Monday, February 25, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown Double Dip: Illinois at Michigan, MSU at OSU

Now that Michigan has passed the four-game gauntlet that felt the equivalent of fasting for 40 days and 40 nights for Wolverine fans the hope for a Big Ten title is still there. The light at the end of the tunnel is dim, no doubt, but it hasn’t vanished.
Sitting two-and-a-half games behind conference leader Indiana (12-2) with a season-ending meeting at Crisler Center means the Wolverines have to take care of business and hope for some help. Taking care of business starts with today’s game against Illinois. Luckily for Michigan, earlier this week it experienced what happens when you relax in Big Ten play and pretty much overlook an opponent so that shouldn’t be an issue today. (If you missed it, Michigan won a nip-and-tuck battle with winless conference doormat Penn State 79-71 despite being 22 1/2-point favorites). The Penn State game was an annoyingly loud wake-up call that will have Michigan on high alert against the Fighting Illini.
Here’s a big breakdown of Sunday’s game in Ann Arbor (h/t to Kenpom):
Illinois (20-8, 7-7) at Michigan (22-4, 9-4), 1 p.m. Sunday (ESPN)
Line: Michigan -10
Kenpom ranking: Illinois 35th, Michigan 8th
Offensive efficiency: Illinois 112.0 (26th), Michigan 121.6 (2nd)
Defensive efficiency: Illinois 93.3 (62nd), Michigan 92.0 (47th)
eFG%: Illinois 49.2 (136th), Michigan 55.9 (9th)
TO%: Illinois 17.5 (37th), Michigan 14.8 (1st)
OR%: Illinois 33.7 (111th), Michigan 33.1 (128th)
FT Rate: Illinois 32.0 (269th), Michigan 27.5 (339th)
Tempo: Illinois 66.9 (132nd), Michigan 64.3 (257th)
The last time these teams met Illinois had an early 7-4 lead but never had an advantage after that. It was shortly after that lead Michigan went on an 11-0 run to take control. The Illini got within two on a few occasions late in the half but Michigan never felt threatened and ballooned the lead to 18 at one point before the 74-60 victory at Assembly Hall.
How Michigan on was quite simple: The Wolverines shot 52.5 (59.1 percent from inside the arc). That type of shooting efficiency is almost impossible to overcome. Now, the Illini did their part by shooting 6-of-26 from 3-point range (23.1 percent) and turning the ball over 15 times.
The game could have been worse if Michigan had any sort of a 3-point arsenal that day. The Wolverines were just 5-for-15 from 3-point range and Trey Burke’s 1-for-5 performance left a lot to be desired (he did finish with 19 points but took 19 shots to get there).
The key:  3-point shooting. This may seem recycled but it’s honestly the only key to any Illinois game (except understanding how to guard a late-game inbound pass as to not allow a wide-open, game-winning layup). John Groce has made no secret that he loves an offense centered around the long ball. What he also realized is when the triple isn’t falling his team is in trouble.
There is a reason a team like Illinois, with all the athleticism, is at .500 in Big Ten play: 3-point shooting is always hit or miss and you live (win) by the three or die (lose) by the three. Check Illinois’ 3-point shooting in Big Ten losses starting with the most recent games:
vs. Wisconsin: 2-13
at Michigan State: 9-25
vs. Michigan: 6-26
vs. Northwestern: 3-20
at Wisconsin: 2-14
vs. Minnesota: 3-24
at Purdue: 10-26
There’s a pretty noticeable trend in most games: Illinois stunk from 3-point range. Now, Illinois actually played extremely well at Michigan State and had a double-digit second half lead. It was foul trouble and MSU’s efficient second-half shooting (14-of-16 from the field) that gave Illinois a loss.
The Purdue game is the one exception. At 10-of-26 Illinois shot 38.5 percent from deep. That’s a recipe for success. There is one glaring problem that you don’t see: The Illini shot 11-of-33 (33 percent) from 2-point range in the game and the result was a 68-61 loss. (Funny thought: Illinois would have won the game had it taken all its shots from 3-point range. It would have resulted in 11 more points and a 72-68 win).
The pick: This is a coin flip type of game (ATS) because no one, not even Coach Groce, knows how Illinois will shoot. While Michigan’s 3-point percentage is one of the nation’s best (39.2 percent is 12th in the nation) it is usually pretty close to that number win or lose. Illinois determines its fate by it’s percentage. At 32.8 percent on the season (210th in the nation) Illinois just isn’t successful enough from 3-point range to be consistently great. On the other hand, when a player gets hot (see Paul, Brandon or Richardson, D.J.) the season percentages go out the window. Michigan wins this game, no doubt, but the thought is Illinois, riding a 5-game Big Ten winning streak, gives the Wolverines a scare and keeps the game played within a 9-point margin. Take Illinois +10 with a decent level of confidence.
The conference’s other big Sunday showdown is the Spartans-Buckeyes rematch in Columbus. It was interestingly enough noted that for this seems like an odd MSU-OSU matchup because no Big Ten title is on the line. Remember how last season’s final two meeting decided the Big Ten regular season champions (Ohio State won at Michigan State allowing the Buckeyes and Wolverines to share the title with the Spartans) and the Big Ten Tournament title (Michigan State won, 68-64).
That doesn’t mean nothing is at stake on this Sunday, of course. At 11-3 in Big Ten play the Spartans are just one game back of Indiana in the Big Ten title race. The Spartans’ best chance at claiming a share of the title is to win out (easier said than done with a trip to Michigan and a home game against Wisconsin after this) and have Indiana slip up at least once (Indiana finishes the regular season at Michigan and also travels to Minnesota and has a visit from Ohio State). The Buckeyes are just a half game out of the No. 4 spot in the Big Ten which would guarantee a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. (Yes, the No. 5 seed plays a de facto scrimmage against No. 12 Penn State but it’s still an extra 40 minutes of game time that would force Ohio State to win four games in four days vs. three games in three days to claim the Big Ten Tournament title).
