Jason Prziborowski is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.
Three things from the past week:
- Michigan State suffers first defeat in the Big Ten – Michigan State has won a lot of close games lately, but this one wasn’t close at all. Wisconsin not only had a 15 point lead at half, but they closed it out with an 18 point victory. This was Michigan State’s lowest scoring night of the year with only 49 points. Durrell Summers might have turned the corner though, with 11 points, but he was the only Spartan in double figures. I admit that I didn’t expect quite this level of thumping, but give it to Wisconsin and their fans. Kalin Lucas also had to leave the game with a sprained ankle, so MSU will be holding its breath to see if he is back in action soon. For those who missed the game, RTC Covered It Live: RTC Live: Michigan State @ Wisconsin
- Ohio State is turning it on – Wow, what a difference a week can make. Ohio State suffered a close loss to West Virginia, a game in which they had the lead at halftime. They clearly learned from that defeat, and poured it on, especially against Minnesota. What a contrast to the game earlier in the year when they didn’t have Evan Turner, and lost by 11 on the road. They turned that around to produce a 22 point thumping of the Gophers at home. Ohio State had a very complete game against Minnesota, a great sign for them that Evan Turner doesn’t need to carry the load. William Buford has been tearing it up, especially his career high 26/5/5 asst game against Minnesota. And the Penn State game was a foregone conclusion.
- Is Illinois’s scheduling the result of most of its success? – Illinois is 7-3 and tied for second in the Big Ten, but who have and haven’t they beaten? Fortunate for Illinois, they have had a great schedule up until this point. They have beaten Northwestern, Indiana twice, Iowa twice, and Penn State twice. They have lost to Purdue, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Essentially, they have beaten the bottom teams in the conference, and lost to two of the top teams. That doesn’t bode well for Illinois, as they gear up to take on Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and then Purdue. I don’t think they are strong enough to get through that gauntlet.
Now four Big Ten teams are in the top 25: Michigan State #5, Purdue #8, Ohio State #13, and Wisconsin #16.
- Michigan State 19-4, 9-1
- Purdue 18-3, 6-3
- Wisconsin 17-5, 7-3
- Ohio State 17-6, 7-3
- Illinois 15-8, 7-3
- Minnesota 13-8, 4-5
- Northwestern 15-7, 4-6
- Michigan 11-11, 4-6
- Indiana 9-11, 3-5
- Iowa 8-15, 2-8
- Penn State 8-14, 0-10
- Michigan State @ Illinois – February 6th – 9:00 ET – ESPN – Illinois took care of Iowa, and even with the Spartans’ loss to Wisconsin, this is a big chance for Illinois to give the tournament committee a high quality conference win on which they can hang their hats, and it is a way for the Spartans to further distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten. Illinois needs to play almost perfect to win this game, and both Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale need to step up big time. Last game was a 10 point defeat for Illinois. Let’s see what happens.
- Wisconsin @ Michigan – February 6th – 4:00 ET – CBS – Michigan doesn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, so that makes them dangerous. The other thing going for them in this game is that they are playing at home. Up at the Kohl Center I would think it would be all Wisconsin, but in Ann Arbor it could be a different story as far as Michigan playing spoiler. Last game was a six point defeat for Michigan. For the Wolverines to win this game it will have to be more than the Harris and Sims show.
- Purdue @ Michigan State – February 9th – 9:00 ET ESPN – This is the biggest game in the Big Ten this year, hands down. Both of these teams are going to the tournament, now it’s all about seeding. Purdue played extremely well early on this year, and then slipped at the beginning of the Big Ten, whereas Michigan State struggled a little bit early, but has been pouring it on in conference. This is eight versus five at home. This is what it’s all about. I am very interested to see how Purdue does on the boards, if they’re able to handle MSU’s speed and power, and if they can somehow neutralize its bench.
- Illinois @ Wisconsin – February 9th – 7:00 ET – Illinois is a bubble team at best right now; the nice Big Ten record helps, but they need to build a stronger case for themselves. Clearly a win against Michigan State would make that statement, and this game would, too. Not sure just a win against Wisconsin would make a strong enough case, especially knowing that many of their wins in the Big Ten have been against lower ranked teams.
Breaking It Down
- The Spartans are back in the top five, but not for long. I have already mentioned the loss against Wisconsin, so what everyone should be watching for now is how they respond. They are at Illinois and then have Purdue at home, so they won’t get much of a break to reflect on the Wisconsin loss. This loss and subsequent games will show what kind of team this is, especially if it turns out that Kalin Lucas can’t play next game.
- Purdue is streaking again. Much had been made about Purdue losing three in a row, mostly because they hadn’t lost any for the first eighteen games of the year. Well, guess what? They’ve just reeled off four in a row. They are also #8 in the land, so it’s not like they are going away anytime soon. I am not completely sure that Purdue is playing its best basketball right now, but they are winning in spite of that. They gear up to take on the cross-state rival in Indiana, a matchup that right now is more symbolic in nature. They have almost another week to go before taking on Michigan State on the road, the marquee matchup in the Big Ten this year. I am hoping for a close game in Flint, but we’ll see.
