Big Ten Team Previews: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by jnowak on November 2nd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out the featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Purdue Boilermakers.

Where We Left Off: The last time we saw Purdue, one of the program’s most accomplished players — Robbie Hummel — was riding off into the sunset, marking the end of the “Baby Boiler” era that began when that class began its West Lafayette career in 2007. Purdue also loses fellow co-captains Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson, leaving Matt Painter without three of the Boilers’ best scoring options from the last few seasons. So the cupboard is relatively bare, with a lot resting on the shoulders of senior D.J. Byrd and the Johnson Trio — Terone, Ronnie and Anthony. None of those four have much experience in leading the team, so scoring could be at a premium. It’s safe to call it a rebuilding year for the Boilermakers, but if they can build on the foundation the Baby Boilers set forth, Painter could have this team back contending soon enough.

With Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson gone, much of the scoring and leadership responsibility will rest on D.J. Byrd’s shoulders at Purdue.

Positives: After a pretty significant drop-off in recruiting since the stellar class of Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, Scott Martin (who eventually transferred) and E’Twaun Moore, Painter seems to finally have gotten it back with this incoming freshman class. Rivals has this group ranked No. 20 in the country, which also places the Boilermakers fourth in the Big Ten (Indiana clocks in at No. 5, Michigan at No. 7, Michigan State at No. 13). None of the newcomers — A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson, Raphael Davis and Jay Simpson — were ranked higher than No. 77 (Hammons), but it’s a solid core and a diverse group, with each player listed by Rivals at a different position. All four should get significant playing time this season, giving Purdue fans a glimpse at what could be a very promising future.

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Big Ten Summer Check In: Purdue Boilermakers

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on August 6th, 2012

For the first time since the summer of 2007, Purdue fans will not be talking about a player named Robbie Hummel as they approach the basketball season. Even though two of the Baby Boilers — E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson — graduated in 2011, Hummel was still around for his final season at Purdue after recovering from multiple knee surgeries. After an excellent comeback season last year during which Hummel nearly led the Boilers to an upset of #2 seed Kansas in the third round of the NCAA tournament, Matt Painter now prepares his program for a new era in West Lafayette.

How will Matt Painter deal with Robbie Hummel’s departure and a younger core of players?

Evaluating Last Year: Expectations for the 2011-12 season were fairly realistic in West Lafayette last season because of Moore and Johnson’s departure. Fans weren’t sure what to expect from the returning Hummel but overall, Purdue’s season should be considered a success as they finished 10-8 in conference play and gave Kansas everything it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Hummel had lost much of his explosiveness due to all the injuries, he still led the team in scoring with 16.4 PPG and his presence created more open shots for his younger teammates — especially Terone Johnson, who averaged 9.2 PPG. Painter’s team did not necessarily pull off many big wins during the season but certainly won most of the games that it was supposed to. The Boilermakers hit a mid-season slump by going 1-4 during late January/early February, but recovered fairly well to secure an NCAA bid for the sixth straight year. A huge win in Ann Arbor against Michigan (75-61) on February 25 was key to locking up an NCAA bid.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Sunday

Posted by EJacoby on March 18th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#3 Georgetown vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Thompson's Team is a Real Wildcard in this Region

We originally picked Georgetown to get upset in the round of 64 by Belmont, but that was with knowledge that the Hoyas could be the biggest threat to stopping Kansas from reaching the Elite Eight if they were able to escape that opening game. Not only did Georgetown escape, but it was one of the most impressive showings of any team in the tournament thus far. The Hoyas used their length and athleticism to deny the efficient Belmont offense from ever getting started, and they were unreal at their own end offensively with a 61.2% field goal percentage for the game. This matchup will be more difficult, however, against an North Carolina State team that’s getting better every game and playing spectacular offensively. The Wolfpack have great size inside to match Georgetown, with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell as long and athletic as any Hoya. Howell had his best game of the season with 22 points on 10-12 shooting last game, but that will also change as he goes up against much stronger post defenders. Georgetown primarily plays zone defense but will also switch things up and defend man-to-man when needed. It will be a battle inside all night as the Hoyas surely won’t let Scott Wood get open looks from three. This game, though, will be decided on the other end of the floor. NC State was not particularly strong defensively throughout the year, but they completely shut down San Diego State on Friday by allowing just 37.7% field goal shooting. The Aztecs played a lot of one-on-one ball, the exact opposite of what the Hoyas will show. It’ll be up to Henry Sims to make smart decisions in the high post, something he’s done all year. Jason Clark was great last game and is a reliable playmaker in this game, while Otto Porter remains rock solid as an X-factor offensively. Both of these teams looked great last round, but Georgetown has the advantage because it should pose a much greater defensive threat to the Wolfpack while also running a motion offense that will be difficult to defend.

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#1 Michigan State vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Two top ten teams in defensive efficiency. Two coaches with a well-earned reputation for X-ing and O-ing with the best of them. It isn’t likely to be one of the prettiest displays of basketball you’ll ever see, but if you like fundamentals and you like basketball as chess match, this is a can’t-miss game. The Billikens advanced to this round behind great team defense and great individual offensive performances by Kwamain Mitchell (22 points including four threes) and Brian Conklin (16 points, earned largely from his ten-of-11 performance from the line). But Conklin also turned the ball over eight times, in part due to the active hands of Memphis defenders; he’ll see more of that on Sunday and will need to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Billikens will need to come up with some sort of answer for Draymond Green, who was brilliant Friday against Long Island, registering a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. But perhaps the biggest battle of the game will be on Michigan State’s offensive glass. The Spartans have historically made a living creating offensive on second-chance opportunities, but the best Rick Majerus-coached teams have been proficient in securing defensive rebounds. If the Billikens can limit the Spartans’ offensive rebounding (a feat easier said than done), Tom Izzo will need to find other ways for his Spartans to score in the halfcourt, and there have been times this year when that MSU offense has bogged down a bit. While sophomore guard Keith Appling is usually excellent getting penetration, SLU is no liable to allow that very often, and there is no one else on the Spartan roster capable of creating his own offense off the dribble on a regular basis. Guys like Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton have been very efficient three-point shooters, but, with the exception perhaps of Green, they need someone to create open looks for them. In short, if SLU can do what no other team has been able to do all year – keep Michigan State in check on their offensive glass – then the Billikens could drag this game down into the mud and pull out a win. But, if the Spartans do what, you know, they always do, I have a hard time seeing Saint Louis pulling this one out.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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Rushed Reaction: #10 Purdue 72, #10 St. Mary’s 69

Posted by Patrick Marshall on March 16th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Exploiting interior defense. Purdue took advantage of one glaring weakness for St. Mary’s — its lack of interior defense. The Boilermakers continually exploited the middle with guard Terone Johnson leading the way with 21 points. He took advantage of the openings in the first half and the rest of his teammates got involved after that as Purdue scored 36 points in the paint. They can be successful further into the NCAA Tournament by attacking the basket.
  2. Key Outside Shooting. Although Purdue didn’t shoot very well from three, the ones that did go down were at critical points in the game. Both of DJ Bird‘s three pointers and the lone Robbie Hummel three made in the second half came when St. Mary’s was trying to make a run. The ability of Purdue to get to the paint so easily made the few outside shots Purdue attempted in the second half count.
  3. Gaels will miss Jones. Rob Jones is a 6’6″ forward that is basically playing the job of center while also being a threat outside. He works hard underneath and plays bigger than he really is. St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett must have told his team at halftime to get the ball to Jones because he was a lot more involved after halftime. He scored the first five points of the half and seemed to be involved in every play throughout the rest of the game including the shot at the end of the game that could have sent it into overtime. He finished with a game high 23 points. The senior will be missed after this season.

Star of the Game–Lewis Jackson, Purdue. Although Terone Johnson set the example for Purdue to attack the basket in the first half, it was Jackson who took advantage of the St. Mary’s interior defense that led the Boilermakers to the win. The point guard got the final field goal of the game that was huge for Purdue.

Quotable. “The thing is about this team is that they will let you take three point shots. You have to make shots. We finally hit some at the end, but we didn’t do good enough.” — Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s Head Coach.

Sights & Sounds. The atmosphere at the CenturyLink was still buzzing over the Norfolk State upset of Missouri in the previous game. Since they also had to clear out the arena for the evening session, it took a while for it to get full again, but by the end of the game the stands were packed to enjoy the finish of this one. When St. Mary’s took the lead 69-68 with 44 seconds to go, the crowd was clearly behind the Gaels.

Wildcard. With the win, Purdue has now won their fourteenth straight opening round game in the NCAA Tournament. They are also now 3-1 as a #10 seed.

