Three-Pointers: Sparty vs. Brutus

It has been an interesting week, with the league title chase coming into sharper focus with Michigan State’s big win at Ohio State. It will come down to Sparty vs. Brutus for the title, which is what we thought would happen back in October. So, it looks like the other Big Ten teams are relegated to a chase for third place.

The out pouring of brutal honesty by Illinois coach Bruce Weber after a tough home loss to Purdue on Wednesday may have been the biggest story of the week. Still, on the court, there’s lots to look forward to for Illinois and many other teams the rest of the way. Check it all out here in my weekly Three-Pointers.

STOCKS TO BUY
1. Michigan State. There is no hotter team in the Big Ten than Sparty, which is coming off a huge week that saw it win at Ohio State—ending the Buckeyes’ 39-game home winning skein–and then topple Wisconsin in East Lansing last night. That’s six wins in seven games, if you are scoring at home. Let’s call this the “best” team in the Big Ten—at least for now.

2. Indiana. Those losses at home to Minnesota and at Nebraska? They seem like they never happened. The Hoosiers have won five of their last seven and seem to be developing a real mojo and resolve down the stretch. Will Indiana—which notched its 20th win for the first time since 2007-08–win the Big Ten? No. But the Hoosiers have a shot to finish among the top three, getting a bye in the Big Ten tourney and nice NCAA seed.

3. Purdue. The Boilers have a little bit of mojo, winning two games in a row to greatly enhance their NCAA resume. Purdue hadn’t won consecutive games since ripping off three victories in a row at the end of December. Yes, it’s has been that type of year for the Boilermakers.

STOCKS TO SELL
1. Illinois. It’s seven losses in eight games for the free-falling Fighting Illini, as questions abound about Illinois’ NCAA hopes and Bruce Weber’s future. The defense has been bad. And where’s the leadership? More bad news: Illinois still has games at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, along with a visit from Michigan.

2. Nebraska. The Huskers are slumping down the stretch, losing four in a row and five of six. Center Jorge Brian Diaz is done for the year. A losing overall record looks like a lock. Yeah, it’s not fun right now to lace ‘em up in Lincoln.

3. Northwestern. Those NCAA hopes? They are looking bleak. It’s too bad because it would have been a great story to see the Wildcats reach the Big Dance for the first time ever, but Northwestern has followed a three-game winning streak with back-to-back losses to drop the Wildcats to 5-8 in the Big Ten. At least opportunity lurks, with games left vs. Minnesota; vs. Michigan; at Penn State; vs. Ohio State; at Iowa. The Wildcats likely need to win four of those to get in the tourney—and it may be possible.

THINGS I LEARNED
1. The Big Ten lacks explosive and athletic wing players. Where are all of the dynamic off-guards and small forwards who can run the floor to drain jumpers or explode to the rim? They just aren’t there in the Big Ten, which is loaded with good point guards and several strong big men. Guys like Ohio State’s William Buford, Illinois’ Brandon Paul and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr., have the tools on the wing, but each has been inconsistent.

2. Indiana may not lose another game. Yes, you read that correctly. The Hoosiers have a toughness and grit about them that has emerged the last few weeks. Indiana has won three in a row with Cody Zeller rolling. Up next: at Iowa, followed by North Carolina Central (How did that get in there?), at Minnesota, Michigan State, Purdue. It’s fun in Bloomington again!

3. Iowa’s Aaron White is the most underrated freshman in the Big Ten. It’s difficult to get notice with other freshman sensations like Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, Branden Dawson and Dave Sobolewski also in the Big Ten. But White is averaging 10.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. And he plays with passion, too.

TRUTHS
1. The title chase is down to Michigan State and Ohio State. No surprise there, huh? Each team is 10-3 in the Big Ten and seemingly headed for a de facto Big Ten regular-season title game on March 4 in East Lansing. I can’t wait.

2. The most intriguing race is for the other two first-round byes in the Big Ten tourney. We all know the Spartans and Buckeyes are locks for two of the byes. But Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana will engage in a fun battle down the stretch for the two final slots. Interestingly, none of the teams plays each other down the stretch.

3. For all of its woes, Illinois still may make the NCAA tourney. Really. The Fighting Illini are 5-8 in the Big Ten, but they have wins over two top-10 teams (Ohio State and Michigan State), as well as a nice victory over a then-ranked Gonzaga in the non-conference. And opportunities lurk in the remaining schedule. But can Illinois keep it together emotionally, improve its shot selection and tighten its defense? This will be one of the most-watched storylines the rest of the way.

IMPRESSIVE WINS
1. Michigan State 58, Ohio State 48. Let’s go ahead and call this the most impressive conference victory by any team in the Big Ten this season. The Spartans played suffocating defense in limiting the Buckeyes to 26.4 percent shooting. Michigan State also got an unexpected lift from big man Adreian Payne, who notched a team-high 15 points.

2. Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 55. There was no let down after that big win at Ohio State, as the Spartans demolished the Badgers with another enveloping defensive effort. Wisconsin shot just 34 percent in a game that essentially was over at halftime (31-19). Draymond Green was, well, Draymond Green, firing a salvo for Big Ten Player of the Year honors with another double-double (20-10).

3. Purdue 67, Illinois 62. Behind four players who scored in double-figures, the Boilermakers scored a crucial road win over Top 50 RPI team. Robbie Hummel (19 points) and D.J. Byrd (13) hit the big shots, and the Boilermakers turned up the defensive pressure down the stretch as the Illini hit just 3-of-21 three-point attempts to send Bruce Weber into that oh-so-public-and-painful-to-watch confessional.

GAMES TO LOOK FORWARD TO
1. Ohio State at Michigan, Saturday, Feb. 18. The iconic football rivalry plays out on the hardwood. Ohio State got back on track with a win at Minnesota following that home loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes know they can’t afford any more slip-ups if they want to keep pace with the Spartans. The Wolverines are trying to end a six-game losing streak to the Buckeyes and score a program-defining win under John Beilein.

2. Minnesota at Northwestern, Saturday, Feb. 18. This is all about survival. The Gophers are still in some NCAA tourney mock brackets, but their resume needs some polishing with three losses in the last four games. The Wildcats’ situation is more tenuous, having lost two in a row. It’s vital for Northwestern to protect its home court if it wants to remain in the NCAA conversation. Tourney talk in Evanston is turning into a whisper.

3. Michigan State at Purdue, Sunday, Feb. 19. The Boilermakers’ NCAA credentials are improving. A home win over the Spartans may be enough to make Purdue an NCAA lock. But it won’t be easy vs. the hottest team in the Big Ten. Sparty has won four in a row, with the last two being impressive triumphs at Ohio State and vs. Wisconsin. Purdue will have ample motivation after getting hammered, 83-58, in East Lansing in January. In that game, Robbie Hummel went 0-for-11 from the field and finished with two points.

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7 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (7 Comments)
Nate on 2/17/2012 @ 6:13pm EDT Said:

Tom,

I gotta say, I really think you are trying to make yourself sound a little too self-assured that you have been right all along than to actually look at reality. I find a lot of problems with your opening paragraph.

“It has been an interesting week, with the league title chase coming into sharper focus with Michigan State’s big win at Ohio State. It will come down to Sparty vs. Brutus for the title, which is what we thought would happen back in October. So, it looks like the other Big Ten teams are relegated to a chase for third place.”

1st point- Please tell me where you told the world you thought the B10 title was coming down to MSU vs. OSU back in October? Because as a Michigan State alumni and fan, I happen to remember us being unranked preseason, with all projections showing us finishing 4th, 5th, 6th, or even 7th in the B10. I would love to see your post telling the world before the season started that MSU was going to finish 1 or 2.

2nd point- The second claim that you make here is that the B10 race is over right now and that the MSU vs. OSU game will decide the B10. You do realize each team has 4 games to play prior to that point. And, you do realize that Michigan who is only a game behind both MSU and OSU plays OSU at home this weekend? I would also hope you have seen the schedule of the remaining top 3 teams (MSU, OSU, UM) as well, and have seen that UM has the easiest schedule remaining of the 3. As much as I hate UofM, and trust me I do, to rule them out from winning the B10, or jumping either MSU or OSU for a 2nd is just absurd at this point.

So please, slow down the certainty, analyze the details, and please write with more objectiveness, as opposed to trying to fulfill yourself with the idea that you’ve been gazing through the crystal ball since the beginning here and have taken the Delorean for a cruise to 3/4/2012 already.

Just my advice. I look forward to continue reading your articles. With that being said, Go Green!

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 2/22/2012 @ 10:24am EDT Said:

    Thanks! Yes, MSU was off the radar for many people. There were questions in East Lansing after last season’s struggles, not the least of which was at point guard and in the paint. Izzo has done a masterful job this season.

Justin on 2/18/2012 @ 1:35am EDT Said:

As a UofM fan, I agree with Nate’s comment, even though he’s a MSU alumni. There’s absolutely no reason to automatically discard Michigan from the B10 title race when they are only one game behind. Though MSU and OSU are the current favorites, you must remember that there are no games teams can take for granted in the B10, especially on the road. From top to bottom, the B10 is the most competitive conference.
With that being said, Go Blue!

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 2/22/2012 @ 10:22am EDT Said:

    If I have learned one thing, it’s this: Anyone can lose to anyone. The balance in this league is uncanny.

ChewBaka on 2/18/2012 @ 2:27pm EDT Said:

The Race ain’t over until its over.
A few Teams up top can still lose and a few in the middle can win it all. B1G is too tough this year so no one knows what will happen until it’s all said and done.

    Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer on 2/22/2012 @ 10:22am EDT Said:

    It is gonna be a fun chase. And, you are correct: Many things still can happen, but you have to like MSU’s chances.

LaughingJim on 2/22/2012 @ 12:35am EDT Said:

What about his prediction that Indiana won’t lose another game. That didn’t even last one game. Haha. Who hires these people?