Checking In On… the Big Ten ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 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, interesting fridge magnets and life.
The Week That Was:
- House of Payne: Michigan State sophomore center Adreian Payne picked an excellent time to have the game of his career. The 6’11’’ sophomore has shown flashes of potential this year, but was particularly efficient against Ohio State. Payne finished 6-6 from the field for 15 points, grabbed four boards and blocked two shots – and more importantly, he frustrated Ohio State star Jared Sullinger with his wiry athleticism on the defensive end. Sure, Sullinger finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, but he also turned it over 10 times and seemed to let the refs affect his play.
- Woes of Weber: That smoke you see emanating from Champaign might be coming from Bruce Weber’s increasingly hot seat. New AD Mike Thomas has already shown one under-performing head coach (Ron Zook) the door, and now the Illini have gone from leading the Big Ten at 4-1 to dropping six of their last seven and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. As many Illinois fans will attest, this team just makes too many of the same frustrating mistakes on a continuous basis.
- Hummel A Handful: The Robbie Hummel that Boilermaker fans have been waiting for all season long finally emerged on Saturday against Northwestern. The senior tallied a season-high 27 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocks while logging 39 minutes of playing time. As badly as Northwestern needed to win that game, it was equally as valuable to Purdue, which couldn’t afford drop back-to-back games at Mackey Arena (especially with Michigan State coming to town in a week).
- Michigan State (20-5, 9-3) – An even more impressive factor in Michigan State’s recent success is that they’re winning despite the shaky play of Keith Appling. The sophomore point guard seemed to be turning the corner in his new position early in the conference season, but he’s taken a few steps back since then. His accuracy from distance has slipped from 41% to 27% this season, and he had seven turnovers with no assists in their win over Ohio State.
- Ohio State (21-4, 9-3) – Where has the Bucks’ offense gone? In two of their last three games, OSU has been held under 53 points. Granted, their opponents were defensive stalwarts Wisconsin and Michigan State, but still, this a team that is second in the Big Ten in scoring offense at nearly 73 points per game.
- Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4) – The Badgers were able to hang on and win an important game at Minnesota in overtime, but their struggles to score (nearly eight minutes without a point in the second half) are cause for concern. While their defense will often bail them out, few teams that have consistent prolonged scoring droughts can expect to do much damage in March.
- Michigan (19-7, 9-4) – Syracuse has a much deeper bench than the Wolverines, but Michigan is almost as balanced in terms of scoring. The six players who log more than 20 minutes of playing time all average between 7.6 and 14.3 points per game and five of them have led Michigan in scoring at one time or another this season. In the win over Illinois on Sunday, four players finished in double figures.
- Indiana (19-6, 7-6) – Cody Zeller earned another Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor after he went toe-to-toe with Illinois center Meyers Leonard and outplayed the future lottery pick, scoring 22 points and grabbing five boards. Unlike Illinois, Indiana is more balanced offensively, with Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls all scoring in the double figures as the Hoosiers pulled away for a 84-71 win.
- Purdue (16-9, 6-6) – An important factor in Purdue’s recent solid play has been D.J. Byrd. The 6’5’’ sophomore has hit at least three three-pointers in each of his last three games and averaged a shade under 20 points per game during that time. When he can compliment the all-around game of Robbie Hummel, outside threat of Ryne Smith and the slashing ability of Kelsey Barlow and Lewis Jackson, he makes Purdue difficult to stop.
- Minnesota (17-8, 5-7) – Tubby Smith has a pretty resilient bunch in Minneapolis. The Gophers shut down Wisconsin for the final eight minutes of the game as they clawed their way back from a 13-point deficit. It ultimately went down as another tough overtime defeat, which adds to the difficult overtime loss to Illinois and two very narrow losses to Iowa. Minnesota has battled, but come up agonizingly short several times in conference play. A win this week over Ohio State at home would be a tremendous resume booster.
- Northwestern (15-9, 5-7) – Earlier this season, freshman point guard David Sobolewski had a huge game against Penn State, then struggled a bit in the games that followed. So Bill Carmody reportedly lit into him at practice, and it seems to have worked. The tough 6’1’’ “Sobo” poured in a career-high 23 points with seven assists against Iowa, then came back and had 12 points, three assists and no turnovers in a hostile environment at Purdue. He’s got great moxie and should be a solid leader for the Wildcats for years to come.
- Illinois (16-7, 5-7) – It was a tough week for Meyers Leonard. Indiana’s Cody Zeller got the best of the 7’1’’ sophomore in their head-to-head matchup, outscoring him 22 to 17 and getting into his head with an inadvertent elbow to the mouth. After receiving treatment, however, Leonard quickly came in and picked up a cheap foul out of frustration. Once Leonard was on the bench, the Hoosiers quickly pulled away and coasted to the win. In Saturday’s loss to Michigan, Leonard got in early foul trouble and finished with just five points. The Illini’s struggles are no secret right now, and Leonard must learn to control his emotions and channel his frustrations into something Illinois truly needs – production.
- Iowa (13-12, 5-7) – He hasn’t started much this season, but 6’8’’ freshman Aaron White has given the Hawkeyes a nice presence in the post. White recorded his second career double-double (first in Big Ten play) in Iowa’s blowout loss at Northwestern.
- Nebraska (11-13, 3-10) – Unlike Wisconsin or Michigan State, Nebraska is in trouble if they can’t score. They shot under 40 percent from the field in listless losses to Michigan and Penn State and now have dropped four straight. Whatever momentum they had after beating Indiana at home is long gone.
- Penn State (11-15, 3-10) – It’s purely speculative, but you have to wonder how the Penn State child sex abuse scandal affected the Nittany Lions this season. The media maelstrom hit when the team was in the non-conference portion of the schedule and it couldn’t have been very easy to concentrate on playing basketball during that time. How much, if any, was the team’s early season growth hampered by the athletic department upheaval?
- Wednesday, 2/15: Northwestern @ Indiana – Bill Carmody seems to think that a 9-9 conference record will be enough to get his team in the Dance, and he’s probably right. But the Wildcats would have to go 4-2 over their last six and they still have to host Ohio State and Michigan. First, they have a tough visit to Bloomington, where IU is 14-1.
- Thursday, 2/16: Wisconsin @ Michigan State – The way the last meeting between these two ended was one of the more bizarre finishes in Big Ten basketball history. Both teams are trending upward right now, so this should be another tight, defensive battle. Jordan Taylor scored 28 last time, and the Badgers will need him to replicate that effort. Give Michigan State the edge because they’re at the Breslin Center.
- Saturday, 2/18: Ohio State @ Michigan – Despite their sometimes inconsistent play, the Wolverines are still in the hunt for a Big Ten regular season crown, thanks in part to their sparkling 14-0 home record. That record will be put to the test when they welcome the Buckeyes to renew a rivalry that is mostly known for activity on the gridiron.