Here’s a big breakdown of Sunday’s game in Columbus (h/t to Kenpom):
Ohio State (19-7, 9-5) vs. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3), 4 p.m., Sunday (CBS)
Ohio State -3 1/2
Kenpom ranking: 
OSU 11th, MSU 12th
Offensive efficiency: 
OSU 113.8 (16th), MSU 113.4 (18th)
Defensive efficiency: 
OSU 87.8 (19th), MSU 87.5 (17th)
OSU 51.0% (75th), MSU 51.7% (57th)
OSU 17.0 (20th), MSU 20.2 (176th)
OSU 33.3 (123rd), MSU 34.8 (75th)
FT Rate: 
OSU 34.0 (223rd), MSU 38.2 (112th)
OSU 65.6 (199th), MSU 65.2 (215th)
Some numbers, especially the efficiency numbers, seem to suggest these teams are mirror images of each other. Maybe overall in terms of offensive and defensive success that’s true but I don’t see the Buckeyes when I watch the Spartans nor do I see the Spartans when I watch the Buckeyes.
Sometimes the numbers might lie. I think this is one of those cases. Since the last meeting, a 59-56 MSU win in East Lansing in mid January, the Spartans have improved their offensive efficiency by nearly four points per 100 possessions while clamping down on defense (improved by about a point per 100 possessions). The Buckeyes have been about the same offensively a slightly worse defensively.
But, as I stated above, the numbers might make the teams twins but they are hardly built the same. One Big Ten blogger/analyst said without Deshaun Thomas the Buckeyes would be saddled between Nebraska (11th) and Penn State (12th) in the Big Ten standings. It tells you what Thomas means to this team. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Buckeyes would be that bad (they would have to be better than Northwestern, right?). In fact, I think Ohio State could be, in many ways, better without Thomas. Because he’s the epicenter of the offense he has probably stunted the growth of other players such as Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
The Buckeyes are at their best when Thomas is closer to his 20 points than when he’s Kobeing it and pushing 30 (or more). By surrendering the other 10 points to his teammates the Buckeyes become more well rounded and tougher to defend.
The key: Deshaun Thomas. He’s always the key in Buckeye games, but as the Spartans saw in meeting No. 1 there is a reason for that. Thomas scored half (28) of Ohio State’s 56 points in that game. He also took 20 of Ohio State’s 47 shots. No other Buckeye had more than six points.
Thomas was so on fire, especially from 3-point range (6-for-11) that Tom Izzo would have used the “foul-up-3″ strategy – something he has never used – on the final possession if Thomas touched the ball. (Thomas never touched the ball and the Spartans won by playing defense and thanks to Scott’s oddly-attempted running 3-pointer).
The first 5-8 minutes of the game will be crucial. If the Spartans can use Gary Harris or Branden Dawson (or even the 6-10 Adreian Payne on Thomas and keep him out of rhythm early the Spartans can get some early momentum. Thomas will get going, but if it’s in the early minutes it could be a long day for the Spartans. Thomas got some open looks because of miscommunication the last time out. If he’s forced to shoot over the taller and athletic Payne all night it will force Aaron Craft & Co. to manufacture offense.
The pick: I have no clue who wins this game. The Spartans are playing great basketball right now while the Buckeyes seem to be in a little funk and look lost too many times during games. The whole “go with the home team” cliche is the odds-on favorite but no guarantee. Michigan is the Big Ten’s only team with a perfect home record. The Spartans just lost at home to Indiana while the Buckeyes also suffered a home defeat to the Hoosiers. On a neutral site I would take the Spartans. The edge has to go to Ohio State at Value City Arena but like the game in East Lansing this one should be close. That means if you can get Michigan State +3 1/2 you should take it. Even at +3 MSU seems like the wise play. 
Other Games: 
Northwestern (13-14, 4-10) at Purdue (12-14, 5-8), 6 p.m. Sunday (Big Ten Network)
Kenpom: Purdue 62-57
Line: Purdue -6 1/2
Analysis: The last time these two teams played I said how Purdue needed to win at Northwestern to keep its slim NCAA hopes alive. Purdue was 11-10 at the time and 4-4 in the Big Ten. It still had visits from Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota and road games against Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin (read: plenty of opportunities for “show me” victories). Well, Purdue got flogged 75-60 and has won just one game (a 9-point road win at Penn State) since. Of course, Northwestern’s only win since late January is that same game. Both these teams are struggling but Northwestern’s health is on life support. Against mediocre teams at home (Penn State, West Virginia, Iowa) the Boilermakers have found ways to win. I see that happening again today and with Northwestern’s offensive struggles it makes sense to take the Baby Boilers to cover -6 1/2.
Cincinnati (19-8, 7-7 Big East) at Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5)Kenpom: Notre Dame 63-62
Line: Notre Dame -3 1/2
Analysis: I love Notre Dame at home, but Cincinnati battles until the end regardless of the venue. This game should be close enough that it should be required to take the Bearcats and the points. Here’s a phenomenal stat: In all 27 of Cincinnati’s games the Bearcats have been within four points with under six minutes to play. Like I said, this should be close and that is all the reason to take Cincinnati +3 1/2. Depending on the moneyline you could go with the Bearcats if you’re getting 2/1 odds or better as well.
Last week: 8-52013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 51-24-12013 Year-to-Date: 59-27-1

