staff, March 8, 2013

In what amounted to an elimination game for a potentially shared Big Ten title, Michigan State steamrolled Wisconsin by 15 points. This game was certainly no work of art, as both teams struggled mightily to score in the half court set. The defense had the upper hand at both ends of the court, but the difference came in the form of Wisconsin live-ball turnovers.

When the Spartans got steals, they were able to score in transition. Otherwise, the Badgers played their typical shut down defense–Michigan State scored only 0.77 points per trip in possessions that did not follow a steal.

MICHIGAN STATE Points Possessions Efficiency
After Steals 22 16 1.38
Other Possessions 36 47 0.77

That would have still been better than what Wisconsin managed. The Badgers were held to 0.69 points per possession, their lowest output of the entire tempo-free era, spanning back to 2003. Paired with the paltry showing against Purdue, Wisconsin fans have to be concerned about their team's offense heading into tournament play. This is a team highly dependent on three-pointers that isn't all that good at shooting three-pointers.

Keith Appling had a bounceback game with 19 points on 13 shots, while Adreian Payne posted nine points and 11 rebounds (including one of the more painful offensive boards you'll ever see after he crashed to the ground on a missed dunk).

With this result, Indiana is now assured the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, regardless of anything that happens this weekend. The Spartans are still alive for a share of the Big Ten title, dependent on the Hoosiers losing in Ann Arbor.

Michigan survived a scare at Purdue, storming back from 12 down to edge the Boilers by five. Michigan's offense was sluggish for the first 28 minutes of game time, but Trey Burke led a closing surge that Purdue was ill-equipped to match. Burke finished with 26 points, seven assists, and just one turnover, and his wings Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas combined for 33 points.

MICHIGAN Points Possessions Efficiency Turnover Rate
First 28 minutes 40 47 0.85 10.6%
Final 12 minutes 40 22 1.82 0.0%

While this offensive flourish was impressive, it was only necessary because the Wolverines once again did a terrible job on the defensive end. Thanks to Terone Johnson's big night (32 points), the Boilermakers scored 1.08 points per possession, a mark that only Northwestern has allowed Purdue to eclipse in conference play. Needless to say, when your defense is doing things similar to Northwestern's defense, things aren't going well. Perhaps focus really has been the problem; after all, in the past five games, Michigan's really poor defensive efforts have come against Penn State (twice) and Purdue, with nice defensive efforts against Illinois and Michigan State in between. If this pattern holds, you'd expect the Wolverines to rise to the occasion on Sunday against Indiana, but I'm skeptical that Michigan can just turn it on like that. Defense is this team's Achilles' heel, and it figures to be its undoing in the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota seemingly had different problems in a demoralizing 53-51 loss at Nebraska, but an incredibly sluggish pace masked the Gophers' defensive woes. Yes, Nebraska's 53 points actually represents a poor defensive effort for Minnesota, as this contest was played at a glacial 48 possessions. This game had all the elements necessary for such a low possession count: both teams extended possessions by crashing the offensive glass, and neither team turned it over all that much.

As with any close game, you can point to any number of things as the difference between winning and losing, but Minnesota certainly can't feel good about shooting 10 for 20 on free throws in a game it lost by two. Still, that kind of bad luck is the reason you aim to avoid close games against inferior foes in the first place, and it was the Gophers' poor defensive rebounding that let Nebraska stay in it. The Huskers hadn't retrieved over 38 percent of their misses the entire conference season. Against Minnesota, they grabbed 41 percent.

Tim Miles deserves a lot of credit for the job he's done in his first season at Nebraska. Given the roster, I expected a "2008-09 Indiana" type of season, but the Huskers have steadily improved and have won five games in a very tough conference. It still won't be easy to build a tournament team in Lincoln, but Miles has gotten his tenure off to a very good start.

For Minnesota, this loss erodes much of the goodwill from the victory over Indiana and leaves open the possibility of a losing conference record (Saturday's visit to Purdue is no gimme). For a team that was once 15-1 and ranked in the KenPom top 10, it's certainly been a sobering finish to the regular season. Still, the Gophers should be dancing, and a run in the NCAA tournament can cover all manner of warts.

Penn State picked up its second conference win, this time at Northwestern's Senior Night. As has been the case lately, the Wildcats just couldn't score, rendering the Nittany Lions' 1.01 points per trip sufficient for the win.  Seniors Alex Marcotullio and Reggie Hearn combined for 33 points and seven turnovers in defeat.

We enter the regular season's final weekend with still much to be decided. No game looms larger than Indiana at Michigan (3pm CT Sunday, CBS), but every single game has some kind of postseason ramifications, whether it be Big Ten tournament seeding or NCAA tournament seeding (or inclusion, in Iowa's case). The Big Ten has delivered all season, and we could have another wild weekend ahead of us.