Big Ten Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

The big thing from the past week. Big Ten season ends in three way tie. Exciting as the seesaw race was all year, it ended in melodramatic fashion as both Purdue and Michigan State hung on after Ohio State had already won out several days prior. The Boilers and Spartans took care of business, beating teams they were supposed to beat. Michigan State racked up back to back banners, but the big story is that this was the first title for Purdue since 1996. Now to see how many teams can go to the dance based on their performance in the Big Ten tournament.  Four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: #5 Ohio State, #6 Purdue, #11 Michigan State, and #13 Wisconsin.

Power Rankings (final)

  1. Ohio State 24-7, 14-4
  2. Purdue 26-4, 14-4
  3. Michigan State 24-7, 14-4
  4. Wisconsin 23-7, 13-5
  5. Illinois 18-13, 10-8
  6. Minnesota 18-12, 9-9
  7. Northwestern 19-12, 7-11
  8. Michigan 14-16, 7-11
  9. Iowa 10-21, 4-14
  10. Indiana 10-20, 4-14
  11. Penn State 11-19, 3-15

Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis – March 11th-14th

First Round

  • #9 Iowa vs. #8 Michigan – March 11 – 2:30 ET – ESPN2 – This game could really go either way. The first game was a 14-point victory for Michigan at home, whereas the second game was a two-point victory in OT for Michigan on the road. For Michigan, Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both had at least 20 in each game, so look for that to continue. For Iowa, Aaron Fuller played well in the first game, but went crazy for 30 in the second game. Matt Gatens was absent in the first game, but exploded for 21 in the second game. Michigan comes in having lost four of six games while Iowa has lost the past five of six games. Iowa should do well inside in this game, but I think Michigan has finally figured out that they can’t rely totally on threes, so I am going with Michigan in this one.
  • #10 Indiana vs. #7 Northwestern – March 11 – 4:55 ET – ESPN2 – This game will most likely go to Northwestern. It is just too difficult to win two games against the same team within a week’s time, especially for a team as inconsistent as Indiana has been all year. The big thing Indiana has going for itself in this game and for this tournament is that they are essentially the home town team, especially if they are able to fill Lucas Oil Stadium with Indiana fans. If not, I think Northwestern has too much John Shurna and too much Michael Thompson for IU to handle. I also think Northwestern will make the adjustments on Jordan Hulls to stop his flurry of threes.
  • #11 Penn State vs. #6 Minnesota – March 11 – 7:30 ET – I am going with Minnesota in this one. They have really come on strong to close out the season, winning four of their last six games, including a 35-point drubbing of Iowa. Both of the matchups between these teams during the regular year were close victories for Minnesota, so I expect this one to be close because it is on neutral ground, and I wouldn’t expect either of the team’s fans to come out in droves. Penn State will need Chris Babb to have a big game along with Talor Battle and David Jackson, while Minnesota needs a consistent performance from Westbrook, Sampson, Hoffarber, and Johnson. The X-factor for Minnesota is Devoe Joseph who struggled in both contests. If he can step up then Minnesota wins easily;  if not they will win in a close battle.

Quarterfinals (projected)

#8 Michigan vs. #1 Ohio State – March 12 – 12 ET – ESPN – Ohio State will have had ten days off by the time they play this game, so it will be crucial for them to shake off the rust and come out of the gate quick. The only team in the first round game that beat OSU is Michigan, but that was a nine-point loss without Evan Turner. If Iowa manages to squeak by Michigan, they are looking at least a 10 point loss against OSU, but if Michigan wins as I predict, it could be a little bit closer. OSU just has too much offensive power for Michigan or Iowa and it would be a huge upset if they don’t advance.

#5 Illinois vs. #4 Wisconsin – March 12 – 2:25 ET – ESPN – These two teams play again after only five days between games. This game means the world to Illinois; if they lose their season is over and their chance of getting into the tournament is officially zero. They have been on the bubble for a while, but it will  burst with a loss here. Illinois upset Wisconsin in their first matchup, but that was without Jon Leuer. Add his 20 points to the mix, and that led to a 15-point Wisconsin victory. Unless Demetri McCamey has a monster game like their first matchup, I don’t see an Illinois win likely in this game. Illinois has lost five of six, whereas Wisconsin has won five of six coming into this one.

