Checking In On… the Big Ten ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2012
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.
The Week That Was
- Boiling Over: Give credit to Matt Painter for making a difficult decision in the stretch run of a season. Painter kicked Kelsey Barlow off the team and suspended D.J. Byrd for the Michigan State game for a “violation of team rules.” They’ll miss Barlow’s experience and slashing ability, but sometimes this kind of incident can galvanize a team.
- Lincoln > Land of Lincoln: Any doubts about whether Illinois was still playing for embattled head coach Bruce Weber were answered when Nebraska used a 52-12 run to bury the Illini, 80-57, on Sunday. Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard combined for 11 total points. You just can’t let the worst offensive team in the Big Ten put up 80 on you. Illinois has now lost eight of its last nine games and Weber seems resigned to his likely fate (see video below).
- Shurna Can Score: Congrats to John Shurna, a nice kid and a fantastic (if unorthodox) scorer who is now the all-time leading scorer in Northwestern history. His deep three-pointer midway through the second half against Minnesota gave him 18 points to surpass Billy McKinney (1,900 points). More importantly to Shurna, the Wildcats picked up a win to stay in the hunt for first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
- Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) – Not since Tim Duncan in 1997-98 has a player averaged more than 15 points per game, 10 rebounds a game and three assists per game. But Draymond Green has done just that, and he continued to show his versatility on Sunday at Purdue with a 20-point, 10 rebound and seven-assist performance to lead the Spartans to a road win. He has to be the Big Ten POY if MSU wins the conference.
- Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) – William Buford has had big games for Ohio State this season, but his struggles late in the regular season may cost Ohio State a Big Ten crown. He shot a combined 5-for-24 in the Buckeyes’ losses to Michigan State and Michigan, and just hasn’t shown the big game leadership that you would expect out of a senior.
- Michigan (20-7, 10-4) – There’s no race for Freshman of the Year quite like the one in the Big Ten between Michigan’s Trey Burke and Indiana’s Cody Zeller. They may play different positions on the court, but each is integral to their team’s success. On Saturday, Burke helped the Wolverines stay perfect at home (15-0) with a 17-point, five-assist effort against his old high school teammate, Jared Sullinger.
- Wisconsin (19-7, 8-5) – The Badgers mid-week loss to Michigan State was strange for a few reasons. A) Jordan Taylor continues to struggle shooting the ball, going 3-of-13 from the field and finishing with 13 points and B) Wisconsin allowed the Spartans to shoot over 50% from the field. They have now lost 40 straight games as visitors in the conference against top-10 teams, according to STATS, LLC.
- Indiana (20-9, 8-7) – Struggling to win on the road in conference play is the sign of a team that is still figuring out how to do so. An ugly double-digit loss to Iowa dropped the Hoosiers to 2-6 on the road in the Big Ten and hovering around .500 overall. They get to lick their wounds with a random non-conference encounter against North Carolina Central on Wednesday.
- Purdue (17-10, 7-7) – Hummel is really starting to look like his former self on the court and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Boilermakers. He’s averaging 23.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game over his last three outings. On Sunday, he finished with 24 points -18 points in the first half – and 15 boards in a loss to Michigan State.
- Northwestern (17-10, 6-8) – It says something about the quality of this conference that a point guard like Dave Sobolewski can be having the season he is – 9.4 PPG, 3.6 APG and a 3:1 assist-turnover ratio – and be flying under the radar. If he keeps shooting it well from distance (4 of 5 against Minnesota), “Sobo” will give the Wildcats added versatility.
- Minnesota (17-10, 5-9) – While Illinois is almost assuredly NIT-bound, the Gophers are playing like they want to join them. Minnesota has lost three straight and four of five. Things don’t get any easier in their next three with home games against Michigan State and Indiana, and a road date at Wisconsin.
- Iowa (14-13, 6-8) – Matt Gatens might sneak his way on to the All-Big Ten Third Team this season. The senior guard is seventh in scoring (15.6 PPG) and fifth in three-point FG percentage. He played all 40 minutes and went 7 for 10 from beyond the arc to score 30 points in an upset win over Indiana.
- Illinois (16-11, 5-9) – One aspect of the game that Bruce Weber gave lip service to but never seemed to grasp was how to trust his bench. Tyler Griffey started for a period of time this season, but then lost his starting role. He played three minutes and scored three points total in losses to Northwestern and Indiana, but then started against Michigan and scored 18 points. It seems like Weber has tried to find the right lineups, but has yet to find one that he’s comfortable with this season. Which is a problem, considering there are only three games remaining.
- Nebraska (12-13, 4-10) – In a difficult season, it had to have felt good to blow the doors off of a conference opponent to end a four-game skid. There aren’t many games when the Huskers shoot over 50 percent. Winning three of their last five is not out of the question.
- Penn State (12-15, 4-10) – Though Tim Frazier became the first Nittany Lions player to eclipse 500 points, 150 assists and 50 steals in a single season, PSU’s road woes continued as they got behind early at Wisconsin and eventually fell to 0-8 on the road in Big Ten play.
- Tuesday, 2/21: No. 19 Michigan @ Northwestern – Though Northwestern came close against Indiana on the road, they couldn’t pull out the win. Odds are they’ll figure out how to finish off a close game one of these days. The Wildcats took Michigan to OT on the road, and Welsh-Ryan Arena will be rocking for Tuesday’s clash.
- Wednesday, 2/22: Michigan State @ Minnesota – “Sparty” has won five straight and seven of their last eight. But they need to take care of business against Minnesota and Nebraska first, however, before traveling to Bloomington and hosting OSU to finish the regular season. That last game in East Lansing could be for the regular season title.
- Saturday, 2/26: Wisconsin @ Ohio State – It’ll be interesting to see how Jared Sullinger deals with the refs here. He let Michigan State’s physical play get into his head in their home loss to the Spartans, and Wisconsin will surely employ the same type of tactics to try and throw him off his game. The question then becomes; will he let them?
Caught on Film
Call it “the Bruce Weber Concession Speech.” After battling but falling short against Purdue, the honest-to-a-fault Illini coach fell on the sword in Champaign afterward, blaming himself for “coaching not to lose” and wishing he had players like Aaron Craft, Draymond Green and Robbie Hummel at his disposal. If Illinois had any fight or heart left, it was seemingly gone by the time they played at Nebraska.