Hoosiers flex muscles as race hits homestretch
Indiana was a big winner this week, showing why it’s the No. 1 team in the nation and a favorite to win the school’s first national championship since 1987, when Keith Smart hit one of the biggest shots in school history to down Syracuse. The Hoosiers’ win in East Lansing against Michigan State was very impressive. But that’s not all that went on last week.
Here’s a look back—and a peek ahead—in the Big Ten.
THREE STOCKS TO BUY
1. Indiana. The Hoosiers scored their most impressive win of the season to date in taking a 72-68 victory at Michigan State on Tuesday. Indiana has won nine of its last 10 games and is firmly in control of the Big Ten. In fact, it will be a shock if the Hoosiers don’t win their first conference championship since 2002.
2. Illinois. The Fighting Illini know what rock bottom looks like. They were there when they fell to 2-7 in the Big Ten following a home loss to Wisconsin on Super Bowl Sunday. Since then, Illinois has reeled off five consecutive triumphs. Credit a new-found commitment to defense.
3. Iowa. The Hawkeyes paid a heavy toll playing a rugged first-half of the Big Ten schedule. Now, as the schedule has softened, Iowa is coming on. The Hawkeyes have won three in a row and are making a push for an NCAA tourney bid.
|Michigan State’s remaining games|
|2/24||@ OhioSt||19-7 (25)|
|3/3||@ Mich||22-4 (11)|
|3/7||vs. Wisc||19-8 (23)|
|3/10||vs. NW||13-14 (121)|
THREE STOCKS TO SELL
1. Michigan State. The Spartans blew a chance to seize control of the Big Ten by losing at home to Indiana on Tuesday. Now, Michigan State is a game behind the Hoosiers, who have beaten MSU twice and thus hold the tiebreaker. Plus, the Spartans have a more difficult remaining schedule than Indiana with games left at Ohio State, at Michigan and vs. Wisconsin.
2. Minnesota. Wednesday’s 71-45 loss at Ohio State may be the nadir of the season. Or, at least that’s the hope. The Buckeyes beatdown came on the heels of a 20-point whipping at Iowa. So, Minnesota has lost its last two games by a combined 46 points. Add it up, and that’s four losses in five games for a Golden Gophers’ program that is struggling to shoot—among other things.
|Ohio State’s remaining games|
|2/24||vs. MSU||22-5 (7)|
|2/28||@ NW||13-14 (121)|
|3/5||@ Ind||24-3 (8)|
|3/10||vs. Ill||20-8 (32)|
3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes notched a much-needed bounce-back win over Minnesota on Wednesday. That ended a funk that saw Ohio State lose three of four games with the lone victory in that span coming at home against a shorthanded Northwestern squad. The final four games of the regular season are filled with challenges, with games vs. Michigan State, at Indiana and vs. Illinois. Any Big Ten title hopes basically have vanished.
THREE THINGS I LEARNED
1. Victor Oladipo is a legit national player of the year candidate, posting one of the most impressive efforts of the season in a big win at Michigan State. Oladipo scored Indiana’s final six points en route to tallying 19 points, nine rebounds, five steals and a block. And get this: He wasn’t even 100 percent after rolling an ankle in the previous game.
2. The Big Ten is Indiana’s to lose. The win at Michigan State basically ensured that, giving the Hoosiers the tiebreaker over the Spartans. So, basically, Indiana can afford a loss down the stretch—and it won’t matter; even if Michigan State somehow wins out.
3. The chase to be Big Ten Coach of the Year is wide open. Cases can be made for Indiana’s Tom Crean, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. These last four, five Big Ten games will reveal the answer for us.
THREE IMPRESSIVE WINS
1. Indiana 72, Michigan State 68. The No. 1 Hoosiers had a six-point halftime lead, lost it, and came back to beat the No. 4 Spartans in East Lansing. It was Indiana’s first win at Michigan State since 1991, ending a string of 17 losses in a row at MSU.
2. Wisconsin 71, Ohio State 49. The Badgers shot a blistering 53 percent, showing an offensive display rarely seen in Madison for a Wisconsin team that doesn’t always shoot straight. An 18-0 first-half run put Wisconsin up 24-6—and it never looked back en route to tallying 16 assists on 29 field goals and hitting 7-of-19 from three-point range.
3. Ohio State 71, Minnesota 45. Yes, the Buckeyes excelled on offense. But this one was about the Ohio State defense. The Golden Gophers committed a season-high 24 turnovers and shot just 29.2 percent. And Deshaun Thomas (19 points) got scoring help from Shannon Scott (11) and LaQuinton Ross (10).
THREE GAMES TO LOOK FORWARD TO
1. Indiana at Minnesota, Tuesday. Yes, the Golden Gophers are struggling, having lost four of their last five games. But Williams Arena is a tough venue, posting a 13-2 mark with losses to Michigan and Illinois. Wisconsin and Michigan State both lost at Minnesota.
2. Illinois at Michigan, Sunday. The Fighting Illini are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winning five in a row. The key: Playing better defense. The Wolverines have lost three of their last four, but they are the only Big Ten team that is unbeaten at home. The Wolverines are fighting to finish in the top four in the league to get a first-round bye in the Big Ten tourney.
3. Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday. How will the Spartans play coming off that tough home loss to Indiana? The Spartans probably need to win out to have any shot at winning at least a share of the Big Ten crown. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last five games with the wins coming vs. Northwestern and Minnesota. MSU won the first meeting, taking a 59-56, in East Lansing.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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