- Wisconsin beats up on Michigan State. It’s no secret that Wisconsin is comfortable at the Kohl Center in Madison, but nobody knew exactly how comfortable until Michigan State arrived. I guess Bo Ryan didn’t want to lose his undefeated record at home to Tom Izzo. Four players scored in double figures, but who really shined for me was Jordan Taylor. He had a 17/4/2 asst game against the Spartans, but what impressed me was how he stepped up when Trevon Hughes had to sit because of foul trouble. Next up they are at Michigan, a team that just suffered a pretty convincing defeat against Northwestern.
- Ohio State jumps into the rankings. The Buckeyes jumped seven spots in the past week. True, it was mostly because of their recent results, but it is also as a result of other teams slipping. I have already talked enough about Ohio State above, so I will keep it brief. They have reached the easier part of their schedule, taking on the likes of Penn State, Iowa, and then Indiana. They have to make sure not to play down to the competition.
- Where is Minnesota heading, and how did they get there? Minnesota got torched by Ohio State. It is fairly easy to see why. Lawrence Westbrook disappeared, as did Devoe Joseph, combining for only 12 points against the Buckeyes. They have provided a lot of scoring power of late, but Ohio State clearly flustered them. It is probably due to OSU’s big guards, but there’s something else. They need Westbrook to lead; when he does, they win, but lately he has been inconsistent. They knocked off Northwestern, but that was an exception. Losing point guard Al Nolen to academic ineligibility has definitely hurt the Gophers as well, as he led the team in assists and steals. To read the press release of Nolen’s academic appeal being denied, check out here: Nolen’s reinstatement appeal denied by the NCAA
- Can Illinois make the tournament? Maybe. I already wrote about who Illinois has and hasn’t beaten, so this section will detail the Indiana game, and what Illinois will need to do to beat better teams. Illinois let Indiana back into the game, something they can’t do against better teams. Indiana actually had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but threw away the ball in crucial spots. What is most worrisome for Illinois has to do with the two Mikes. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale disappear in big games. Davis has been benched to send a message, and Tisdale scores against undersized teams like Indiana. They can’t rely on Demetri McCamey to carry them again. He had a 19/8 asst game and the game winner against Indiana. Who else is going to step up for Illinois? The status quo won’t get them to the tournament.
- Northwestern can’t beat the big dogs in the Big Ten. Congrats to Northwestern for taking down Michigan. Michigan is a streaky and dangerous team, despite their overall struggles. Northwestern turned the dynamic duo of Sims and Harris into a very limited solo showing by Manny Harris and a non-existent one by DeShawn Sims. That was really a must-win for the Wildcats. It looks like the Wildcats do very well when they have a balanced scoring attack. John Shurna lit it up for 31 in their loss to Michigan State, but then had only 17 in their win against Michigan. They have Indiana at home and Iowa on the road, two games they must win to make the tournament. If you missed the Northwestern game, RTC Live was there: RTC Live: Michigan @ Northwestern
- Michigan’s two man scoring squad can take care of the bottom of the Big Ten. Michigan has done well beating some of the lower ranked teams in the Big Ten and, every once in a while, surprising some of the top teams without key players. For the most part, they can’t beat the top teams in the Big Ten. They lost in successive games to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan State. Sure, they knocked off Iowa, but then struggled against Northwestern. I guess it is as much as you can ask for from two guys.
- Indiana still not doing the little things. Indiana lost a heartbreaker to Illinois after a solid thumping at home against Iowa. The good thing for Indiana against Illinois was they got back their characteristic energy they have been playing with all year. They also clawed away at the end on defense and forced some big turnovers on Illinois. Looking at the stats, they are similar in almost all areas except for field goal percentage. They even outshot Illinois from the charity stripe. That hasn’t happened often this season. Where Indiana broke down, though, was at the end of the game. They had a chance to win, and turned it over. Verdell Jones has been a solid leader since Maurice Creek went down, but sometimes Jones takes too long to turn it on. He has scored a lot of his points during the comebacks of games, but they need him the rest of the time as well.
- Iowa’s streak finally ends. I was almost joking that Iowa looked like they would be picking off Big Ten opponents in sequential order from bottom to top, but that didn’t play out for the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines were just too much for Iowa in their last matchup. When you only score 17 in the first half, that’s just too much of a hole to overcome. Aaron Fuller continues to be solid, but the rest of the team didn’t help out. Especially the bench and their nine point contribution. The key to Iowa’s victories was its rebounding, as they were hitting the boards hard. Against Michigan, a team with a four guard lineup, they were outrebounded by six on the offensive end, and by 11 overall. That’s just too much Windex for a team near the bottom of the Big Ten to overcome, especially on the road.
- Penn State is still winless. Well, Michigan State had the Big Ten streak snapped, but Penn State hasn’t been able to say the same for their version. Penn State is viewed as the assumed win for everyone in the Big Ten. The only thing they have going for them now is that other teams might not to take them seriously. I think that is the only reason that they were able to take the Wisconsin game to overtime, especially on the road. There is no way the same team that torched Michigan State showed up for that game. Out of their upcoming games, I think the only team that they might be able to catch sleeping is Minnesota. They had a five point loss earlier against the Gophers on the road, so maybe a home game will provide just enough energy to get them over the hump and break their streak.