It was just one year ago when Brandon Paul hit an unforgettable buzzer-beater to lift Illinois to a memorable 51-49 victory over Minnesota in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe threw down an incredible dunk in the second half of the opening game of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament against Illinois then Illinois’ Brandon Paul responded with a nice move at the other end of the court. Watch it here, and follow all of our Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament action now.
Last night, it was Sam Thompson putting A.J. Hammons on a poster (Watch it). Wednesday night, it was Brandon Paul doing it to Trevor Mbakwe. Paul’s posterizing flush was as impressive as any we’ve seen this year, but it also was a little controversial. The Illini senior was called for a charge on the play, and yet the bucket counted. Maybe because the dunk was just THAT good? Watch the slam now and see the Twitter reaction to it in this post.
The Big Ten had a relatively bad weekend, dropping marquee games against other high-major conference teams. The main event was a battle between two top-10 teams when Kansas visited Columbus. Given that the game was on the Buckeyes’ floor, Ohio State should have won this game, and probably by more than just a point or two. Instead, Kansas ended up with a relatively comfortable 8-point win. The Jayhawks led most of the way, and started pulling away with about ten minutes left. There was no great mystery as to why OSU lost—they were terrible shooting the ball, both inside and outside the arc. On twos, Ohio State converted just 35 percent, and they were at 26 percent on threes. Kansas, meanwhile, shot 53 and 46 percent, respectively. Otherwise, OSU outplayed the Jayhawks, but shooting trumps all.
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Up until Saturday night, Illinois’ season has been described in strange terms. At that point, it was “surprising” that Illinois was undefeated. The Illini won the Maui Invitational, which was a very “prestigious” early-season tournament. This isn’t normally how one talks about an undefeated team that’s ranked in the top-15.
It’s been a tough week or so for a couple Illinois standout athletes. Last week, defensive lineman Michael Buchanan broke his jaw in a Champaign altercation, and on Thursday, star guard Brandon Paul suffered the same injury during open gym. Paul, the winner of BTN’s 2012 “Most Dominating Performance,” is coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Aaron Craft is a very good defensive player. Let’s get that out of the way. Whatever you think of the next few paragraphs, remember that we all agree that Craft’s defense would improve just about any collegiate basketball team.
Indiana made a living at the foul line in a chippy 13-point win over visiting Illinois. For about 30 minutes, this was a tight, back-and-forth game, with six lead changes and 14 ties. Over the final 10 minutes, however, the Hoosiers took advantage of the foul-riddled Illini to pull away. Indiana not only got to the foul line at an astounding rate; it also shot incredibly well from there, going 35 of 42 (83 percent). Paired with the Hoosiers’ customary accuracy from the field and a low turnover rate, it powered Indiana to a scorching 1.26 points per possession, the highest allowed by the Illinois defense all season.
It was a night of singular greatness that has been unmatched by any other Big Ten player this season—and few across the nation, for that matter. I’m talking about Brandon Paul’s out-of-his mind, 43-point effort in a 79-74 win over No. 5 Ohio State back in January.
Illinois picked up a much needed home victory over Michigan State, and Illini fans would probably appreciate if the discussion ended right there. It was about as ugly as basketball can get, with turnovers and missed shots aplenty. The Spartans had more missed shots than points, and their 26.7 effective field goal percentage represented the program’s worst shooting night in at least 15 seasons (I only have eFG data back to 1997-98). To top it all off, conference player of the year contender Draymond Green, who hadn’t played anyway much due to foul trouble, left the game late with an apparent injury. Green has been diagnosed with a sprained left knee and is considered day-to-day, which is certainly better than many of the possible alternatives.
Tuesday’s Michigan State-Illinois game was far from a thing of beauty. In the final minutes of the first half, in fact, ESPN play-by-play guy Mike Tirico begged, “This half NEEDS to end!” As inept as the offenses were in the 42-41 decision at Assembly Hall, there were a couple highlights: Meyers Leonard’s alley-oop and Brandon Paul’s poke.
After a long break in which it moved into first place, Illinois saw its offense lay an egg in a losing effort at Penn State. It was clear that, despite the rousing win over Ohio State, this is still the same Illinois team we’ve watched all season. Let’s again roll out what we’ll have to start calling the Illini table:
It’s time to release my latest Big Ten men’s hoops power rankings. The rankings are not meant to mimic the Big Ten standings. What fun would that be? They aren’t scientific, either. They’re simply my thoughts on where each Big Ten team stands right now and who would win on a neutral court. Agree? Disagree? Tweet @BTNBrentYarina or leave your comments below. See Brent’s rankings in this post. The latest national polls are out, as well. Where does your team land? And check out all of the Big Ten statistical leaders.
Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE
The Big Ten Conference released its Men’s Basketball Players of the Week for Jan. 9-15 action. It was a crazy week of action that saw several upsets, including Northwestern handing Michigan State its first Big Ten loss and first loss in it last 16 games. See the conference’s latest weekly winners and find out what they did to earn the prestigious honors in this post.
With an amazing 43-point performance from Brandon Paul, Illinois shocked Ohio State in Champaign. Coming in, this looked like a game that the Illini might hope to keep close with their defense, but it seemed unlikely that Bruce Weber’s struggling offense would be able to scrape together enough points against the nation’s top defense. That analysis went out the window once Paul got rolling.
Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE
On a night when legendary Illinois coach Lou Henson was honored with a banner that was raised to the rafters of Assembly Hall, Illini guard Brandon Paul raised the roof on the place. Paul notched a career-high 43-point effort in propelling Illinois to a 79-74 victory over Ohio State in what could be a season-defining game for the Illini.
Illinois’ Brandon Paul had a night to remember Tuesday. The junior exploded for 43 points and eight 3-pointers, both career highs, in Illinois’ upset victory over No. 5 Ohio State. He also played his share of defense, with a career-high four blocks and two steals. Basically, he was a star on both ends of the floor. Never was that more evident than on a late sequence where he hit a fadeaway 3-pointer and stuffed preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Jared Sullinger on the ensuing play. Watch the sequence now. Also, check out another one of his blocks and the Twitter reaction to his big night in this post.
It’s time to release my latest Big Ten men’s hoops power rankings. The rankings are not meant to mimic the Big Ten standings. What fun would that be? They aren’t scientific, either. They’re simply my thoughts on where each Big Ten team stands right now and who would win on a neutral court. Agree? Disagree? Tweet @BTNBrentYarina or leave your comments below. Watch Gus Johnson call Ben Brust’s sixth 3-pointer from Saturday’s win over UNLV now and see the rankings in this post.