What’s Next?–The Boilermakers now head to Sunday with a trip to St. Louis on the line against either Kansas or Detroit in the next game tonight. With two #2 seeds already going down today, you are never quite sure what is going to happen.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round – Friday Evening

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Nice to See Rick Majerus Back in the Dance (AP)

It may be an 8/9 game, but according to advanced metrics, this is anything but your typical 8/9 game. Both teams are among the top 15 teams in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, outscoring opponents by about 0.2 points per possession over the course of the season. Still, looking back over the schedules, the Billikens’ only have four wins over NCAA Tournament teams (Vermont, St. Bonaventure and two over Xavier), while the Tigers have just three (Belmont, Southern Miss and Xavier) – not exactly stunning resumes. However, SLU head coach Rick Majerus is no stranger to NCAA Tournament success, and his ability to scout and gameplan for an opponent is legendary. And while Memphis is used to playing at a fast tempo, you can bet Majerus will effectively slow this game down, using 25 seconds or more on every offensive possession, mostly forgoing any attempts at offensive rebounds in an effort to get back on defense, and making Memphis score over a stingy SLU defense. While Memphis has been killing teams over the past month or so, the two games they’ve lost have been down-tempo affairs (UTEP and Southern Miss), and if they get frustrated against the deliberate Billiken pace, it could spell an early end to the Memphis season. Still, the Tigers will have a significant athletic advantage and while Majerus has a decent matchup for lightning quick guard Joe Jackson in the form of Kwamain Mitchell (and Jordair Jett), it remains to be seen how effective they will be against sophomore win Will Barton. If Barton can find space inside the SLU perimeter defense, he could create serious problems. Of course, that’s a big if.

The RTC Certified Pick: Saint Louis

#2 Duke vs. #15 Lehigh – South Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Located less than an hour’s drive from Cameron Indoor, Duke will do battle with Patriot League champion Lehigh in what is practically a home game for the Blue Devils. Duke is limping into the NCAA Tournament have lost two of their last three games, one of these losses coming in blowout fashion against arch rival North Carolina. Despite having many holes on the defensive end and Ryan Kelly uncertain for the game against Lehigh, Duke does have one of the more potent offensives in the tournament. Austin Rivers and Seth Curry can score from virtually anywhere on the floor, and the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. It is not often that a Patriot League team can put a player on the floor that has the ability to go shot-for- with one of the best teams in the nation, but C.J. McCollum will prove he belongs running side by side with Austin Rivers. The junior guard from Canton, OH ranks top ten nationally in scoring and has the ability to take over a game for long stretches. Although Duke will no doubt focus much of their effort on the defensive end on McCollum, it is no secret that the Blue Devils struggle guarding around the perimeter. McCollum will get his points, but it is just a question if his teammates will be able to follow suit. If Lehigh gets production from Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, don’t be surprised if the Mountain Hawks hang with Duke for much of the game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

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Six Big Ten Teams Have Their Dancing Shoes On

Posted by jnowak on March 12th, 2012

There are six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. So what? So let’s dance!

Big Ten fans everywhere should be excited about their team’s prospects in the tournament. The conference has been considered the best in the nation all season, and more than a few squads have the goods to make the Final Four in New Orleans. Here’s a brief look at each of the six Big Ten teams’ first-round games, with some thoughts from our Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself):

Tom Izzo is a master in March. How far can he take his Spartans this year? (Justin Wan/The State News)

#1 Michigan State vs. #16 Long Island University-Brooklyn

  • Ryan Terpstra: A #16 has never beaten a #1, and that won’t change for MSU. The Spartans are playing great, and are 3-for-3 in going to Final Fours when they’ve entered the tournament as a #1 seed. It would behoove them to build an early lead and put the game out of reach so they can rest some starters, because a potential matchup with Memphis would be a tough one for the next round.
  • Joey Nowak: What is there to say about a #1-#16 match-up? As a Brooklyn resident, I’ve been rooting for LIU-Brooklyn the last couple weeks, until I found out they’re matched up against my alma mater. I honestly think this game will be competitive for most of the first half before the Spartans pull away.

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Loyola

  • RT: The Buckeyes are disappointed to not be a #1 seed after losing in the Big Ten Tournament, but their talent and size can’t be matched by many teams. They should overpower Loyola easily, but a possible game against West Virginia wouldn’t be such a pushover.
  • JN: The Buckeyes probably feel a little burned after losing to the Big Ten Tournament championship game, and that’s bad news for Loyola. Ohio State plays always rebounds well from losses and has shown in the last two weeks that this team means business.
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Big Ten Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference.