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State at Ohio State

It was a really, really rough day for Keith Appling. And, when Appling has a rough day - especially on the defensive end - Michigan State struggles.

Despite phenemonal defensive games in the post by Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix the Buckeyes were able to control the flow and make plays down the stretch en route to the series-tying victory.


Here is the defensive score sheet from the game for the Spartans:

If I had broken down each half separately there would be two completely different-looking score sheets. Ohio State scored 43 points in the second half - a rarity against Izzo's halftime-driven adjustments that usually seem to work. 

However, like the Hoosiers, there is a good chance the Spartans and Buckeyes can meet again in the Big Ten Tournament to settle the score.

Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets
MSU vs. Indiana (Feb. 20)
MSU vs. Michigan (Feb. 13)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Indiana at MSU (Part Duex)

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on February, 19, 2013)

I thought the Big Ten race was supposed to come down to Michigan and Indiana, not Michigan State and Indiana? I kid, sort of. While Michigan (9-4 in the Big Ten) is two games back as we speak the Wolverines also have the easiest schedule (along with Wisconsin) down the stretch. Nevertheless, for the Spartans to be in the position they’re in again puts Tom Izzo’s greatness in the spotlight. Not only does Michigan State control it’s own destiny in it’s Big Ten Championship race but the Spartans have climbed to No. 4 in this week’s AP Poll (No. 5 in the Coaches Poll).
So, just a week after hosting arguably the biggest game in the history of the Breslin Center (No. 4 Michigan at No. 8 Michigan State), there is a new “biggest game in the history of the Breslin Center” as the Spartans host No. 1 Indiana.
We previewed the last matchup, a 75-70 Indiana win in late-January. Not much has changed since. That is still the only Michigan State (22-4, 11-2 Big Ten) loss in 2013 (the other Big Ten loss came at Minnesota on Dec. 31) and Indiana (23-3, 11-2) has continued to play phenomenal basketball outside of a late-game collapse and inexcusable inbound defense at Illinois. Honestly, the only difference in looking at the two teams is Michigan State’s offensive efficiency has jumped up nearly four points per 100 possessions in the past three weeks and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo’s ankle is close to having its own Twitter account.
The Spartans have the chance to defeat the fourth No. 1 team in the history of the program. The others: 1979 vs. Indiana State in the NCAA Title Game, 2007 vs. Wisconsin in East Lansing, 2009 vs. Louisville in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. (MSU is 3-18 all-time against the No.1 team).
This also marks the ninth time in MSU history the Spartans have been involved in a game between two Top 5 teams. The Spartans are 3-5 in such games with the majority coming in NCAA Tournament play.
Here’s a big breakdown of Tuesday’s showdown in East Lansing (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan State (22-4) vs. Indiana (23-3)
Line: MSU -2
Kenpom ranking: MSU 12th, Indiana 2nd
Offensive efficiency: MSU 113.4 (19th), Indiana 124.5 (1st)
Defensive efficiency: MSU 87.5 (13th), Indiana 87.2 (12th)
eFG%: MSU 52.0 (53rd), Indiana 57.2 (3rd)
TO%: MSU 20.3 (176th), Indiana 19.2 (117th)
OR%: MSU 34.8 (76th), Indiana 39.9 (8th)
FT Rate: MSU 38.1 (111th), Indiana 48.8 (2nd)
Tempo: MSU 65.3 (214th), Indiana 68.4 (77th)
If you scrapped the names on the jerseys here the numbers look like a late-round NCAA Tournament matchup. That’s exactly how the lead-up to this game feels and, more importantly, that’s the likely result this game will have.
Of the Big Ten’s Big 5 (with apologies to whichever ESPN personality coined the Big 6 and included Minnesota, the Gophers are in that second tier with Illinois and Iowa), there are only three home losses: Indiana losing to Wisconsin, Ohio State losing to Indiana, and Wisconsin losing to Michigan State. The Spartans and Wolverines have all held serve in their home buildings which is pivotal in a Big Ten Championship race. Throw in the fact that Indiana already beat MSU in Bloomington this season and you see why this game is uber important for the Spartans.
