Big Ten Geeks: Spartans Keep on Rolling

Michigan State continues to rack up wins despite the absence of Adreian Payne, with Indiana serving as the latest victim. This one didn’t come easy, as the Hoosiers’ defense kept them in it for most of the game. Indiana even held a five-point lead with 11 minutes remaining, but it wouldn’t last as the Spartans’ offense came alive down the stretch. Indiana natives Gary Harris and Branden Dawson led the charge, and the outcome was never truly in doubt.

Michigan State deserves a lot of credit for its ability to avoid a letdown game as the team deals with injuries. It hasn’t exactly come against Murderer’s Row, but the Spartans have been consistently good at both ends during their 7-0 start. In fact, Michigan State currently sports the Big Ten’s best in-conference defensive efficiency, no small feat considering how little Payne has played. Backup big men Matt Costello and Alex Gauna have filled in admirably on the defensive end, and Harris is leading the conference in steal rate. This is proving to be a team that can win in a variety of ways.

That said, the schedule stiffens considerably for the Spartans moving forward. The Big Ten has four non-MSU teams in the KenPom top 20, and Michigan State has played exactly one game against that group. That was the home overtime win over Ohio State. The Spartans also needed overtime to get a home win over Minnesota. Michigan State is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title, but plenty of difficult tests remain, starting with Saturday’s hosting of red-hot Michigan.

For Indiana, this was an encouraging performance, but the Hoosiers still look like an NIT team. Indiana is only favored by KenPom in four remaining games, so it will take several ¬†upsets to get the Hoosiers into the bubble discussion. That’s a shame, as Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh have certainly played well enough to headline an NCAA tournament team.

Northwestern’s defense impressed yet again in a double overtime win over Purdue. The key to this game was the Boilermakers’ complete inability to make shots inside the arc, as their 22 percent conversion rate on twos sealed their fate. On some level, Purdue fans could write this off as an unusually bad night, but the Wildcats had a lot to do with it. Northwestern did a great job of challenging shots inside, as evidenced by the Boilers’ shot data.

PURDUE % of Shots FG% % of Shots Blocked Unblocked FG%
At Rim 29% 29% 47% 56%
2pt Jumpers 35% 15% 5% 16%
3pt Shots 36% 38% 5% 40%

Purdue got a fair number of looks inside, but they kept getting swatted. When the Boilers got off a shot at the rim without getting blocked, they made 56 percent of them. Unfortunately, almost half of their rim attempts were blocked, leading to a ridiculous 29 percent conversion rate on dunks and layups. Northwestern was probably a little lucky that Purdue shot so poorly on two-point jumpers, but that is balanced by the Boilermakers’ good night from three. This was good defense, plain and simple, and the Wildcats are now ranked 18th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. I still don’t think Northwestern’s offense should be as bad as it is, but Chris Collins deserves a ton of credit for how he has his team defending. That bodes really well for the future of the program.

For Purdue, this game was a bit of a reality check. The Boilermakers had been squeaking by bad teams all season, and it finally came back to bite them. In terms of resume, Purdue still looks like a team that could put together a run to get into at-large consideration, but this team has played poorly almost all year. KenPom has the Boilers favored in only two remaining games, and matching last season’s 8-10 record looks like a pipe dream. Time is running out for this talented team to wake up.

Tonight brings a dynamite doubleheader on BTN. At 7pm ET, two of the nation’s elite offenses square off as Michigan hosts Iowa. This one has the makings of an instant classic, and it will be followed by a very interesting game in its own right as Minnesota hosts Wisconsin. The Gophers were humbled by Iowa over the weekend, but this is a game they can win. The Badgers are excellent at limiting open looks from the perimeter, so the performance of Minnesota’s guards will be key. Clear out your schedule – this should be a fun night.

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