Conference Tournament Preview

After a thrilling regular season, it’s on to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Despite being a three-seed, Ohio State has to be considered the favorite given how well they ended the regular season. If either Michigan State or OSU wins the Big Ten Tournament, they will get strong consideration for a one-seed. Teams like Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue can all improve their NCAA Tournament seeds with strong showings this weekend.

Northwestern is the only clear bubble team in the conference, and as such is under the most pressure to string some wins together. If the Wilcats can beat Minnesota in the first round, they’ll face a Michigan team that they only lost to twice this season, though both losses came in overtime. Two wins in the Big Ten tournament should make them a virtual lock for their first-ever tournament birth, but it’s much easier said than done with this level of competition.

A Look Back

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Big Ten Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Whatever they did, it worked. The Detroit News’ Rod Beard takes you inside Michigan‘s intense preparation for Northwestern‘s unique style of play ahead of the Wolverines’ overtime win in Evanston on Tuesday night, helping to keep Michigan on pace in the conference standings. It details coaches’ late hours, the film review, and how the Wolverines planned to attack Northwestern leading scorer John Shurna. The senior finished with just 14 points, well below his average, and Michigan held him in check during the late stages Tuesday night. Looks like all that prep paid off.
  2. Speaking of Shurna, he may not have been on his game on Tuesday night, but the Chicago Tribune‘s David Haugh points out that there’s a lot more to Shurna than just putting the ball in the hoop. The Wildcats senior and Northwestern all-time career scoring leader re-reads the Harry Potter books and is a big believer in humanitarian efforts, for starters. It’s safe to say he’s got a pretty full resume.
  3. It seems Tubby Smith is going to keep tinkering with his Minnesota lineup until he sees something he really likes. With the Golden Gophers on the bubble and hosting Michigan State on Wednesday night, it’s a prime opportunity for Minnesota to make a statement. It looks like that means another lineup change. Amelia Rayno from the Star Tribune writes that fans are likely to see the ninth different starting lineup on Wednesday. Smith didn’t say who the new five would be, but Rayno has good insight into who may be coming and who may be going.
  4. The list of things that may have Bruce Weber in scalding-hot water after Illinois wraps up this disappointing season is a long one. But Ken Thompson of the Lafayette Journal-Courier says straying from the principles of his mentor was part of Weber’s downfall. Thompson writes that Weber — who spent 18 years under Gene Keady at Purdue — never instilled the mixture of toughness and affection that Keady had with his Boilermakers team, and it cost him at Illinois.
  5. As for Purdue nowadays, it’s going to have to change with the departure of Kelsey Barlow. The Boilermakers are trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season, but their task is tougher since coach Matt Painter kicked Barlow off the team last week. Painter said it depends on the match-ups, but you can expect to see Lewis Jackson, Terone Johnson, Ryne Smith, and D.J. Byrd all step up and expand their roles. With four games remaining on the Big Ten regular season schedule and the Big Ten Tournament ahead, those players have the opportunity to make the most of their enhanced roles.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.17.12 – 02.19.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 17th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

While BracketBusters is always solid, the overall slate over the next few days is full of good, but not great, games. Still, tune in to these games as conference races head down the stretch and the NCAA Tournament field begins to take shape.

#13 St. Mary’s at #24 Murray State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Since losing to Tennessee State, Murray State has rebounded with two wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State. On Saturday night the Racers will get their chance to show the nation they are for real. Playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd on national television, there is no excuse for Murray State to come out anything less than fired up. The three point line is this team’s best friend on both ends of the floor and it will be important against St. Mary’s. Murray State shoots 41% from deep (#8 nationally) and defends the arc very well. Against a St. Mary’s team that ranks a putrid #305 against the triple, that’s a huge advantage for the Racers at home. Steve Prohm should do everything in his power to ensure Isaiah Canaan (47.3%) and Donte Poole(39.3%) get quality shots from the arc against the porous Gaels’ defense. Defensively, the Racers must lock down the arc as they usually do. St. Mary’s shoots a lot of threes and while they don’t make a great percentage they do get just a shade under 30% of their total points from the arc.