Just like the last meeting, this game comes down to three keys: “Derrick Payne” vs. Cody Zeller, 3-point efficiency, and can Victor Oladipo be Victor Oladipo?
Derrick Payne vs. Cody Zeller: Under Izzo, one thing MSU has always had is a real solid post presence. From Antonio Smith (1995-99) to Aloysius Anagonye (1999-2003) to Zach Randolph (2000-01), to Erazem Lorbek (2002-03) to Paul Davis (2002-06) to Goron Suton (2005-2009). For the first time in his career Izzo has two post guys playing at a NBA-type level.
Derrick Nix said he was planning on taking over the role Draymond Green had the last few seasons which, on the surface, seemed laughable. Surprisingly, Nix has been great at directing plays through the post either taking his man one on one or delivering a picture-perfect pass to a guard for an open three. The fact that Izzo trusts Nix enough to, much of the time, run the offense through him, says all you need to know about Nix’s maturation in the past four years.
Adreian Payne’s biggest enemy is himself. When Payne is locked in he plays like a 1st round draft pick (usually that comes out in games against Ohio State). He’s improved his game by becoming a decent 3-point threat if left open (He’s shooting at a 47 percent clip on the year, making the most of his 15 long-range attempts). At 6-10, Payne is very much an athletic freak both offensively and defensively. When he channels that he becomes one phenomenal freak. The problem is Payne always needs some type of motivation. With the No. 1 team coming to town and a decent chance at a Big Ten title evolving from a victory it seems Payne will have plenty of motivation Tuesday night.
It isn’t that Indiana brings a slouch to the paint, of course. Cody Zeller, for as much as he’s been picked apart this year, is still a NBA lottery pick. He’ll be a solid, 10- to 12-year NBA player. His skill set is unique in that he’s a big part of the offense in the transition game, sometimes more so than in basic halfcourt sets. However, like any 2-on-1 matchup (outside of my brother and I taking on LeBron James), the duet has the ability to wear down the opposition. Nix’s gerth and bumping with Zeller in the paint is bound to take its toll. Zeller will likely have to check Payne which in some cases will require Zeller to play around the 3-point line. This type of matchup is a different dimension for Zeller. Zeller finished with a measly 9 points on 2-of-7 shooting in the season’s earlier matchup. He also had a pair of turnovers and just one offensive rebound. His 93 offensive rating is just one of three times in 26 games that he finished below the 100 mark. It wasn’t as if Zeller was in foul trouble either. He played 33 minutes and amassed just three fouls. Flopping home court advantages means that if Zeller puts up similar numbers in East Lansing the Spartans, thanks to Nix and Payne, will have a great chance for a victory.
HarrisOladipoThe 3-pointer: In the last meeting one team went 11-of-23 (48 percent) from 3-point range while the other went 8-of-21 (38 percent). Logic and history would tell you the Hoosiers lit the nets up at home and that the triple played a big role in the victory. Shockingly, you’d be wrong. It was the Spartans who were on fire from deep, allowing them to keep the game within reach while playing (as some would say) 5-on-8. Gary Harris is, by far, the best 3-point shooter in the Izzo era. There have been a lot of “supposed to be great 3-point shooters” walking through MSU’s doors (ahem, Russell Byrd) but Harris is the real deal. He alone is a major reason for MSU’s success is the inside-outside game is more lethal than ever. For the Spartans, other players like Keith Appling, Denzel Valentine and even Payne will have to make a triple here and there to keep Indiana’s defense from sagging and suffocating Nix and Payne in the post.
