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Ohio State picked up a solid road victory at Purdue last night, but the bigger story may be the point guard controversy simmering in Columbus.
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The 2011-12 Illini would push their record to 15-3 with a win over Ohio State (you remember, the Brandon Paul game), and they climbed all the way to 22nd in the AP poll. What followed was a complete collapse–Illinois went 2-12 the rest of the way, and what had looked like a surefire at-large team ended up with no postseason appearance at all. Somehow, the Illini had covered the full range of possibilities we had covered in our 2011-12 season preview (hey, the Brandon Paul/Kemba Walker comparison doesn’t seem quite so insane now!). Could such a nosedive happen again?
In our preseason Michigan State point/counterpoint, Josh and I debated how the Spartans would replace Draymond Green. Of major concern were not only Green’s offensive contributions but also his excellent defensive acumen. So, after 12 games, how does this Green-less squad compare to last season’s team?
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This week’s slate is extremely light, so rather than dwelling on the few results we do have (Minnesota handling North Dakota State in impressive fashion, Illinois struggling with yet another low major), let’s delve deeper into a subject that will play a major factor in the Big Ten race: Indiana’s defense.
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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.
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With the volume of competitive games slowing considerably this week, it seems like a good time to reflect on what we’ve seen in the first four weeks of the 2012-13 basketball season.
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It’s been a bit of a quiet week for Big Ten basketball, with most teams facing tune-up games against over-matched opponents. Let’s take a quick look at the games that weren’t complete blowouts.
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Purdue isn’t used to this. Under Matt Painter, only once have we seen the Boilermakers struggle, and that was in Painter’s understandably rebuidling 2005-06 season, which managed only a 9-19 record in the wake of Carl Landry’s knee injury that kept him off the court for the majority of the season. Since then, Purdue has won no fewer than 22 games a season. It didn’t matter if the team was relying on freshmen, whether it was short, or whether key players were lost to injuries. Painter somehow kept the whole thing going.
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In a bit of a surprise, the ACC took four of six games last night to clinch a tie in this year’s Challenge. Let’s look at how they did it.
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
All in all, it was quite a good first night for the Big Ten in its Challenge with the ACC. Let’s take a quick look at the results.
In the wake of Wisconsin’s lopsided loss at the hands of Florida, I urged caution. It was early. Florida is really good, and they were playing at home. Surely, it wouldn’t be long before Bo Ryan had his team playing well enough to put any fears about the Badgers missing the NCAA Tournament to rest.
Thanksgiving week has thus far been kind to the Big Ten, with several squads in position to win their early season tournaments. Let’s hit some of the highlights.
Early season tournaments tantalize with their meaningful matchups (played in front of a lot of empty seats), and they offer a glimpse into what we should expect over the year. A thirty-point beatdown over Texas Pan Am doesn’t tell you as much about a team as a loss to Villanova. But still, we should take these with a grain of salt. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, some teams that really struggle with challenging early season games end up making lots of deep runs in March.
Ohio State was our preseason pick for the cream of the conference, and, despite a bumpy Big Ten slate that left them sharing the title, the Buckeyes are now the last B1G standing. The Sweet Sixteen was rather cruel to Big Ten teams not from Columbus; let’s start with the happy news and work our way through the rest.
Another night, another set of at-large hopes dashed. On Wednesday evening, Minnesota hoped to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, at least for another few days, with a crucial home matchup against Michigan State. Things were looking up when the Gophers took a nine-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. Maybe Minnesota really would pull this off and get back onto the bubble.
It was looking like it would be an historic night in Evanston. In front of a sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Northwestern Wildcats were locked in a tight battle with the visiting Michigan Wolverines. With a win, Northwestern would move one step closer to the 9-9 conference record that would almost certainly earn the program its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. As a cherry on top, the Wildcats’ signature nonconference win was looking even better as Seton Hall had just finished off an impressive win over Georgetown. If Bill Carmody’s team could just pull out this victory, it could be argued that it would be the most important night in Northwestern basketball history.
Purdue picked up a huge victory for their at-large profile at Illinois on Wednesday. This game was mostly decided in the first half, as the Boilers jumped out to a 13-point lead after 16 minutes. Bruce Weber’s team couldn’t stop the smaller Purdue lineup, and it failed to take advantage at the other end by getting the ball to Meyers Leonard. From that point forward, the Illini played much better, even using a triangle-and-two to good effect in the second half, but the Boilers would never fully relinquish their lead. The split of the efficiencies tells the story of too little, too late:
As we hit mid-February, the thoughts of college basketball fans naturally turn to the impending NCAA Tournament, especially to that dreaded B-word that gives college coaches heartburn–bubble. The Big Ten is not immune to this syndrome; in fact, four conference members find themselves squarely on that bubble. One of them was in action last night, while the other three will play tonight. Let’s examine these squads that are teetering on the edge.
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.
Last Tuesday, we watched Illinois and Michigan State fight it out to a 42-41 final. A week later, Ohio State and Purdue matched that point total on the first possession of the second half in an entertaining 87-84 Ohio State win. Both teams used outstanding three-point shooting and minuscule turnover rates to power themselves above 1.30 points per trip, marking a season-high output for both sides.
Michigan picked up a nice home win over Indiana that was, depending on your point-of-view, either not as close as or a lot closer than the final margin suggests. John Beilein’s team jumped out to a big early lead, which peaked at 20 points before the Hoosiers got going. Indiana then took momentum into halftime and maintained it out of the break. The Hoosiers were able to whittle the difference down to two points on multiple occasions, but they just couldn’t get over the hump. Michigan then finished with a flurry to arrive at the final 12-point margin. This breakdown of the efficiencies shows just how well the Hoosiers played during the middle of the game:
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.
Indiana was looking like they had turned a corner, building a small lead at the Kohl Center early in the second half. As has happened lately to Tom Crean’s bunch, things fell apart and Wisconsin picked up yet another B1G victory. Let’s look at how it happened.
Michigan picked up its first road win of the season in a hard fought two-point victory over Purdue. This was a mild upset, as Vegas had the homestanding Boilermakers favored by five points and KenPom had Purdue by four. This outcome certainly changes the season outlook for both squads.
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: