Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Champion is Crowned?Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2014
I’m not privy to what the exact numbers were in terms of Vegas odds of Michigan winning the Big Ten once Mitch McGary went down with a back injury, but they probably weren’t very favorable. With their 79-70 win on Sunday afternoon over Michigan State, however, the Wolverines are now looking like they have things close to wrapped up with four games left against teams with a combined conference record of 20-36. Meanwhile, Michigan State still has tough games to come against Iowa and at Ohio State. Michigan would have to lose twice to teams it should beat, while Michigan State would have to win out to notch the outright regular season crown. So now the drama shifts to spots #3-#6 in the standings, with the emphasis on getting into the top four positions and wrapping up a bye for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Wisconsin got another RPI-enhancing win at Iowa Saturday, while Ohio State and Nebraska took care of their home court with wins over Minnesota and Purdue, respectively. There is now exactly one game separating each of these spots in the standings. Here’s the rest of what happened in the weekend slate.
Player of the Weekend: Nik Stauskas: This was the Nik Stauskas who had played himself into consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year earlier in the season. After struggling some in recent games, he came out and made another strong statement on Sunday. He ended up dropping 25 points on Sparty, and also added five assists for good measure. Stauskas didn’t float around the perimeter and let himself be easily guarded; instead he aggressively moved without the ball and was able to unleash a barrage of points from all over the floor. After a slow start in the first half, he scored 21 of his 25 points in the second by getting to the basket, finding space in the mid-range, and from his customary spot behind the arc. He made some phenomenal passes out of the pick-and-roll, including a late-game back-breaker on a lob to Glenn Robinson III in the closing minutes. If this was a one-on-one battle between the Canadian sharpshooter and Michigan State’s Gary Harris for B1G Player of the Year, Stauskas may have wrapped it up with his performance over the weekend.
Super Sub of the Weekend: Shannon Scott: Scott continued to thrive in his role coming off the bench Saturday when Ohio State thoroughly dismantled Minnesota in the second half of its blowout win. After scoring a season-low 18 points in the first 20 minutes, the Buckeyes impressively outscored the Gophers 46-18 in the second stanza. Scott was right in the middle of things, contributing 10 points, four rebounds, and three assists, as he appears to be playing with much more confidence in his new role. He went 4-of-4 from the free throw line, and seems much more comfortable shooting from the perimeter. Ohio State snagged 41.4 percent of its misses on the offensive end, and Scott was surprisingly the ringleader with three offensive boards by himself. One play that stood out was in a rebounding situation where the 6’1″, 185-pound Scott forced a jump ball by tying up 6’10″, 250-pound Maurice Walker. Plays like that aren’t noted in the box score, but they show that Scott brought the requisite intensity and hustled that is needed from him in his role as a sixth man.
Biggest Win: Michigan, for many of the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph, gets the nod here. They have now swept the Spartans and would really need to play poorly in their last four games to miss out on the number one seed in the conference tournament. Stauskas was huge, but Caris LeVert also had an outstanding game. His three-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half provided a nice momentum boost going into the locker room. He and Stauskas are an extremely tough cover for teams in their perimeter schemes, as both are equally proficient in getting into the lane and shooting from deep. When this duo combines for 48 points on 57 percent shooting from the field, not many teams in the league or around the nation can beat them.
Worst Loss: Minnesota is now left flailing in the wind when it comes to their NCAA Tournament hopes after dropping a game convincingly in Columbus on Saturday. The Gophers held a 28-18 lead at the half, but simply came apart in the last 20 minutes of play. Andre Hollins has not looked even close to the same player in coming back from his ankle injury, and Austin Hollins isn’t doing anything on the offensive end either. Elliott Eliason was a potential candidate for a spot on one of the all-league teams at one point with his improved play, but now he seemingly picks up a foul on every other possession. Minnesota lives off of creating live-ball turnovers, but if they only come up with two steals like they did against the Buckeyes, and they also shoot 4-of-17 from three, they won’t beat anybody. They have opportunities in their last three games to get back into the mix of things, but games against Iowa and Michigan won’t be easy.
Worst Loss, Part II: Iowa didn’t play all that poorly and still lost to a top-15 opponent at home. The Hawkeyes won’t miss out on the NCAA Tournament from this loss, but they are playing for seeding and a home loss to Wisconsin hurts them both there and in terms of national perception. There seems to be a growing air of panic/tension building in Iowa City, and losing this one does not help. It will interesting to watch Fran McCaffery’s group this week, as Iowa plays three games in five days, to see how the team bounces back from several spotty individual performances over the weekend.