staff, January 18, 2012

Michigan and Michigan State played a highly entertaining game that lived up to advance billing, with the Wolverines prevailing by the slimmest of margins. This result flew in the face of the conventional wisdom that Michigan can't win when its threes aren't falling, as John Beilein's team scored quite well despite shooting 29 percent from deep. As it usually does with a Beilein offense, the answer lied in a high conversion rate on twos and a low turnover rate.

Over the past 10 seasons, stretching back to his time at West Virginia, Beilein's teams have been at their best when they're among the nation's leaders in these two categories:

Adj. Off. Eff. Rank 2pt% Rank TO% Rank
2003 139 46 74
2004 82 154 64
2005 18 30 15
2006 12 7 2
2007 13 22 10
2008 148 284 94
2009 44 82 24
2010 94 93 13
2011 31 24 14
2012 30 3 34

This season, Michigan is shooting a staggering 56 percent on twos, though that number will come down a bit with more conference games. The turnover rate has crept slightly upward from last season, but it's still remarkable to be among the nation's top 40 in that category with a freshman point guard.

Michigan's Trey Burke
Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Speaking of that point guard, Trey Burke was outstanding last night, scoring 20 points on just 11 shots. It's early, but Burke's numbers have shown no sign of dropping off in conference play. If he keeps this up, he'll be a worthy all-conference candidate. When paired with Tim Hardaway Jr.'s freshman campaign, this is two straight seasons where a three-star Michigan freshman has burst onto the scene. John Beilein is either a master talent evaluator or has a system that gets players comfortable quickly–or both.

The Spartans can't really be too upset with their performance–they lost by a point on the home court of a very solid team. If there's anything to be concerned about, it would be the turnovers, as this makes three straight games in which Tom Izzo's team turned it over on at least a fifth of its possessions. The opponents in those three games–Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan–are all around the national average when it comes to forcing turnovers, so it's not like Michigan State has been facing 40 Minutes of Hell.

This is nothing new for Michigan State–after all, pointing out the Spartans' turnover rate ranks up in Big Ten Geek tradition with Northwestern's defense–but it's an obvious weakness on a squad that otherwise has Final Four potential.

In the night's other action, Purdue looked thoroughly unimpressive before pulling away late for a seven-point win over Iowa. The first half had this Geek wondering if the Boilermakers would even end up being an NCAA Tournament team, as their permissive defense allowed the Hawkeyes to do whatever they wanted. Matt Painter must have gently explained some things to his team at halftime, as it came out of the break playing much harder. Purdue's pressure defense forced a second-half turnover rate of 26 percent, and the resulting transition offense got fists pumping and the Mackey crowd roaring. The contrast in efficiencies was stark:

First Half Second Half
Iowa 1.10 0.92
Purdue 0.95 1.26

Purdue faces a brutal schedule over the next month, with eight straight games against teams currently in the KenPom top 50. With half of those looking like toss-up type games, the season could easily go north or south in a hurry. It would be handy to bottle that second-half effort and bring it every night.

Tonight, we have a doubleheader on BTN. At 6pm CT, Indiana faces a sneaky road test against a Nebraska team that has played much better since returning to full health. In fact, the Huskers have a positive efficiency margin over their past three games against Illinois, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Don't be shocked if the Hoosiers find themselves in a dogfight.

At 8pm CT, Northwestern takes their newly at-large-worthy resume on the road to Wisconsin. On Thursday night, Illinois returns from a break that saw them rise into first place with a visit to Penn State, a place that has not been kind to the Illini in the past (8pm CT, ESPN2).