Monday, February 13, 2012

Big Ten: Weekly Look Ahead (Feb. 13)

*Every week, I’ll take a look at Big Ten’s current landscape, recap the previous week and analyze how the next seven days will impact the teams' NCAA Tournament hopes.


The Big Ten might not be Ohio State's to run away with after all. Michigan State stunned Ohio State, 58-48, in Columbus on Saturday, throwing a major kink in the Buckeyes' "easy road" to the Big Ten Championship.

MAJOR STUMPER: Ohio State. The way Ohio State played last week it almost feels like the Buckeyes lost two games. Both games will be detailed below, but a 3-point, can't-stop-anybody-on-defense win and the 10-point loss to Michigan State make Ohio State look extremely vulnerable.

MAJOR SURPRISE: Purdue. If there's one thing Matt Painter's teams have always done it has been fight. During a recent slump, Purdue was being throttled and played lifeless. Despite a 1-1 week (the loss an extremely entertaining game at Ohio State), Purdue stayed at .500 in the conference and Purdue passes the eye test as an NCAA Tournament team.

BRACKETOGRAPHY: Last week's edition of Bracketography 2012, seven Big Ten teams made the field. Ohio State headlined the group and was third No. 1 seed. Michigan State held steady on the No. 3 line while Michigan (No. 4) was also a protected seed. Wisconsin (No. 5) and Indiana (No. 5) were the conference's other top seeds. Illinois (No. 8 ) and Purdue (No. 12) were the only other Big Ten teams in the field. Both Minnesota and Northwestern were in the last 10 teams out list.

Unlike last week when some big boys (Michigan and Wisconsin) lost to some bigger boys (Michigan State and Ohio state, respectively) and seeding wasn't affected much, this weekend's results will sure shift teams around the bracket.

As started before, five Big Ten teams are a lock for March (Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana). The question that we'll debate each week is how many of the Big Ten's next group of four teams will make the Field of 68. Right now, Illinois leads the group with Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern - in that order - trailing.

Below is a snapshot at where Big Ten teams stack in Ken Pomeroy's rankings.



THE WEEK THAT WAS:
If this week's results told us anything, it said the best conference in the country this season won't be won in mid-February.

Ohio State 87, Purdue 84 – Despite winning, this felt like a loss for Ohio State. What happened to the nation's top defense? Purdue was on fire from 3-point range, finishing 11 of 19 from deep. Purdue also finished the game shooting 52 percent from the field, with an even more insane eFG% of 62 percent. Ohio State's numbers (52 percent and 61 percent) were similar, but that isn't how Ohio State wants to win games. This was a big red flag for the Buckeyes while, even in defeat, it was a ray of hope for Purdue.

Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 61 (OT) – Minnesota had some decent victories, but this was a game the Gophers could have stolen. Minnesota scored the final 10 points in regulation, holding Wisconsin scoreless for the final 7:40. But the Gophers missed two shots in the final seconds and were outplayed badly in the extra session. Credit Wisconsin for playing its game and getting a victory to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive.

Indiana 84, Illinois 71 – The first of two road games for Illinois wasn't pretty. While the game was close for the first 31 minutes. There, Indiana turned a 3-point game into a comfortable victory. However, Indiana allowed 71 points to a team that has serious trouble scoring. Remember, this is the same Illinois team that scored 42 points in a win against Michigan State. Indiana should get a top six seed in the tournament, but this is a prime example of how Indiana is already on upset alert.

Michigan State 58, Ohio State 48 – A prognostication czar said if Ohio State wasn't making shots in this game it would go down to the wire. Well, that czar was right on one account, Ohio State didn't make its shots. The incorrect statement was that Ohio State never made it a one-possession game in the final 25 minutes. Michigan State is playing its best defense in the Izzo era and now looks more than a token Final Four pick.

Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – Michigan played its game in keeping a perfect record at the Crisler Center. Illinois had some opportunities but Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are too hot and cold for Illinois to be consistent. While Michigan remains a half game behind Big Ten leaders Michigan State and Ohio State, Illinois is now sitting at 5-7 in the Big Ten. Illinois looks like it might want to test the committee with an 8-10 Big Ten record on selection Sunday.

THE WEEK AHEAD: Continue to watch Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin battle for the Big Ten title while Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern fight for NCAA Tournament spots.

Tuesday, Feb. 14 - Ohio State @ Minnesota: This is where Ohio State looks to to right the ship. However, playing at The Barn won't be easy as Minnesota is desperate for a win.

Wednesday, Feb. 15 - Purdue @ Illinois: This is pretty much a must-win game at this point of the season for the Illini. If Illinois can't beat a .500 team at home to snap a six-losses-in-seven-games stretch, it could be a free fall to the NIT.

Thursday, Feb. 16 - Wisconsin @ Michigan State: The best rivalry in the Big Ten has a some revenge factored in this year. MSU won at the Kohl Center earlier in the year despite a furious Wisconsin rally capped off by a 3-pointer at the buzzer waved off. This is the kind of game a Big Ten Champion wins at home. We'll see if Wisconsin wants to ruin Michigan State's shot at a conference crown (see 2004) again.

Saturday, Feb. 18 - Ohio State @ Michigan: College GameDay will be in the house as Michigan hosts Ohio... err. Ohio State. The hatred from the football field is carrying over to the hardwood and this game will be a battle. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines might not only help rival MSU win the Big Ten Championship, but Michigan puts itself in a solid position to share the title as well.

Sunday, Feb. 19 - Michigan State @ Purdue: There will be no "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" story heading into this game for Purdue. Losing by 25 in East Lansing in January was the low point of Purdue's season. If the Boilermakers can hit some 3s - something they've done very well as of late - this could be a pretty nice upset for The Paint Crew.



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