#7 Northwestern vs. #2 Purdue – March 12 – 6:30 ET – Big Ten Network – On paper, Purdue should win this game; they have won 12 out of their past 13 games. Northwestern, who I have as the projected winner of game 2, has lost four out of their past six games. The one thing Northwestern has going for itself in this game is the past. They won their only meeting of the year between these games, and that should give them some confidence. The other thing that should give them confidence is that John Shurna, who has been a beast for most of the Big Ten season, had only eight points in the victory against Purdue. This is the first test against a middle of the road team since their loss to MSU, a game in which they are going to need a lot more offensive production than they did against the Spartans. I give the edge to Purdue in this one, just based on the negative trajectory of Northwestern the second half of the season.

#6 Minnesota vs. #3 Michigan State – March 12 – 25 min. after Game 6 – Big Ten Network – This game, which I project to feature Minnesota and Michigan State, will go down to the wire, at the end going to Michigan State. Their first matchup was a seven-point victory for MSU, while their second matchup was a one-point squeaker for the Spartans. The Gophers have come on strong, but still managed to lose to Michigan twice as well as Indiana on the road. Michigan State is starting to get it together, but there is no way that Tom Izzo isn’t going to have his guys ready to play. Raymar Morgan will have to continue to dominate down low, and Kalin Lucas will need to get back to his mid season ways. The one question mark here is Chris Allen, who has been suspended indefinitely, so MSU will be without his almost 10 PPG for most likely the entirety of the Big Ten tourney. They will need to make up for those lost points.

#4 Wisconsin vs. #1 Ohio State – March 13 – 1:40 ET – CBS – This projected game between OSU and Wisconsin will go down to the last seconds, if not OT. It is unfortunate that each time these two teams played this season they weren’t at full strength. The first matchup was missing Evan Turner, and OSU had their lowest point production of the year. The second matchup was missing Jon Leuer, and Wisconsin lost by nine. On paper, just by running the numbers, it looks like this game should go to Wisconsin. Add in 15 points for Wisconsin or even 11 based on Leuer being in the game, and you have a victory for the Badgers. OSU has only lost one Big Ten game with Evan Turner at full strength, and that was a nailbiter to Purdue. Wisconsin has only lost once with Jon Leuer in the game, and that was a seven-point loss to MSU in which he had 21. This one is simply too close to call.

#3 Michigan State vs. #2 Purdue – March 13 – 25 min. after Game 8 – CBS – This projected game would pit MSU vs. Purdue, the second such matchup between these two teams since Robbie Hummel went down to injury. This past matchup was a nine-point victory for MSU in a low scoring game that had both teams shooting poorly and MSU turning it over eight more times than they average on the season. This next game should be a lot crisper, and one would hope that the cast of big time players for each team would step up more than they did before. For Purdue, Moore and Johnson will have to score more and shoot better than last game. For MSU, Lucas, Morgan, and a couple more will have to step up offensively and take care of the ball better this time around. I think Purdue will have a much better game in this one, but in the end, I just don’t think they have enough reserves to draw from to beat MSU.

#1 Ohio State/#4 Wisconsin vs. #2 Michigan State – March 14 – 3:30 ET – CBS – The projected teams in this game are either Ohio State/Wisconsin vs. Michigan State. I will just run through the different scenarios of teams, and who would win given the matchups. OSU vs. MSU should be a close one with the last matchup going to OSU by seven points. In that game, Evan Turner had a 20/10/6 asst game. The supporting cast had solid games as well, with maybe another eight points being the maximum that they would score. For MSU though, Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan could pump in another 15 points in total, and that would be the only way they will beat OSU. In that matchup, I would go with OSU. In the MSU vs. Wisconsin matchup, looking at their last game, which went to Wisconsin by 18, it is hard to say that MSU would pull out that game as well. That was even without Jon Leuer for Wisconsin, but the X-factor in that game was the loss of Kalin Lucas with a sprained ankle. His leadership could have made it a 10-point game or less, but Wisconsin still would have won that game. With each of these matchups, I am assuming the MSU team that I have seen later in the season. If the team that was playing midway through the season, or even the team that tends to step up come tournament time shows, that could sway the results of these games. If those Spartans come to play, I think they have the ability to beat either OSU or Wisconsin, but I haven’t seen that team very much this season.

Season Recap

Ohio State moves from #16 to #5. Ohio State has exceeded expectations more than any other team in the Big Ten this season except for Wisconsin. They started the year ranked #16 in the nation, and according to the latest rankings, they top the Big Ten with a #5 ranking. They were able to do that of course behind the outstanding play of Evan Turner but also because they have the ultimate role players. Clearly Turner can do it all, but Jon Diebler is the long range guy, David Lighty is the defensive specialist with offensive punch, Dallas Lauderdale blocks shots inside and dunks, and William Buford is the offensive leader in waiting. They aren’t close to the tallest team in the conference, but they have a big size advantage over other teams at the guard positions, and have done a good job covering up their size disadvantage inside. The story of the year for this team has been Evan Turner. With him they are practically unstoppable, but without him they were an average team in the Big Ten. With their record and current ranking it is possible for the Buckeyes to be a #2 in the Big Dance if they progress far into the Big Ten Tournament.

