Checking In On… The Big Ten ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on January 31st, 2012
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks, and life.
The Week That Was
- Tom Izzo is a Big Ten Legend: The emotional Michigan native won his 400th career game this week when Tom Izzo guided the Spartans to a comfortable 68-52 home win over Minnesota. No matter who leaves, the guy simply gets the most out of his teams year in and year out by emphasizing selflessness, defense, rebounding and toughness. There’s a reason that Michigan State always seems to be playing its best ball by the time March rolls around.
- Up Comes Frazier!: Raise your hand at home if you had Penn State’s Tim Frazier as a likely first-team All-Big Ten candidate in February. If you did, you are a basketball savant and should be writing this column [Ed. Note: Or you are a Penn State homer.]. The 6’2” junior dominated against Penn State’s soft non-conference schedule, but hasn’t slowed down in Big Ten play. In league games, he is leading the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG), assists (5.3 APG), and steals (2.5. SPG). Admittedly, wins have been hard to come by for the Nittany Lions this season, but Frazier has been a bright spot in Happy Valley.
- Welcome Back, Wisco: With Bo Ryan still at the helm, nobody thought Wisconsin would be down for long, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Badgers ran their current winning streak to five games after they downed Indiana at the Kohl Center this week. During this streak, they ground out tough road wins over Purdue and Illinois and claimed home victories over Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana.
- Ohio State (19-3, 7-2) – Value City Arena isn’t the first Big Ten gym to come to mind when you think of fearsome places to play in the conference, but teams that have entered “The Grey” recently haven’t had much success. The students are passionate and the place is big and cavernous, more of a professional arena than a cozy college gymnasium. There’s a reason why the Buckeyes have won 38 straight at VCA and are winning their home Big Ten games in the nation’s best conference (according to the RPI) by an average of 24 points.
- Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) – Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Michigan State’s win over Minnesota was that it proved that point guard Keith Appling can go 1-8 from the field and score seven points … and the Spartans can still win by double digits. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to show flashes of brilliance, as he stepped up to score 16 points in Appling’s stead. Someone needs to provide a second scoring option to Draymond Green and if it can’t be Appling that day, it falls to Dawson or Valpo transfer Brandon Wood.
- Michigan (16-5, 6-3) – That anyone is even challenging Indiana’s Cody Zeller for Big Ten Freshman of the Year is a testament to how good Trey Burke has been. In his highly anticipated matchup against MSU’s Keith Appling a few weeks ago, Burke led the Wolverines past the Spartans with a team-high 20 points, four rebounds, and two steals. His play under pressure in March will largely determine just how far Michigan goes this season. With a freshman point guard, however, it’s no surprise that Michigan is 12-0 at home, but just 2-5 on the road.
- Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3) – Much has been made about 6’11’’ Jared Berggren’s outside shooting this season (27 made threes), but it was his defensive tenacity against star Indiana freshman Cody Zeller that helped Wisconsin hold off the Hoosiers in Madison. Berggren blocked five shots while limiting the All-Big Ten candidate to just seven points and three rebounds.
- Indiana (4-5, 16-5) – Scoring 103 points in a home blowout win over Iowa was probably cathartic for a young team that may have seen its confidence shaken after dropping four of its previous five games. A particularly amazing stat from that game is that the Hoosiers – second in the country in three-point field goal percentage – only made four of them against the Hawkeyes.
- Purdue (15-7, 5-4) – It was a hard week for fans of the Boilers who have heart problems. First, Purdue storms back against Michigan at home in the second half, only to go cold in the final minutes and lose by two points. Then at Northwestern, Purdue surrenders a lead before coming back and leaving Evanston with a two-point win. A slim margin of five points or fewer have decided nearly half of Purdue’s conference games this season (four).
- Minnesota (16-6, 4-5) – The Gophers exacted some revenge on Illinois by earning a home overtime victory of their own. This team seems to have adopted the fiery spirit of their coach, Tubby Smith. They could have easily folded the tent after losing star center Trevor Mbakwe and starting out 0-4 in the Big Ten. But they have won four of their last five and seem to be making a strong case for an NCAA Tournament bid. They really need to win these next two against Iowa and Nebraska, because their last seven conference games include Wisconsin (twice), Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State.
