Big Ten M5: 02.14.13 EditionPosted by KTrahan on February 14th, 2013
- Michigan State was always considered one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but it hadn’t been considered one of the favorites for the conference title to this point. The Spartans’ blowout win over Michigan on Tuesday night represented a shift in that thinking. MSU is peaking at just the right time after some inconsistency early in the season. Veterans Derrick Nix, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson are all stepping up, along with star freshmen Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine. Tom Izzo’s teams are notorious for their ability to turn things on at the end of the season and play well in March. MSU has to stay consistent, but if the Spartans play like they did against the Wolverines, they’ll be tough to beat many more times this season.
- Ohio State needed to fill a void in leadership and on-court production when it lost Jared Sullinger last year, and the most obvious player to fill that void was Deshaun Thomas. Thomas has lived up to the calling and become one of the most productive players in the Big Ten. However, he has changed a lot off the court, as well, thanks to his infant son. Deshaun Jr. was born the night Ohio State played Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament last March and it has changed Thomas’ perspective. Having a son has helped him become more responsible and made him realize that he now has someone looking up to him. That means less time for celebration of games, but it’s still rewarding for him to be able to go home and spend time with his son.
- When Fran McCaffery came to Iowa City, his fast-paced offensive style was a welcome change for a program that had just endured three years of slow, unexciting basketball under Todd Lickliter. However, while McCaffery has helped turn the Iowa program around, he recognized the need for better defense if the Hawkeyes were to take the next step. This year, his team has largely delivered on its promise to play better defense. Last year, Iowa gave up an average of 72 points per game through 24 games, but the Hawkeyes are down to 63.9 points per game this year through the same span. Iowa gave up 74.2 points per game through 11 Big Ten games last year, but has given up just 67.2 points per game through that same span this year — and this year’s schedule is far more front-loaded. That’s the largest drop in the conference and a big reason why Iowa is back in the conversation for NCAA Tournament contention.
- Over the past week, Illinois has regained the impressive form that it showed early in the season, and part of that is due to the contributions of Sam McLaurin. McLaurin, a fifth-year senior transfer from Coastal Carolina, earned himself a spot in the starting lineup this year and has provided a boost for the Illini on both ends of the floor. McLaurin did a nice job making plays off the ball against Indiana, but Illinois coach John Groce was especially impressed with his performance on defense against Minnesota. Groce said McLaurin received higher grades on defensive hustle stats in that game than any player he has ever coached. For a team that is a bit undersized in the frontcourt, McLaurin’s contributions will continue to be important down the stretch.
- Like every year it seems, this was supposed to be the year that Northwestern finally broke its NCAA Tournament curse. The Wildcats seemed to have the talent coming into the season, but they’ve been hit by a number of personnel losses, and two more hit recently. Jared Swopshire and Alex Olah both went down in NU’s loss to Iowa, and while Olah has a concussion and will return, Swopshire is done for the year after having arthroscopic knee surgery. The Wildcats now have very little depth in the frontcourt due to all of this year’s injuries. Sippin’ on Purple does a good job of rehashing all of NU’s injury struggles this year. First, JerShon Cobb was suspended for the season (not an injury, but still a problem), then Drew Crawford went down in December. Freshmen Sanjay Lumpkin and Chier Ajou also had season-ending injuries, while Nikola Cerina, Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio have all dealt with injuries at one time or another this year.