Purdue starts fast, picks up steam, and then loses a leader. Purdue set a school record for wins to start the season, and then closed out the season in similar fashion. They struggled in the middle of the conference season with a three-game losing streak, but came out of it strong behind the play of their big three: E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. Then Hummel went down with a torn ACL and Purdue is still trying to find their new identity as a team and make up for Hummel’s 16 points a game. This team has developed over the past three years with three juniors, but now they need a couple seniors and underclassmen to step up if they want to go anywhere in the Big Ten or the NCAA Tournament. Purdue needs to channel their inner Notre Dame this week and next, showing that they seem to play better without their star player. I think Matt Painter will get these guys to believe that they are just as good without Hummel. Whether that is true or not is to be determined, but I know everyone in the Big Ten will be rooting for Purdue to represent the conference well. After all, they still only have four losses on the year, something very few others team s in the top 25 can claim.

Michigan State starts fast, Lucas goes down, and now what? MSU started out of the gates fast, trying to live up to its preseason #2 billing. They looked good until they started losing to some of the traditional big guns in Florida, UNC and Texas. Those were losses to good teams at the time, but now one of those won’t be making the tournament and the other two are borderline. This team has risen and fallen behind Kalin Lucas, who was criticized early for his lack of leadership and then praised midway through the season for his abundance of it. This team hasn’t quite fired on all cylinders yet this season, and have looked a little off since Kalin Lucas got hurt with a sprained ankle. Lucas has had some good games since coming back from the ankle injury, but the team as a whole has been consistently inconsistent. They will need to pound the ball inside to Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green while relying on Durrell Summers to slash and spot up. Lucas will need to get into the lane while also hitting from the outside and dishing to the big men inside. They have a size advantage inside against most teams in the Big Ten, but haven’t been able to capitalize on it for a whole game yet this season. This will be the time to start, and if they do, they should go deep into the tournament.

Wisconsin is slow and steady and finishes a game back. This Bo Ryan team is like most of his others: They don’t turn the ball over, they control the pace, they play within a system, and they play hard. This team is led by Trevon Hughes but with Jon Leuer close behind. According to the rankings, Wisconsin has also overachieved this season. They weren’t picked to even be in the top 25, but they played themselves in and finished at the #13 spot. Wisconsin is a dangerous team now, as they figured out how to win games without Jon Leuer for a while, but they have really excelled since he has been back in action and shaken off the rust. The team now isn’t at the huge size disadvantage they were at for most of the Big Ten season, but then again, they haven’t played the top of the Big Ten since Leuer has been back. The scary thing though, is that Wisconsin blew out MSU by 18 at home without Big Jon. This club is at full health now, so the sky is really the limit. If they play well, they might very well win the Big Ten tourney, which might be good enough for a #3 or #4 seed in the Big Dance.

Illinois endures and then runs into a wall. To say that this Illinois team is streaky would be an understatement. For much of the season they had trouble just winning or losing one game at a time, but instead they came in bunches. They need to win probably all of their games in the Big Ten tourney to get to the NCAAs, so they are hoping that streakiness comes into play very soon. This team has been led by Demetri McCamey all year, even though he had been benched by Bruce Weber at one point in the season to prove a point about his lack of leadership. It worked for a while, as McCamey took over at times on their way to big wins over MSU and Wisconsin. McCamey then got overgenerous in the assist department, and his scoring plummeted, leading to some key losses at OSU and Purdue. This team has never been able to combine the inside and outside presence at the same time, sometimes seeing Mike Davis have big games, but never a complete game by everyone except for their big wins against Wisconsin and OSU. If the Big Ten is to get a fifth team into the tournament, it will be Illinois, but they just haven’t proven that they can beat the top teams in the conference consistently. In the big games they have faltered. They will need to step up in a big way to have a chance at winning the Big Ten tournament and go to the dance. The Big Ten should be pulling for them though.

