Big Ten Weekend in ReviewPosted by Brendan Brody on January 6th, 2014
The opening weekend of B1G conference play consisted of six games that were played to varying degrees of competitiveness. There were no upsets, but there were certainly some fireworks. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery might have drawn a future suspension for his outburst in the second half of his team’s loss at Wisconsin. Penn State’s DJ Newbill also was shown the exit after he got into an altercation with Illinois’ Kendrick Nunn. Here are some of the other happenings from the weekend.
Player of the Weekend: Gary Harris: Harris showed signs of shaking off his post-injury rust against Penn State last Tuesday, but he really broke out on Saturday in Bloomington, going for 26 points and five steals in Michigan State’s 73-56 win. Harris went 5-of-10 from deep, scoring eight points in a row during a 10-0 first half stretch that helped bury the Hoosiers early. More than just his scoring output, what showed that Harris is nearing 100 percent was how active he was defensively. Indiana tends to turn the ball over a good deal, but Harris was doing his best by flying around the perimeter to make sure the trend continued. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is slowly starting to show why he was picked for that honor, and also why he’s considered to be a potential lottery pick next June.
Super Sub of the Weekend: Matt Costello: Granted Costello only scored two points against Indiana, but the sophomore was another defensive standout for Sparty. He blocked three shots in 15 minutes of action, and forced a couple of other misses simply by staying big in the post. Michigan State blocked nine total shots as a team, and held the Hoosiers to an awful 36.8 percent shooting on two-pointers. Costello was a huge part of why Indiana’s shooting numbers were so poor, despite his limited minutes.
Most Entertaining Game: There were high expectations for the post-football Iowa-Wisconsin tilt, but it ended up being little more than a free throw parade, with a bunch of Traveon Jackson turnovers and Roy Devyn Marble contested shots thrown in for good measure. The most entertaining game instead took place at The Barn in Minneapolis, as the Gophers barely held on against Purdue. Minnesota held a 60-41 lead with 13: 37 to go, but Purdue did its best to make things interesting. They eventually lost by three in a game that looked a lot like when the Boilers almost came back and beat Oklahoma State in November. Kendall Stephens had a chance to win it with a half-court heave at the buzzer that came up just short.
Most Important Win: Minnesota absolutely had to beat Purdue on Sunday. With the way their schedule breaks, they simply couldn’t fall to 0-2 in the league after playing two home games against middle-tier teams. They play a killer gauntlet of an upcoming schedule consisting of games at Michigan State, at home against Ohio State, at Iowa, and then at home against Wisconsin. If they can take care of Penn State on the road Wednesday, they’ll be 2-1, and that stretch won’t kill their season even if they go 0-4 against the ranked teams.
Worst Loss: Although the calendar just turned to 2014, Indiana is already in trouble. Their game against Michigan State on Saturday could have gone a long way toward turning things around, but instead they got beaten soundly. With a very young roster, you have to wonder if Tom Crean will be able to give his extremely young squad the confidence it needs to get a couple of marquee wins and off of the bubble in March. Young teams don’t necessarily travel well, so home games against Wisconsin and Illinois in the next couple of weeks became that much more important after losing this one at home to the Spartans.