Big Ten Geeks: Living Dangerously

Every Big Ten team remaining in the Round of 32 advanced to the Sweet 16, but it wasn’t easy for a couple of those teams. Wisconsin found itself in one of the most entertaining games of the Tournament thus far, but it did not look promising for the Badgers in the first half. Facing a team that could not miss, Bo Ryan’s team found itself in a 14-point hole just before the half. But Wisconsin came roaring out of the gate in the second half, and narrowed the gap to just one point by the first TV timeout. From that point on, it was a back-and-forth affair until the last minute or so.

The key possession of the game obviously came with Wisconsin trailing 75-74, wherein the Badgers secured three offensive rebounds before Ben Brust finally connected on a three-pointer to give Wisconsin the lead. Some extra free throws at the end made the margin not all that indicative of the game, as this was one of the toughest wins Wisconsin has had all season. Sure, they’ll beaten better teams on more hostile courts, but I’m not sure they’ve ever had to contend against a team shooting 91% from the line and 44% from 3. But maybe the Badgers should get used to this—the next opponent is Baylor, one of the best offenses in the country. Expect fireworks.

Michigan State has been a popular sleeper team (if Vegas lines are to be believed), and I guess I can understand that. Michigan State is finally “healthy,” and the team is fresh off winning the Big Ten Tournament. But as the case has been with the last couple of Spartan teams, this is a team that tends to lose focus. Such was the case against Harvard, as Michigan State opened up a 52-36 lead early in the second half, only to see the Crimson storm back to take a 62-60 lead just eight minutes later. Harvard is a good team, so there’s no shame in prevailing by 7 on a neutral court. But giving up a 16-point lead is a little concerning. I remain cautiously optimistic for Tom Izzo’s squad, but it’s not a team I can trust. Part of that has to do with abnormally low level of Izzo Depth. While Travis Trice, Matt Costello, and Kenny Kaminski have their uses, they are all firmly role players, and it’s clear the team is better off if they don’t have to play 20+ minutes a game. So if a couple of the regulars are off their game, there’s not much hope for a bench player to pick them up.

Still, this is tremendously talented team that can look as good as anyone in the country. And sure, there are a lot of “ifs” that, if met, make Michigan State a smart pick to make the Final Four. But with just 16 teams remaining, the same could be said about everyone else.

Michigan was the team that made it look easy this weekend, as the Wolverines bombarded Texas from the outside to claim a 14-point victory. And really, that was the difference:

Team

2P Pct

3P Pct

Turnovers

Off. Rebs.

FT Made

Michigan

38.5%

50%

4

11

17

Texas

37.3%

36.4%

9

21

15

(C’mon, man.)

Aside from three-point shooting, Michigan’s only other edge was that it turned the ball over 5 fewer times—a gap more than made up by Texas’ outstanding offensive rebounding. In fact, that’s in part how Texas attempted 8 more shots than Michigan did. But Michigan not only made half of its three-point attempts, but it also took a ton of them (28, compared to 26 two-point attempts). When a team is shooting and making that many three-pointers, it’s going to be very difficult to keep up.

Texas certainly was not up to the task, but the red-hot shooting might be keeping attention away from a canary in the coal mine that isn’t looking so hot. After all, Michigan just gave up over 1.1 points per possession to an offensively-challenged Texas team. In fact, the last time the Wolverines kept a top-50 Pomeroy offense under a point per possession was March 1st in a home win over Minnesota. Before that? A January 2nd road win over—you guessed it—Minnesota. And that’s it. Every other top-50 offense this team has played eclipsed the 1.0 PPP mark.

That’s not a disqualifier for the Wolverines to keep playing after this coming weekend. Good offense can certainly beat good defense. But Texas took away Michigan’s normally dominating two-point game, a fact covered up by Michigan’s long-range accuracy. I don’t see that repeating itself against Tennessee, one of the best teams in the country at both two-point defense and limiting three-point attempts. Further, the Volunteers feature some tall wing players that can limit the effectiveness of Michigan’s ball-screen attack orchestrated by its own tall guards.

But this is why they play the games. We’ll find out soon enough.

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