Minnesota never quite gets on track. The season started with offcourt distractions for Minnesota along with being overrated in the preseason, a billing they weren’t able to equal. They were projected at #25, getting to as high as #22 before dropping off the map. Minnesota has flirted with the bubble, but at this point I am not sure they have enough to make it even if they win a couple in the Big Ten tourney. Al Nolen being ruled ineligible hurt the team, but played a big role in developing Devoe Joseph, who ended as the #4 scorer on the team, and a couple points higher than Nolen. Lawrence Westbrook has been hot and cold all year, winning a game in the last second without doing much in the previous 40 minutes, and sometimes taking over. Ralph Sampson III has continued to develop, as Tubby Smith will need him next year. Speaking of Tubby Smith, it is not a secret that he hasn’t been happy with this team, but that did help to light a fire under them. Minnesota was a team possessed at the end of the season until they folded against Michigan. Anything can happen with this team come Big Ten tourney time, as they actually have the talent and the athleticism to play with anyone, but mentally, I am not sure they are as strong.

Northwestern exceeds but falls short. Nobody thought this team had much of a shot at the beginning of the year, with Kevin Coble and Jeff Ryan going down, but they also didn’t know about a guy named John Shurna, who would emerge as a Big Ten star in the making. Shurna only put up 7.3 PPG last year, but he actually blew away Coble’s 15.5 PPG in 2009 with 18.5/6.4/2.6 asst averages this year. Michael Thompson was the top of his support staff, good for almost 14 PPG. Luka Mirkovic had flashes where he would dominate, but other times he would disappear. Drew Crawford also showed flashes of offensive brilliance, but like most freshman, consistency wasn’t his strong suit. I am not sure what postseason tournament this team will be in, but I think next year they should be looking good. First they take on Indiana, and then could be back playing Purdue once again.

Michigan never lives up to its billing. I am not exactly sure what made Michigan a preseason #15, especially now that I have seen their stats for the past two years,and they are remarkably the same. My bet is that the prognosticators thought that given the same roster, they would have to improve. Well, they didn’t. Last year was the Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims show, and so was this year. The unfortunate thing for Michigan this year is that their three-point shooting percentage dropped: 29.8% this year vs. 33.4% last year. Fortunate for Michigan though, they at least shot 200 fewer of them this year. Their biggest win of the season was Ohio State, until you realize that Mr. OSU Evan Turner was not playing. They just couldn’t beat teams, and when they lost, they were sometimes in the 40s. Considering that they have only two scorers, scoring in the 40s isn’t half bad. Even if they get past Iowa, which they should, they will run into an OSU team that isn’t messing around now, so that will most likely end their disappointing season.

Iowa plays the spoiler but finishes as expected. Iowa was supposed to finish the bottom of the Big Ten, and they did, so there isn’t a whole lot to write about that. What Iowa can be most proud of this year is spoiling the chances for Northwestern to make the tournament by starting their late season slide. Aaron Fuller and Matt Gatens provided Iowa with offensive firepower, especially after Anthony Tucker was suspended following the second drunken incident in as many years. Mid-January was a good time for the Hawkeyes, winning three of four, before dropping four straight prior to the Northwestern upset. Iowa also proved to Indiana that they had their number this year, sweeping them to make sure they stayed out of the basement in the Big Ten this year. I would say that this team either lived up to potential or partially exceeded it, about as much as you can ask for from a team. There is a chance they can get by Michigan, but after that, it is game over against OSU.

Indiana surprises early but fades fast. Indiana had some ugly losses early on in Puerto Rico, and then surprised a lot of people by getting back on the horse for three great games to teams that are ranked #19 and above. They hung with Maryland for three-quarters of a game, beat a Pitt team that finished second in the Big East, and then hung with #2 Kentucky for more than a half. Then Maurice Creek, their top scorer at the time, got hurt. After that, IU drops three straight, but comes back and beats Minnesota at home in OT followed up with a victory over PSU. And that’s the last we hear from the Hoosiers before they dropped eleven straight. This Hoosier team just didn’t have enough weapons inside or outside, and they are a couple guys and maybe a couple of years away from really being able to battle day in and day out in the Big Ten. Verdell Jones and Christian Watford did admirable jobs anchoring the offense in Creek’s absence, but it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t at a high enough percentage late in the season. The team just turned the ball over way too much and couldn’t knock down free throws. They have a chance of getting by Northwestern, but they will have to channel as much energy as the first time they played Purdue to win that game.

Penn State struggles and then comes alive. Penn State is probably the best 3-15 in conference team I have ever seen. I was really surprised that they couldn’t win a game in the Big Ten until very late in the season, but I think what hampered PSU more than anything was the inability for other guys to step up and help out Talor Battle. Near the end of the season when they started to win games other playres pitched in and it led to some nice victories, including a sweep of Northwestern. Most of the year it was the Talor Battle show, but I think David Jackson and Chris Babb should have gotten involved earlier on, and you would likely have seen more Ws for Penn State this year. I am not sure they will be able to get by Minnesota in their Big Ten tourney game, but if they do, I wish them luck.

rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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