    Isaiah Canaan And Company Could Have A Big Day From Behind The Arc Against St. Mary's Average 3-Point Defense (Getty)

  • St. Mary’s has lost two of its last three games after starting the season 22-2. The Gaels are still a likely NCAA Tournament team, but a win here would ensure their place in the field of 68 for sure. In order to win on the road in a tough environment against a good team, St. Mary’s must use its edge on the offensive glass, make threes and get to the foul line. With strong rebounders like Rob Jones and Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s has a clear size edge over Murray State. Only Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel see significant minutes for the Racers inside, two of only three players on the roster who are at least 6’7” tall. While the Gaels have a huge edge inside, they’re going to have to overcome Murray State’s strong perimeter defense. Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl are going to have to hit threes for Randy Bennett’s team to come out on top. Thirdly, St. Mary’s should look to take advantage of a Murray State defense that ranks in the bottom half of Division I in defensive free throw rate. The Gaels get to the line fairly well and make 71.9% of their free throws. It’s so important to control tempo and keep the crowd out of the game and getting to the charity stripe while controlling the boards definitely helps in achieving that goal.
  • This should be a very close game but the edge has to go to the home team. St. Mary’s is struggling a bit right now and Murray State seems to have righted the ship since suffering its first loss. One concern for the Racers is their turnovers (14 per game). If Murray State controls the ball, plays well on the perimeter and gets to the free throw line at its usual clip, this will be the Racers’ game to lose.
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Big Ten Game On: 02.11.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on February 11th, 2012

It was a quiet Friday night in the Big Ten (because, you know, there were no games), but the action certainly picks up on the court today as two of the top teams in the league face off.  Also, on Sunday we have some schools desperate for a win on the road against opponents who need a victory to keep pace within the conference.  It all bodes for a very interesting Big Ten weekend.

Nebraska at Penn State, 1 pm ET Saturday

  • Though these two teams currently sport the bottom two records in the league, don’t think for a second that this game doesn’t mean something. Nebraska desperately needs to get on the right track in their first season in the Big Ten, and a road win at Penn State would help get things moving in that direction. Meanwhile, Penn State has lost five straight and eight out of their last nine; and in no way do they want that streak to continue. It helps that the Nittany Lions will have the best player on the court in guard Tim Fraizer.

#12 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State, 6 pm ET Saturday

  • This is the biggest marquee game for the league so far this season and not just because it is between two teams that are within a game of each other at the top of the standings. Both teams have good size, tremendous guard play, and it will be strength-vs-strength when the Spartans and Buckeyes do battle on national television (ESPN). In the yesterday’s Big Ten Morning Five there was a link to an article talking about the headache Big Ten coaches have had in trying to figure out how to properly defend Jared Sullinger. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo probably is the best equipped to deal with the Buckeye big man, as beefy Derrick Nix and long-armed Adreian Payne can be used to slow Sullinger down. Draymond Green may also take his turn on Sullinger, but his foremost job will be to continue his Big Ten-best 10.6 RPG along with his 15 PPG. Green’s leadership will also be key for this road test as sophomore guard Keith Appling and freshman forward Branden Dawson will be the other Spartans expected to score. Look for Ohio State guard William Buford to try and loosen things up for Sullinger early on as the senior knows how important a win and two-game cushion over Michigan State would be.

Containing Jared Sullinger will be the top priority for Michign State. (Greg Shamus/Getty)

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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was:

  • Halfway Home: As of this week, the regular season conference schedule is officially more than halfway done. And – with apologies to Dennis Green– teams are pretty much who we thought they were at the beginning of the season. Ohio State is the class of the conference; Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana are solid NCAA Tournament teams; Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern are fighting for seeding while Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State pick up the rear. Of course, there have been some upsets and many compelling games, but now that the dust is starting to settle, the cream of the crop has risen to the top.
  • Super Shurna: Leave it to a savvy veteran to catch fire at just the right time. With Northwestern’s hopes of making its first NCAA Tournament fading fast, John Shurna won co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he shot a blistering 71% from the field and averaged 26 points, four rebounds, and two steals to lead the injury-depleted Wildcats to a home win over Nebraska and a road victory over Illinois. Shurna is up there with Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor as the most valuable players to their respective teams.
  • Close Calls: Illinois may be struggling at the moment, but they aren’t getting blown out. Each of the Illini’s last six games has been decided by five points or less. Unfortunately for the Orange Crush, they are just 2-4 in those games. Now they get to go on the road for four of their next five, starting with a doozy of a week with games at Indiana and at Michigan.

