Checking In On… the Big Ten ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2012
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter at @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, box fans and life.
The Week That Was:
- Spartan Success: Despite losing guys like Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas and Delvon Roe, the Michigan State express rolled on. Perhaps no other coach in the country teaches a system and its principles quite like Tom Izzo. Surprise losses on Sunday by both Ohio State and Michigan, however, meant that MSU’s weekend destruction of Nebraska clinched them of the at least a share of the Big Ten title. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- Chicago (Evanston) Hope: That wind you felt coming from Chicago might have been a collective sigh of relief from Northwestern fans after senior leader John Shurna sank two free throws with mere seconds to play to help the Wildcats escape Happy Valley with a 67-66 win. Two straight gut-wrenching losses in one week might have been more than Northwestern could have overcome as they sweat out life on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
- Lousy in Lincoln: It’s no secret that Nebraska has struggled on offense this year. But not since 1961 has Nebraska been so putrid on offense as they were when they were embarrassed by Michigan State, 61-34, at home over the weekend. The Huskers shot under 30% for the game and the loss of leading scorer Bo Spencer to an injured ankle near halftime only hampered their scoring efforts.
- Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) – As good as Michigan State has been this season, how would the Spartans be if Delvon Roe hadn’t been forced to drop basketball due to chronic knee problems? Roe’s presence would have given them more depth and would have taken the load off of Draymond Green at certain points. But it also forced youngsters like Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne to grow up quickly. While they’ve struggled with consistency, those guys are a big part of why the Spartans are Big Ten champs.
- Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) – Strange times in Columbus. After riding a 39-game winning streak and destroying most visitors who dared enter Value City Arena, the Buckeyes have now lost two of their last three games at home. Jared Sullinger has seemingly disappeared in big games and crucial moments this season.
- Michigan (21-8, 11-5) – Take what the defense gives you, the saying goes. So after Michigan struggled to find openings in Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone, the Wolverines simply worked the ball patiently around the perimeter and found the open man. An astounding 38 of their 56 shot attempts were from deep, but that’s OK when guys like Stu Douglass, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Zack Novak are taking them.
- Wisconsin (19-7, 10-6) – Jared Berggren was a man on a mission in the Badgers’ win over Ohio State. After Sullinger dominated him in Madison, Berggren limited the All-American candidate to eight points (4-10 shooting) and six rebounds in 33 minutes. Berggren, on the other hand, knocked down three three-pointers on his way to 18 points and five rebounds to help Wisconsin earn an important 63-60 road victory over the Buckeyes.
- Indiana (20-9, 9-7) – It’ll be interesting to see how Indiana does in postseason play. On one hand, you have veteran guys on your squad, upperclassmen like Jordan Hulls, Verdell Jones, Christian Watford and Matt Roth. On the other hand, none of these players have played under intense pressure in March. It likely won’t matter based on the tough non-conference schedule that Tom Crean assembles for his squad, but that remains to be seen.
- Purdue (17-10, 9-7) – Robbie Hummel continued his late-season surge by averaging 23.0 points and 8.0 rebounds to lead the Boilermakers past Nebraska at home and Michigan on the road. He has really stepped up and asserted himself when Purdue needed it most, and there are some who think they are a better team without Kelsey Barlow. When he’s hot, few players in America have the offensive repertoire that Hummel does.
- Northwestern (17-11, 7-9) – There are certain tenets that every Northwestern team seems to possess, no matter the year. One of those tenants is a willingness to shoot threes. A few days after shooting just 3-16 from beyond the arc in an OT loss to Michigan, the Wildcats went on the road and were deadly from distance (15-29) against Penn State, led by Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio (four triples each). Against Michigan, the pair went 0-6 from the perimeter.
- Minnesota (17-10, 5-11) – The tailspin continued this week as the Gophers fumbled away a golden (no pun intended) opportunity to get a nice statement win for their resume. They led for 18 minutes in the second half at home against Michigan State and looked primed to end their four-game skid. Instead, Minnesota folded and has now lost six of its last seven after getting blown out by Indiana on Sunday. Not only do they miss Trevor Mbakwe’s post play, they also miss his leadership.
- Illinois (16-11, 6-10) – Meyers Leonard finally delivered the performance Illini fans had been waiting for – albeit off the bench. The 7’1’’ center was benched for a poor practice work ethic, but responded to the discipline by asserting himself down low against Iowa. There’s a reason NBA scouts think this kid is a future lottery pick. He just needs to display that talent more consistently.
- Iowa (14-13, 7-9) – Hometown hero Matt Gatens earned a well-deserved Big Ten Co-Player Of The Week honor by averaging 27.5 points in Iowa’s two games last week. The 6’5″ senior shot a ridiculous 12-16 (75%) from three-point land and his five triples against Illinois moved him past Hawkeyes legend Chris Kingsbury and into second place on Iowa’s career three-point list with 228 career treys.
- Nebraska (12-15, 4-12) – Senior point guard Brandon Richardson is quietly finishing his career strongly for the Cornhuskers. After a dismal junior season, Richardson has nearly doubled his steals and assist output and is hitting 40 percent of his threes, a 15 percent improvement from last year. NU may be having a season to forget, but Richardson is capping his career off nicely.
- Penn State (12-17, 4-12) – Tim Frazier’s assault on the record books continues. Frazier logged his Big Ten leading 15th 20-point game of the season against Northwestern by scoring 23. The junior guard also now has 183 assists on the season and could surpass Taylor Battle’s single-season record of 189 against Purdue. His 541 points on the year are good for the eighth-best single season total, but he’ll keep climbing the ladder if he keeps pouring it in this season. He’s a marked man, but no one in the conference has stopped him yet.
- Tuesday, 2/28: Minnesota @ Wisconsin – It’s likely too late for the Golden Gophers to revive their dancing dreams, but a win over bitter rival Wisconsin would make the maroon-and-gold faithful happy and could be the first step towards discussion with the Selection Committee.
- Wednesday, 2/29: Ohio State @ Northwestern – Welsh-Ryan Arena was raucous against Michigan last week and it will be more of the same as Northwestern can likely lock up an NCAA Tournament birth with an upset win. This was a tight game last year, and Ohio State is in a bit of a funk right now. So it’s either the best time or the worst time to catch the Buckeyes (if that makes sense).
- Sunday, 3/4: Ohio State @ Michigan State – Though Michigan State has already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, they could be playing for the outright crown in the regular season finale in East Lansing. Expect Draymond Green to have a monster game when he takes the floor for his last home contest as a Spartan.