If the NIT is any indication of how the Big Ten will fare in today’s NCAA Tournament games, then I think the conference will be happy. Minnesota traveled to Philadelphia to take on LaSalle, and came away with a 70-61 win. While Tubby Smith’s crew didn’t have the season some wanted in Gopher-land, they have been playing better over the past couple weeks, and last night they showed off those improvements. One of the main reasons is the play of star forward Rodney Williams, who took control with 17 of his 21 points coming in the second half, including a monstrous dunk that showed off his athleticism.
There is plenty to worry about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Travel, preparation, an unfamiliar opponent, and… altitude??? That’s exactly what Wisconsin has to deal with, as its game in Albuquerque is about 4,500 feet higher above sea level than Madison. The Badgers arrived Tuesday, and have been working on getting adjusted so that it doesn’t become a factor in its game against Montana. At this point, it’s not a matter of the team not being in shape; it’s being able to catch your breath in the heat of battle when the air is a little thinner.
When you start four sophomores, many would say that your team lacks experience. But when all four of those sophomores suffered an early exit last year in the NCAA Tournament, they have enough experience to know that they don’t want to go through something like that again. Such is the case at Ohio State, who outside of William Buford, has four sophomores who watched Kentucky’s Brandon Knight hit a jumper with five seconds left last year to knock the Buckeyes out of the Tournament. It is a memory that guys like Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craftdon’t want to repeat.
It’s the time of year when changes are made in both the coaching ranks and in player personnel, and Penn State is suffering some attrition as sophomore guard Matt Glover has decided to transfer. Originally from California, the defensive stopper will move on to other opportunities for his basketball future.
As Illinois moves on to find a replacement for Bruce Weber, the program still needs someone to lead it, and that someone is Jerrance Howard. The Illini assistant is currently the interim coach until a new one is named, and it’s his job to keep things in order until athletic director Mike Thomas makes a new hire. Whether that decision is made in a week or in a month, Howard will keep plugging along, doing his best to keep things running smoothly in Champaign.
Michigan got an exhilarating win Saturday night against Ohio State giving themselves a legit chance at the school’s first Big Ten title since 1986. Not only was the game itself memorable, but the atmosphere at the new Crisler Center was a “special one” according to John Beilein. The crowd helped spur the Wolverines on an early 6-0 run, and played a big factor on defensive possessions down the stretch. Another factor was sophomore center Jordan Morgan getting a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards while battling all night with Jared Sullinger.
After Ohio State’s fall on Saturday, Michigan State answered the bell by beating Purdue, and putting themselves in great position in the conference standings by going a game up in first place. But the Spartans comeback win would not have happened if it weren’t for a challenge laid out to Draymond Green by Tom Izzo. Robbie Hummel torched Michigan State for 18 in the first half, and Izzo tasked Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Green to slow the Boilermaker star down. Day-Day was able to do so, proving once again his leadership ability along with a great stat line of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.
This weekend the Big Ten had it all: big wins, big statements, and a big upset. Iowa scored the big upset with an unexpected 12-point win over Indiana. Matt Gatens is a senior who has stayed around and dealt with a lot of turnover during his Hawkeye career, but he is making the most out of the final stretch of games, dropping 30 points in a career-high effort against the Hoosiers. Iowa is now 14-13 overall, 6-8 in conference, and needs a surge to get invited to postseason play.
Wisconsin has been an effective team this year, just not at shooting. The Badgers have struggled with their offense all season long, and it has been a battle to win games in the Big Ten only averaging just over 60 points per game. On Sunday, the lids came off the rims for the Badgers as they drained 5 three-pointers in 2 minutes and 34 seconds. Bo Ryan’s club held a 33-12 advantage from three-point land, which was a key in the victory over Penn State.
As much action as there has been on the court lately, there has been just as much in the circus that has been the Bruce Weber – Mike Thomas quote battle. Many expect this to be the last season for Weber on the Illinois sidelines, but if there is a new search for a coach, some introspection should be in order. There are reasons why a quality Big Ten program is struggling, and not all of them have to do with the X’s and O’s of what happens out on the floor.
Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, interesting fridge magnets and life.
The Week That Was:
House of Payne: Michigan State sophomore center Adreian Payne picked an excellent time to have the game of his career. The 6’11’’ sophomore has shown flashes of potential this year, but was particularly efficient against Ohio State. Payne finished 6-6 from the field for 15 points, grabbed four boards and blocked two shots – and more importantly, he frustrated Ohio State star Jared Sullinger with his wiry athleticism on the defensive end. Sure, Sullinger finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds, but he also turned it over 10 times and seemed to let the refs affect his play.
Woes of Weber: That smoke you see emanating from Champaign might be coming from Bruce Weber’s increasingly hot seat. New AD Mike Thomas has already shown one under-performing head coach (Ron Zook) the door, and now the Illini have gone from leading the Big Ten at 4-1 to dropping six of their last seven and in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. As many Illinois fans will attest, this team just makes too many of the same frustrating mistakes on a continuous basis.
Hummel A Handful: The Robbie Hummel that Boilermaker fans have been waiting for all season long finally emerged on Saturday against Northwestern. The senior tallied a season-high 27 points, nine rebounds and a couple blocks while logging 39 minutes of playing time. As badly as Northwestern needed to win that game, it was equally as valuable to Purdue, which couldn’t afford drop back-to-back games at Mackey Arena (especially with Michigan State coming to town in a week).
Tom Izzo Has The Spartans Vying For The Top Spot In The Conference.
Michigan State (20-5, 9-3) – An even more impressive factor in Michigan State’s recent success is that they’re winning despite the shaky play of Keith Appling. The sophomore point guard seemed to be turning the corner in his new position early in the conference season, but he’s taken a few steps back since then. His accuracy from distance has slipped from 41% to 27% this season, and he had seven turnovers with no assists in their win over Ohio State.
Ohio State (21-4, 9-3) – Where has the Bucks’ offense gone? In two of their last three games, OSU has been held under 53 points. Granted, their opponents were defensive stalwarts Wisconsin and Michigan State, but still, this a team that is second in the Big Ten in scoring offense at nearly 73 points per game. Read the rest of this entry »