Will Draymond Green And The Spartans Snap Ohio State's Impressive Winning Streak In Columbus Saturday? (Al Goldis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (21-3, 9-2) – With the amount of scoring options Thad Matta has, it’s really just a matter of if Ohio State wants to defend you. They didn’t do that against Indiana or Brandon Paul (though he was just on fire that day), and sure enough, they lost both games. Purdue gave the Scarlet-and-Gray all they could handle before OSU escaped with an 84-81 win. Buckeyes face an interesting test when Michigan State comes calling to Columbus on Saturday. A win would put them in a comfortable position to win the regular season crown.
  2. Michigan State (18-5, 7-3) – All of East Lansing waited with baited breath to learn the results of Draymond Green’s MRI. After Green left the game with a minor knee injury, Michigan State struggled mightily in a 42-41 upset loss. They bounced back nicely against their in-state rivals, and sure enough, Green led them with 14 points and 16 boards. As good a season as State has had, it could be even better: Two of the three conference losses have been by a single point on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter @Bill_Hupp for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was:

  • Gophers Golden Again: Not only did Minnesota win its first two conference games of the season this week, it’s the first time since 2009 that the Golden Gophers have won back-to-back conference road games.  UM was led by freshman and Minneapolis native Joe Coleman, whom Tubby Smith inserted into the starting lineup three games ago.  This week, Coleman hit four free throws in the final minute to help Minnesota hang on for a 77-74 upset at No. 7 Indiana, then exploded for a career-high 23 points in a win over Penn State. Nobody thought the Gophers were as bad as their original 0-4 Big Ten mark indicated, but learning how to win close games can build a young team’s confidence quickly.
  • Brandon Paul Pops Off in Champaign: Illinois junior guard Brandon Paul came into the Ohio State game averaging 12.1 points per game, but he earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after he dropped a career-high 43 points out of nowhere on the Buckeyes. Paul’s 28 points in the second half included some very tough, contested shots near the end of a close game (full video highlights below). His 43 points were the third-most in a game in school history and the most since Andy Kaufmann went for 46 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

Brandon Paul's Game To Remember Against Ohio State Stole The Headlines From The Big Ten Race (Heather Coit/AP)

  • Back in Black: Wearing black jerseys at home in a must-win game against No. 7 Michigan State, the Wildcats got an inspired effort from backup center Davide Curletti, who made his first start of the season and finished with season-high 17 points and six rebounds. He gave great energy for Bill Carmody while starting in place of the ineffective Luka Mirkovic. Teams had been averaging just 59.6 points against the Spartans through the first 17 games, but MSU allowed Northwestern to shoot 54 percent in the second half to pull away for an 81-74 win.  We’ve said before that the Wildcats would pull off an upset or two in conference play if they shot the ball well, and that’s exactly what happened in Evanston.

