense. During the OSU game, the Spartans came roaring back by pounding the ball inside, but then they went away from their game plan, and started launching from outside again. Shooting 33% from long range isn’t going to do it in most Big Ten games. I am still not convinced that Kalin Lucas is completely healthy. I saw him limping visibly against Indiana, and then again versus OSU. His 3-13 performance isn’t indicative of the way he plays when he is healthy and aggressive. MSU as a team needs to get back to basics, and use the big bodies they have to take it to Purdue. That is the deciding game in the Big Ten. If MSU wins they will most likely tie for the share of the Big Ten Title. If not, the Boilermakers will roll.
  • Wisconsin blown out on the road but wins at home. It’s not often that the only starter not in double figures for Minnesota is Lawrence Westbrook, but that’s exactly what happened against Wisconsin. Fortunately for the Gophers, everyone else stepped up. Wisconsin buried itself by not being able to hit from long range against Minnesota. The big question mark for Wisconsin is whether Jon Leuer came back too early. He struggled in his first outing, but then put up respectable numbers in his second game back. It’s tough to get back into rhythm in general, but at this level, and this deep into conference play, I have to give it up for Leuer for being able to make much of an impact at all. Wisconsin bounced back against Northwestern for the win, but more disconcerting is their defense right now. They are letting their opponents shoot too well from the field. Minnesota was close to 50% and Northwestern was right at 50%. They need to D it up better to close out games down the stretch, especially at Illinois.
  • Illinois drops two straight before taking down Michigan. Illinois stopped the bleeding against Michigan in a high school score of a game in Ann Arbor. It is hard to call the game a defensive battle inasmuch that both teams shot poorly. Michigan had only 18 points at half and shot a dreadful 24.6% from the field for the game. Give it to Illinois for taking down one of the duo in DeShawn Sims, limiting him to seven points. After watching Illinois play now numerous times, the difference between a win and a loss for this team is Demetri McCamey. Against Ohio State and Purdue he wasn’t really looking to score. Unlike Talor Battle, where if he doesn’t score a ton his team wins, Illinois needs McCamey to look for his shot to draw defenders, and then that is when he is really good. In my opinion he was too unselfish in their loss to Purdue. He had an amazing 16 assists, but only shot the ball six times and went to the line twice. Against Wisconsin he took 17 shots, and against Michigan State he took 12. In both games he had over 20 points, and in both games, Illinois won. They need McCamey the scorer-distributor, not the distributor-scorer. They will need him in all three of their remaining games to be ready for the tournament.
  • Northwestern is drifting quietly into the sunset. Northwestern was once the darling of the Big Ten. Now I think they have found where they stand in the conference, and on the national scene as well. Northwestern started their stumble at Iowa, and had a momentary breath of life against Minnesota before falling to a team in Penn State that has struggled all year. Northwestern just isn’t defending that well, and isn’t scoring enough to withstand their defensive weaknesses. They let Penn State shoot over 55% from the field and then followed it up with another plus 50% game against Wisconsin. The Wisconsin game came down to the Badgers hitting a couple more threes and taking a couple more trips to the line than the Wildcats. John Shurna is still filling up the stat sheet but didn’t get much help against Wisconsin. Northwestern looks to avenge their loss to Iowa at home, and really has a fairly easy rest of the season if they can play better. Northwestern’s only shot at the tournament now is by winning the Big Ten Tournament and getting an automatic bid. That is going to take some kind of playing though, especially for a team that has relied on home court to win the majority of its games.
  • Minnesota finishing strong. Somebody has awakened this Minnesota team, and I am betting that it is Tubby Smith. They have won two straight now, including an impressive won at home against Wisconsin and a blowout at home against Indiana. Minnesota is a dangerous team at home, and I am very curious to see what they are able to do against Purdue. I have already talked about the game in the upcoming games section, so I won’t mention it much here, but I am thinking that if this Minnesota team wants to make some noise this year, this will be the game.
  • Michigan upset by Penn State before dropping one to Illinois. Yes, this is a two-man team that occasionally has a third, but lately, the big two just aren’t getting enough points for Michigan. In any other game on the planet, if you hold your opponent to 37%, you win the game. The problem for the Wolverines is that they managed to shoot around 25%, and you just can’t win a game when that happens. It is also tough to win a game when half of your shots are from three-point range, another scenario that happened in the Illinois game. Both teams shot dreadfully in the game; Illinois just happened to shoot less dreadfully. I have to give a hat’s off to this Michigan team for not turning the ball over. I think what is happening though is that instead of passing the ball, especially inside, they don’t have a chance to turn it over when they are chucking up three-pointers as soon as they get across half court. If this team wants an upset in any of their remaining games, they will either have to get red hot from three-point range, or start penetrating like I said at the beginning of the year.
  • Indiana’s losses continue to pile up. With this Indiana team, it is always hard to imagine what you are going to get. For most of conference play they have relied on two guys to carry the offensive load, and for the most part one of them has: Verdell Jones III. The first time around in conference it worked quite well because Jones was overlooked, and continued to rack up 20-point games. The second time around hasn’t been so kind to him though. The defenses have keyed on Jones, and his shooting percentage has plummeted even though he is consistently in double figures and gets to the charity stripe often. The player that has come on lately has been Devan Dumes, who is trying to close out his career at Indiana in aggressive fashion. Dumes took over at the end of the Michigan State game, and then exploded for 20 against Minnesota. The problem is that Christian Watford had a bad night against Minnesota, and once again, the Hoosiers are struggling to put points on the board. Add the fact that offenses are consistently shooting over 50% against them, and that is a recipe for eight straight losses. I am not sure at this point that Indiana can emerge from its tailspin and regain some confidence, but they will need to feel good about the next couple of years.
  • Iowa takes time off. Not much to report on for Iowa, as they haven’t played since February 16 in a close loss against Michigan at home. They gear up to take on Northwestern, a team they have already beaten this season at home. Iowa has only won one game on the road this year, so they are looking for the second.
  • Penn State with two in a row. Looks like all Penn State needed this year was for Talor Battle to not score as many points. Every article this year talked about the Talor Battle Show, but it turns out that the show wasn’t producing any wins in the Big Ten until he called in the cavalry. Battle scored ten against Northwestern and two other guys scored 20 apiece, and the Lions won by 11. Then he had 14 against Michigan, and one other guy was in double figures with two others close, and they won again. Looks like the recipe for success all along. Just wish these guys could have figured it out earlier in the year.
rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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