What We Learned From a Wild Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 19th, 2018

From massive upsets to historic comebacks and some ridiculous individual performances in-between, it was one heck of a week in the Big Ten. Let’s examine a few key takeaways.

Purdue should be just fine, assuming Vincent Edwards returns to action. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier)

  • Purdue fans need not panic (unless, of course, Vincent Edwards’ injury lingers). Entering its game against Ohio State on February 7, Purdue had won 19 straight, sat undefeated in the Big Ten (12-0), and looked seemingly unbeatable — especially in Mackey Arena, where it had crushed its opponents by 27 points per game. Then the Boilermakers stumbled against the Buckeyes. Then they dropped a nail-biter at Michigan State, which was followed by a stunning defeat at Wisconsin on Thursday. Suddenly, there were deep concerns about Matt Painter‘s crew. “Something just feels different,” senior Vincent Edwards said of the team’s struggles last Thursday. Take a step back and examine the losses, though, and it’s clear that bad luck was partially at play. Were it not for a last second tip-in against Ohio State and a last second three-pointer versus Michigan State, perhaps the Boilermakers would have gone 3-1 in their last four games. Maybe even 4-0. Their close win over red-hot Penn State on Sunday shows just how fine the line is between a quality win and a “problematic” loss. If there is real cause for concern, it’s this: Edwards (14.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG) missed the game against the Nittany Lions with an injured ankle. Assuming he doesn’t miss extended time down the stretch, Purdue should still be considered a Final Four contender. If his injury lingers, then the Boilers can panic.

  • Michigan State can be an unstoppable force… when it decides to show up. Michigan State’s Jekyll and Hyde effort against Northwestern on Saturday perfectly exemplifies the Spartans this season: inconsistent, bewildering, and fully capable of dominating both ends of the court. After trailing by as many as 27 points — their half-court offense stuck in a rut — Michigan State outscored the Wildcats 38-11 in the second half to win the game and take control of the Big Ten. Cassius Winston led the charge offensively  (17 points, nine rebounds, seven assists), while Michigan State’s defense held Northwestern to just 3-of-26 shooting over the final 20 minutes. As the game ended, Fox analyst Steve Lavin remarked, “In 30 years being associated with Division I basketball, this is the most dramatic swing I’ve seen from one half to another.” After a dominant, wire-to-wire win against Minnesota earlier in the week, Michigan State’s effort on Saturday reinforces the notion that it is at once a National Championship contender and a Goliath ripe for the slaying. Because first halves like the one on Saturday simply won’t fly against better opponents next month.
  • When Keita Bates-Diop is human, Ohio State comes back to earth. Ohio State relinquished its grip on the Big Ten this week after losing road contests at Penn State and Michigan. In both games, the Buckeyes scored under 0.95 points per possession. In neither game was conference Player of the Year frontrunner Keita Bates-Diop his usual, dominant self, as he averaged just 13.5 points per game on 9-of-28 shooting, posting his second- and third-lowest offensive ratings this season. After two months of defying expectations — thanks in large part to Bates-Diop’s excellence — Ohio State is proving to be offensively limited when opponents throw bodies at its star player. The Buckeyes don’t have dynamic guard play and lack a consistent secondary shot-maker from mid-to-long range. Even when forward Jae’Sean Tate is doing good work in the paint (20 points, 20 rebounds against Michigan), Ohio State needs someone else to emerge alongside Bates-Diop for Ohio State to go deep in March.

Archie Miller has transformed Indiana’s defense. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

  • Archie Miller has worked wonders with Indiana’s defense. Remember when Indiana surrendered 1.25 points per possession to Indiana State and 1.23 PPP to Fort Wayne earlier this season? Believe it or not, both of those outcomes took place this year, back when the Hoosiers ranked around 200th nationally in defensive efficiency. “We’re a team that’s way too spread out,” Archie Miller said back in November. “Our system is one in which we want to protect the paint, and I think you’re getting gashed right now in terms of the ball getting to the paint.” Since the New Year, though, Miller’s system — the pack-line defense — has finally taken hold in Bloomington. Indiana has held Big Ten opponents to under 1.0 PPP seven times, including a 0.67 PPP outing from Rutgers on February 5. Even Michigan State, ranked ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, struggled to score in Assembly Hall. Thanks to improved discipline and outstanding effort from guys like forward Freddie McSwain, the Hoosiers’ defensive efficiency mark now ranks 57th nationally — a monumental rise that should make Indiana a scary opponent in the Big Ten Tournament.
  • Penn State and Nebraska have no margin for error. Nebraska is probably one of the 68 best teams in college basketball. Penn State, which throttled Ohio State and nearly beat Purdue last week, almost certainly is. But neither can afford to slip up down the stretch, especially after losing on Sunday. The Cornhuskers in particular — projected as the last team out in Joe Lunardi’s latest mock bracket — did serious damage to their NCAA Tournament hopes by stumbling at Illinois. Tim Miles’ group has no regular season chances left for a Quadrant 1 win (0-6 on the season), meaning it probably must win out and beat at least one of Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue or Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament to have a legitimate argument. Penn State, which has a big opportunity against Michigan on Wednesday, also has work to do. Unfortunately, they may end up eating each other alive: The Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions square off in Lincoln to end the regular season.
Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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