Big Ten M5: 03.11.13 EditionPosted by jnowak on March 11th, 2013
- It’s only fitting that the Big Ten championship came down to a fraction of an inch. That was the difference between the ball falling in or out in the final seconds, which meant Indiana winning or losing in Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon, which was the difference between the Hoosiers wrapping up the outright title or sharing it with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Indiana, though, was the favorite entering the year and emerged as the stand-alone champion. They probably have the best overall body of work, but there are plenty of teams that have also proven they could win the conference tournament next weekend in Chicago and/or make it to the Final Four in Atlanta. We’re all in for a treat this week.
- East Lansing said goodbye to one of the most interesting players of the Tom Izzo era when senior center Derrick Nix kissed the Spartan helmet at center court at the end of Michigan State‘s win against Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. Nix has had an incredible four-year journey, and Detroit Free Press writer Joe Rexrode has a great recap of the ups and downs as well as the relationship Nix has built with Michigan State. The partnership between Nix and Izzo is what makes this so remarkable — from Izzo’s passion about Nix’s education and Nix’s mother to how much the player has leaned on his coach over the years. Stories like these are what make college sports so great to follow.
- John Groce obviously knows how to win as an underdog. His wins at Ohio as a No. 13 and No. 14 seed is what helped put him on the map and eventually make his way to Illinois. But now, with the Fighting Illini likely bound for the NCAA Tournament, how will he handle life as a higher seed? Depending on how things shake out in the Big Ten Tournament, it’s most likely the Illini will enter the Big Dance on an even playing field with their first-round opponent, or perhaps as the favorite. So how can Groce conjure the March magic he’s used in the past? “The most important thing is that they’re mentally and physically fresh,’’ Groce said. ‘‘And each team’s different. There’s no script. You have to know your guys, what they respond to, what they don’t respond to. But the one steadfast constant is doing the best you can to keep them as fresh mentally and physically as possible.”
- There have been some serious battles in the Big Ten this season, and perhaps a little bit of bad blood. That seemed to be the case after Indiana’s close win against Michigan, when Tom Crean had a heated exchange with Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer. Crean was pretty tight-lipped about it, saying at his postgame press conference: “It’s a heated game, it’s a heated game. Ask him.” But there were reports that this dates back to some heated recruiting battles over the last few years. Whatever the case may be, with the potential for a third and even fourth meeting between the schools down the road, this is worth keeping an eye on.
- It has been a maddening season for Minnesota fans. Things started out so well, then fizzled once Big Ten play began, then they sort of flatlined. There were good days toward the end, but there were equally bad ones all the way up until a loss to Purdue in the regular season finale. So now the Gophers are still likely headed for the NCAA Tournament, but with no momentum. And no leadership. There’s plenty of talent and athleticism on this team — that much has never been in doubt. But over the last few months, there have only been a few games where we’ve seen that talent harnessed and applied in games. Can the Gophers turn it around in time to make something of this season?