- Illinois (16-6, 4-4) – Last year, the Illini had the talent, but no leadership at the point guard position. This year, they have the leadership, but not the talent. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco is a smart, tough player, but he is limited defensively. He did well enough in the early non-conference portion of the schedule, but has been exposed and seen his minutes decrease since then. With talented players like Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard, it would be interesting to see what this Illini team could do if they had a true point guard leading the charge.
- Northwestern (12-8, 2-6) - Injuries are really starting to decimate the Wildcats, who seem to be seeing their dreams of a first NCAA Tournament bid vanishing before their eyes. The Wildcats played just six – six! – players against Purdue on Sunday. Northwestern doesn’t play great defense so they need to outscore people. That’s a tall order when your only consistent scorers are John Shurna and a banged up Drew Crawford. True tourney teams just don’t lose consecutive road games by 20-plus points.
- Iowa (11-10, 3-5) – The wheels are starting to come off the train for Fran McCaffrey’s bunch in Iowa City. A promising beatdown of Michigan has been followed by three straight defeats, the latest in which the Hoosiers lit up Iowa’s zone defense for over 100 points. It’s pretty hard to lose a game by double digits in which you shoot over 63%, but that’s exactly what they did.
- Nebraska (11-9, 3-6) – It’s the sign of a veteran coach (Doc Sadler) and team that they wouldn’t fold after being down by 13 points in the second half against Indiana. Their efforts paid off when two late free throws by Jorge Brian Diaz gave the Huskers their first signature win in the Big Ten. It’s difficult to come in and win in a deep, difficult conference like the Big Ten, but guys like Bo Spencer and Toney McCray are providing good leadership
- Penn State (10-12, 2-7) – It must be quite a surreal season in State College, what with the entire nation’s focus on the football program even months after the season has concluded. Trying to focus and play consistent basketball amidst the media frenzy and turmoil that has engulfed the campus has to be difficult. Even the wrestling program – ranked No. 1 in the country right now – is overshadowing Patrick Chambers’ bunch.
- Tuesday, 1/31: #8 Michigan State at Illinois – Just a few weeks ago, the Illini had beaten Ohio State and were sitting atop the Big Ten. Since then they’ve dropped three straight close games, and now welcome a top 10 team in Michigan State into Assembly Hall. It’s usually a nice home court advantage for the Illini, but the Spartans have already proven tough road atmospheres don’t rattle them (see win at Kohl Center).
- Wednesday, 2/1: #22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – Despite their 103-point outburst against Iowa, Indiana hasn’t been as prolific on offense during their recent struggles as they were when they raced out to 15-0. Michigan tends to stifle teams with a nice blend of zone and man, and they haven’t lost at Crisler yet this season. That might change when Ohio State comes calling, but it won’t this week.
- Saturday, 2/4: #3 Ohio State at #23 Wisconsin – These are the types of games where senior PG Jordan Taylor needs to rise to the occasion. The Badgers rely on him for offense and while he’ll have a tough matchup in Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, you would think Taylor would have to have a big game for Wisconsin to win. How will Bo Ryan scheme to contain big Jared Sullinger down on the block?
- Sunday, 2/5: No. 22 Michigan @ No. 9 Michigan State – Just as the Wolverines are 12-0 at home, they are only 2-5 on the road. The win at Purdue was nice, but Michigan State is better than the Boilers. Just can’t see Spartans star Draymond Green letting his team lose a big conference rivalry game at home in his senior season. Speaking of Green …
Green is Good
He won’t likely win Conference Player of the Year, but Draymond Green will leave East Lansing as one of the best, most important players that Tom Izzo has ever coached at Michigan State. He was brilliant against Minnesota, scoring 22 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and dishing out six assists. In conference play, he is averaging 15.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Green happily takes on difficult defensive challenges (like guarding Northwestern’s John Shurna), has shown deft touch on the perimeter (25 three-pointers – second on team) and routinely displays the kind of leadership that Izzo loves to see out of his senior captain.