John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
A Look Back
This look back is better summed up in three short lists.
- Rising: Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan
- Falling: Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern
- Steadying: Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa
It seems like very few teams have found their level thus far in the Big Ten. Every week brings some notable surprises and last week was no different. One point can be the difference between an awesome week and a tough one as Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State all found out this week.
Team of the Week: Indiana: The Hoosiers look much improved recently. A victory over Illinois was followed up by a heart-wrenching one-point loss at Michigan State in overtime. Tom Crean’s squad was left as an afterthought at the beginning of the season, but they’re starting to prove the mantra that there will be no easy games during conference play this season. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford are taking over the offense for the Hoosiers and it’s proving to be an effective strategy. Hulls missed the final shot against Michigan State, but he scored 18 points against the Illini on nine shots, and followed it up with 15 against the Spartans.
Player of the Week: Darius Morris, G, Michigan: Morris scored 17 points dished out eight assists in Michigan’s victory over rival Michigan State and then against Iowa he recorded a triple-double, the third in Michigan history, with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Newcomer of the Week: Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State: Sullinger had 17 points and seven boards against Purdue and then 21 points and eight boards, including the game-winning free throw, against Northwestern. Sullinger is the best player on the nation’s best team and is incredibly impressive in person. His steal, behind-the-back dribble, fast break dunk against Northwestern was one of the more nimble plays you’ll see a power forward make.
1. Ohio State (22-0, 9-0) – The number one team in the nation and only undefeated left, the Buckeyes sure do like to make things interesting. After blowing out Purdue and essentially staking their claim as the biggest bully in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes needed a Jared Sullinger free throw with 3.2 seconds remaining to escape Welsh-Ryan with a hard earned victory. It was Ohio State’s sixth conference victory by five points or less this season.
2. Purdue (18-4, 7-2) – Purdue went 1-1 last week and firmly solidified its place as the second-best team in the conference. The Boilermakers, though, need to figure out what’s happened to E’Twaun Moore’s shot. The senior guard from Chicago shot 4-13 against Ohio State and 3-13 against Minnesota. He’s had a few of these clunkers this season, including a 2-10 performance against Penn State and a 2-14 game in Purdue’s other Big Ten loss at Minnesota.
3. Wisconsin (15-5, 5-3) – The Badgers are a much better home team than they are road team. All three of their conference losses have come away from the Kohl Center, with the most recent being a 56-52 loss to an improving Penn State team. Wisconsin went just seven deep in the rotation in that loss.
4. Penn State (12-8, 5-4) – When the Nittany Lions lost to Maine I don’t think anyone would’ve fathomed they’d put it back together like this. Talor Battle isn’t going to let this team fall behind by too much ever. Penn State hasn’t lost a game by more than three points since a January 15 drubbing by Purdue and is 4-2 in the conference during that stretch. This is a team on the rise and one that is starting to put together a good NCAA bubble resume.
5. Minnesota (16-5, 5-4) – The Golden Gophers survived their first test without Al Nolen against Northwestern relatively comfortably, but against Purdue on Saturday both Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith found room on the perimeter scoring 13 and 15 points respectively to carry the Boilermakers to the win. Perimeter defense is a place where Tubby Smith is going to definitely miss his senior point guard.
6. Michigan State (13-8, 5-4) – After Sunday’s one-point overtime escape against the Hoosiers, the Spartans maintain an above .500 conference record, but it’s a mirage of sorts. The team turns the ball over too much and doesn’t shoot many free throws and opponents are able to find clean looks beyond the three-point arc. Michigan State has picked up its last four conference victories by a total of 11 points and three of those were against teams in the bottom tier of the conference. Now Korie Lucious has been suspended for the rest of the season and Tom Izzo has a lot of work to do in East Lansing.
7. Illinois (14-7, 4-4) – There is a ton of talent in Champaign, but the results just aren’t there. A perplexing loss to Indiana led to a court storm for the Hoosiers. Unfortunately Bruce Weber’s team had an extra day or two to ponder the loss too, because they were the odd team out in the Big Ten’s weekend schedule of games. One of Illinois’ big problems is that they’re not getting to the foul line. The Illini rank 320th in the nation in free throw rate, and even against the hack-happy Hoosiers, the Illini attempted only eight free throws against 59 field goal attempts.
8. Michigan (13-9, 3-6) – The Wolverines went into the Breslin Center and got a big upset victory in a rivalry game thanks to some hot shooting. Michigan shot 10-21 from three-point range to get its first victory in East Lansing since 1997. Then on Sunday against Iowa there was no letdown thanks to Darius Morris’ outstanding effort. His triple-double helped lead Michigan, which had all five starters score at least 12 points in the victory.
9. Northwestern (13-8, 3-7) – It was another moment of coming so close, but falling short for the Wildcats against Ohio State on Saturday night. Playing without John Shurna, who suffered a concussion when his head bounced against the basket support after a nasty tumble against Minnesota, Northwestern did everything right for about 39 minutes, but it couldn’t figure out a way to get the victory. With a tough schedule remaining, Bill Carmody’s squad might be hard pressed to qualify for the NIT. Northwestern has a week off to regroup before a nationally televised game against Illinois on CBS on Saturday. Northwestern has picked up the tempo this season, but after almost upsetting Ohio State playing the old 35-second routine, you might see slower games in its future as well.
10. Indiana (11-11, 2-7) – See the “Team of the Week” mention above.
11. Iowa (8-13, 1-8) – The Hawkeyes are playing competitive basketball, but lost a close one to Penn State and played Michigan tough before succumbing to Morris’ triple-double. One of the more interesting players to watch in the Big Ten is on Iowa. That’s freshman Melsahn Basabe. He alternates between great games, 25 points on 11 shots, eight boards, two blocks against Michigan, and poor ones, four points on 1-4 shooting against Penn State. It typically has to do with the experience of the front line he’s playing against.
A Look Ahead (all times EST):
- 2/1 – Purdue at Wisconsin, 7 p.m., ESPN
- 2/1 – Penn State at Illinois, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network
- 2/3 – Michigan at Ohio State, 7 p.m., ESPN
- 2/5 – Illinois at Northwestern, 1 p.m., CBS
- 2/5 – Iowa at Indiana, 4 p.m., ESPN2
- 2/6 – Michigan State at Wisconsin, 1 p.m., CBS
- 2/6 – Ohio State at Minnesota, 2 p.m., ESPN
Fun with Efficiency Margin and KenPom: There is no defense in the Big Ten. None. It’s crazy, but every team is scoring above a point per possession in league play and every team is allowing more than a point per possession as well. Ohio State slipped over the mark after allowing Northwestern to score 57 points in 49 possessions, which also happened to be the second slowest game in the NCAA this season behind Notre Dame’s effort against Pittsburgh. Iowa slipped over the point per possession mark in scoring due to the Hawkeyes’ 65-possession shootout against Michigan, which ended 87-73. Michigan shot 50 percent from three during the game (14-28) and finished with an effective field goal percentage of 71.4 percent. Of course that’s nothing compared to the 80.7 percent mark Illinois put up against Northwestern earlier this season or even the 80.2 percent mark it hit against the Hawkeyes on December 29.