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (16-3, 4-2) – It’s doesn’t seem fair for opposing teams when Lenzelle Smith Jr., a.k.a. “Ohio State’s forgotten starter” can hit 10-of-12 from the field, score 28 points and grab seven rebounds on a whim.  It’s really a “pick your poison” scenario when you are playing a team with so many potential offensive threats.
  2. Michigan State (15-3, 4-1) – Draymond Green may be a bruising power forward at 6’7’’ and 230 pounds, but he has shown a nice touch from the outside this season.  Besides being a force down low, Green leads the Spartans with 24 triples on the season. It’s an offensive skill that has “Day-Day” (as Tom Izzo calls him) a virtual lock for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
  3. Indiana (15-3, 3-3) – Some uncharacteristically poor three-point shooting this week spelled doom for the Hoosiers, who dropped games to Minnesota and Ohio State. A team that averages nearly 50% from beyond the arc was a combined 11 for 39 (28%). They feel behind early in both games and couldn’t shoot their way back into either contest.  One positive this week was that Cody Zeller averaged 19.5 points in the losses.
  4. Illinois (14-3, 4-1) – With his imposing size and impressive array of skills, the Illini should have the premier go-to scorer in the conference in center Meyers Leonard. Yet too often, it seems like he is catching the ball facing the basket, instead of posting up on the block where he could turn and score over his left shoulder or kick it out to three-pointer shooters like Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson. Leonard needs to park himself down low where he can maximize his offensive efficiency.
  5. Michigan (14-4, 4-2) – Michigan barely survived Northwestern at home in OT, then got blasted by 16 at Iowa. In both games, it seemed like the Wolverines stopped attacking the basket and were content to settle for threes, jacking up 30 against NU and 31 against Iowa. Their motion offense, cutting and dribble penetration gets them easy buckets at the rim, so they struggle to score when they get too willing to fire from long range.
  6. Wisconsin (14-5, 3-3) – It wasn’t especially pretty against Purdue or Nebraska, but the Badgers earned a pair of hard-fought five-point wins to even their conference mark at 3-3.  Needing a win to snap a three-game losing streak, Wisconsin blitzed Purdue early hitting five of their first six threes to build a 22-4 lead. They came back to earth after that, however, shooting 2 of 18 from distance against the Cornhuskers.
  7. Purdue (13-5, 3-2) – Purdue faced a desperate Wisconsin team and dug themselves a 22-4 first half hole at Mackey Arena a before battling back and eventually falling. It’s not a good sign for the Boilers when Lewis Jackson finishes with two points and the team only hits 33% of their three-point field goal attempts.
  8. Minnesota (14-5, 2-4) – With star Trevor Mbawke sidelined, the Gophers needed other players to step up and help Rodney Williams shoulder the scoring load. Well, it looks like Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins and Julian Welch are starting to come of age. You knew Tubby Smith had plenty of athleticism and talent at The Barn, it was just a matter of fitting the right pieces together. Now he has five starters who are averaging between 8.3 and 12.5 points per game in conference play.
  9. Northwestern (12-5, 2-3) – Teams often struggle once conference play begins because their young point guard takes a few steps back. Not Northwestern, where starting guard Dave Sobolewski leads the Big Ten and is near the top of the nationally with a 4. 2 assist-to-turnover ratio, and really excels at backdoor feeds.
  10. Iowa (11-8, 3-3) – Talk about an enigma of a team. After getting destroyed by an average of 32.5 points in road losses to Ohio St. and Michigan St., the Hawks turned around and cruised past Michigan, 75-59 at home on Saturday. Iowa can light up the scoreboard when its shots are falling, which is why they’ve scored 75 points or more in nine of their 11 wins this season.
  11. Nebraska (9-8, 1-5) – Where were you when Nebraska won their first Big Ten game in school history? Since getting pasted by Ohio State, the Cornhuskers sandwiched their lone conference triumph over Penn State between narrow five-point road losses at Illinois and Wisconsin, holding all three opponents under 60 points. They don’t score much, but NU seems to be a natural fit for the conference in terms of their grinding, methodical style of play.
  12. Penn State  (9-10, 1-5) – One of the most difficult, but important things to teach a young team is how to defend on a nightly basis. The Nittany Lions have dropped three straight, and in each loss, allowed their opponent to shoot over 50%. That’s not going to cut it in any conference, let alone the deepest and toughest in the country.

Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Showed The Nation That The Buckeyes Go Beyond Sullinger, Craft And Buford (Getty)

Looking Ahead

  • Tuesday, 1/17: No. 9 Michigan State @ No. 19 Michigan – One of the most underrated rivalries in college hoops has added significance this season with each team being in the hunt for a Big Ten title.  State is looking to rebound after having their 15-game winning streak snapped at Northwestern, while the Wolverines are trying to remain unbeaten at home (11-0).  Look for whoever wins the intriguing PG battle between emerging Spartans sophomore Keith Appling and Michigan’s stud freshman Trey Burke to win the game.
  • Wednesday, 1/18: Northwestern @ Wisconsin– An important game between two teams with similar styles each desperate to continue the momentum built this past weekend. Both are pretty reliant on the three-point shot (NU first, Wisconsin fourth in three-pointers per game), so whoever has the hotter hand should emerge victorious.
  • Saturday, 1/21: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State – The Boilers could use a signature win (Butler and Illinois don’t count) to impress the Selection Committee.  As always, Ryne Smith and co. will have to knock down treys, but that’s a tall order against MSU, which is stingy on the perimeter (second in conference allowing 30.2% from three).

Caught on Film

It’s amazing how a player’s success on offensive end can carry over to his defensive performance. Brandon Paul poured in 43 points, the highest single-game point total in the Big Ten in 20 years.  But he also made his presence felt defensively, grabbing a couple steals and swatting four emphatic shots. As you can see from the below video, he was on fire from distance and a monster on the defensive end.

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