Big Ten Geeks: Turkeys and Trophies

While most of the nation feasted, several Big Ten teams were playing for tournament hardware. Let’s get right into the meat and potatoes of what’s worth knowing.

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Wisconsin rolled to the Cancun Challenge title with a workmanlike victory over West Virginia. The Badgers jumped out to a 17-point lead late in the first half, and the Mountaineers were never able to get within a possession the rest of the way.

After settling for a complementary role the past couple games, Sam Dekker resumed his rightful place as Wisconsin’s offensive centerpiece, scoring 21 points on 14 shots. It’s early, but our take that Dekker and Michigan State’s Gary Harris would be a toss-up for conference POY is looking prescient.

Defensive SOS Rank Ortg Poss%
Sam Dekker 31 106.9 25.8
Gary Harris 165 107.5 27.4

Both players are off to a good start, though it should be noted that Dekker has faced better defenses thus far. With both the Badgers and the Spartans poised for very good seasons, this will be a POY race worth watching.

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Minnesota’s defense finally woke up in the second half of a win over Chaminade. The Gophers allowed 1.16 points per possession to the DII hosts in the first stanza, but things got much better after the break as Minnesota ran away with it. Still, this looks like a team whose defensive issues could keep it out of the NCAA tournament.

There is one positive that came out of Maui: Dre Mathieu and Malik Smith look like nice additions to the backcourt rotation. The duo combined for 33 points on 21 shots while the Hollinses struggled.

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Purdue made a late run to put a tiny scare into Oklahoma State, but this was really far less impressive of a game for the Boilers than the 10-point margin would suggest.

Purdue trailed by 23 points at halftime, and that margin didn’t fall by much until national POY candidate Marcus Smart picked up his third and fourth fouls on a single play (a personal followed by a technical).

Smart went to the bench with just over 11 minutes remaining, and the Boilermakers, to their credit, pounced. Purdue scored 33 points over those final 11 minutes, led by the persistent play of freshman Bryson Scott, but the outcome of the game was never truly in doubt.

This result does little to refute the idea that the Boilermakers are a solid offensive team with a lousy defense, and today’s early game against Washington State didn’t exactly go well either (I’ll let Josh cover those gory details on Monday).

Suffice it to say, this Purdue team doesn’t look like a good bet to make the NCAA tournament, which is a big departure from what we thought just three weeks ago. There’s time to right the ship, but it’s currntly looking like Matt Painter’s team is no better than last year.

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Iowa made a big comeback to pull out an overtime win against a good Xavier team. The Hawkeyes trailed by 13 points with just under 11 minutes remaining, a scenario that put their win probability at a mere 6.2 percent. From there, Iowa would go on a 12-0 run, punctuated by a Melsahn Basabe dunk, and the game was on.

Both sides saw their best player sidelined in crunch time with cramps–neither Roy Devyn Marble nor Semaj Christon played a second of overtime–but it was the Iowa defense that won the day. The Hawkeyes held the Musketeers under a point per trip, making Iowa six-for-six this season in accomplishing that feat.

This defense now ranks eighth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, though there is some good fortune built into that number. Iowa opponents are shooting just 18 percent on three-pointers, and it’s not like they’ve been afraid to take them (37 percent of opponent shots have been threes).

That three-point defense is a least a little fluky, though it should be noted that the Iowa defense has done a great job of forcing opponents to work for a shot–only 18 D1 teams have forced opponents to use more clock per possession than the Hawkeyes have. Some of that is Iowa’s mediocre defensive rebounding, but it’s also an indication of some very solid defense. The Hawkeyes are doing a masterful job of protecting the paint.

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Northwestern hung with Missouri for a little over half the game, but the Wildcats’ inability to get stops or protect the lane doomed them. The Tigers absolutely dominated the glass, rebounding 44 percent of their misses and allowing Northwestern a scant four offensive caroms.

The Wildcats had their most impressive offensive output of the season, but it resulted in nothing more than an 11-point loss. JerShon Cobb played well, scoring 22 points and grabbing five of his team’s 15 defensive rebounds.

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After a light schedule for the holiday, most of the Big Ten is in action today, though close games likely won’t accompany your leftovers on the menu. The most interesting game might be Penn State’s matchup with St. John’s in Brooklyn, which strangely isn’t televised. Apparently you will have to be a true college hoops hipster to see that one.

This is largely a weekend of tune-ups ahead of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which we will preview next week. Until then, enjoy your turkey sandwiches.

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