Big Ten Geeks: Boiling Over

Purdue picked up a huge victory for their at-large profile at Illinois on Wednesday. This game was mostly decided in the first half, as the Boilers jumped out to a 13-point lead after 16 minutes. Bruce Weber’s team couldn’t stop the smaller Purdue lineup, and it failed to take advantage at the other end by getting the ball to Meyers Leonard. From that point forward, the Illini played much better, even using a triangle-and-two to good effect in the second half, but the Boilers would never fully relinquish their lead. The split of the efficiencies tells the story of too little, too late:

First 28 possessions Last 38 possessions
Purdue 1.21 0.87
Illinois 0.75 1.08

We said before the game that it held huge implications for the at-large hopes of both teams, and this win certainly puts Purdue in excellent position to lock up a bid. With home games against Nebraska and Penn State still to come, it’s a virtual lock that Matt Painter’s team will reach nine conference wins, and there’s even a chance to move up in the seeding ranks with a win in Sunday’s home game against Michigan State. From here, it would be rather shocking for Purdue to miss the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois is clearly headed in the other direction. The Illini already have eight conference losses, and they still have to visit Ohio State and Wisconsin, making a 9-9 finish look rather unlikely. Their best hope is to win at Nebraska, beat Iowa and Michigan at home, then win a couple games in the Big Ten Tournament. The bubble is certainly soft right now, so it’s not impossible for an 8-10 Big Ten team to sneak in as one of the last at-larges. A loss in Saturday’s visit to Lincoln would likely slam the door on Illinois’ chances.

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In yet another missed opportunity, Northwestern played rather well at Indiana but came up short. This was a two-point game with three minutes left–credit the Hoosiers’ defense for coming up with important stops down the stretch. The dagger was the longest of twos from Verdell Jones, a fitting shot given his career penchant for such statistically-unwise looks.

Cody Zeller continued his march to the all-conference first team with 23 points on just 11 shots. John Shurna put up 29 points in the losing effort.

Northwestern still has a shot at an at-large bid, as four of its five remaining games look like tossups. Somehow pull out all four, and the Wildcats will be dancing. Get three of the four, and there would still be a case to be made in the Big Ten Tournament. The opportunity is laid out in front of Northwestern, and it begins with Saturday’s hosting of Minnesota.

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In a game that was supposed to be all about defense, it was the Michigan State offense that stole the show in a solid beating of Wisconsin. The Badgers had not allowed anyone above 1.08 points per possession all season, and the Spartans blew that away with a 1.17 efficiency. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been completely surprised by this. One of the best things about Wisconsin’s defense is their ability to prevent three-point attempts, and hoisting threes is something that Michigan State isn’t all that interested in doing anyway. The Badgers force you to rely on twos, but twos are the Spartans’ bread and butter. Michigan State attempted just nine threes and shot 59 percent inside the arc in the romp.

Michigan State’s tempo-free profile now looks remarkably similar to that of Ohio State, and KenPom projects that the two squads will share the Big Ten title at 14-4. We could have a de-facto regular season championship game in East Lansing on the season’s final weekend.

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In less relevant action, Penn State held serve at home against Iowa despite a 16-10 double-double from Aaron White. The aggressive freshman is having a fantastic season for the Hawkeyes, and he leads the conference in free throw rate.

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In bubble terms, the weekend’s big tilts are Minnesota at Northwestern (6pm CT Saturday, BTN) and Michigan State at Purdue (12pm CT Sunday, CBS). We’re also treated with the very interesting matchup of Ohio State at Michigan (8pm CT Saturday, ESPN). We’re officially on the homestretch now, folks.

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