For Indiana, a team filled with pure shooters, contesting all shots is key. Jordan Hulls is a catch-coming-off-a-screen kind of guy. Not allowing him loose will be crucial. The same thing can be said about Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford and Yogi Ferrell. Indiana will have to get the edge in one-on-one matchups to allow for open looks, something the Hoosiers did well in the first 20 minutes in Bloomington but struggled in the second half. Defending the three against Indiana is more than just hoping the road rims are more unkind. The Hoosiers are second in the country in 3-point percentage (42.7) meaning Indiana is going to make shots. The defense will just help determine how many. Of course, MSU just held Michigan (who was shooting above 40 percent) to a 6-for-19 shooting night and Michigan is now at 39.2 percent.
If the 3-point shooting mirrors what happened in Bloomington the Spartans should win fairly easily (easily in the sense MSU would hold a comfortable 6- to 9-point lead for much of the entertaining game). If the roles are reversed then MSU will have another hurdle to climb in order to prevent Indiana from winning at Michigan State for the first time in 18 tries.
OladipoDawsonCan Victor Oladipo be Victor Oladipo? There really is no debate that Oladipo’s performance against MSU in late January was the game that catapulted him into the National Player of the Year discussion. His final line: 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals, three blocks. It was the type of transcendent performance that, if it happened in a title game would go down in NCAA lore. Oladipo was everywhere on that Sunday. Now, he’s recovering from a sprained ankle that kept him out of the second half against Purdue. (The big question is, if Indiana was playing a Big Ten big boy that day and in a hotly contested game would he have returned? Was he rested as a precaution but also because Indiana was on its way to a 28-point win?) All signs appear to Oladipo playing against the Spartans. If he’s close to 100 percent can he be a dominant as he was at Assembly Hall? If he’s at 75 percent can the Spartans take advantage of that weakened 25 percent by making him move all over the floor more on defense?
We should know two things early on: Is Oladipo close to 100 percent and what is Tom Izzo’s game plan for attacking his vulnerability? I would imagine Crean will put Oladipo on either Appling (to disrupt MSU’s offensive facilitator) or on Harris (to keep MSU’s best 3-point shooter from getting going). Either way, those with Oladipo as a defender should run around screens all day and make him cut and work harder than he’s worked in days. Like a WWE wrestler attacking an opponent’s weakened shoulder, MSU should “attack” Oladipo’s injured ankle.
The pick: I was very curious what the line here would be. Kenpom has the Hoosiers winning 71-69 (he had them winning 71-68 before MSU’s slaughter of Michigan earlier last week). After the Wolverines were anywhere from 1- to 2-point favorites in East Lansing I figured it would be hard pressed for Vegas to give MSU points here. Sure enough I was right. The Spartans opened as 1 1/2-point favorites late last night (5Dimes) and are now solid 2-point favorites across the board. Think of that as pretty much a pick’em. While it could easily be another Big Ten classic it is worth noting these recent classics have not been one-point games. The Spartans are just playing phenomenal ball right now and giving 2 points is no biggie at home. Look for the Spartans to take control early in the second half en route to a 5- to 7-point victory (and 1-game lead in the best conference in the land). 
Other Big Ten Games: 
Minnesota (18-8, 6-7 Big Ten) at Ohio State (18-7, 8-5), 7 p.m., Wednesday (Big Ten Network)
Kenpom: Ohio State 67-62
Line: [UPDATE Ohio State -6]
Analysis: Early in the season Minnesota looked like a Final Four contender. Now Minnesota looks like a typical Tubby Smith Gophers team that gets into the tournament in the No. 7 to No. 11 seed range. Minnesota is just too inconsistent to be taken seriously, especially on the road. Ohio State has its own struggles, but coming off an embarrassing 22-point loss at Wisconsin I would expect an Ohio State to be ready to open a can of whoop ass. The line will likely be in the 4-6 range and I would expect Ohio State to win comfortably, by double digits most likely. Take the Buckeyes unless the line gets higher than 7 1/2. [UPDATE: The line fluctuated around 5 1/2 and 6 for the Buckeyes. It seems like a good line but the Buckeyes should win comfortably. Go with Ohio State].
Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4) at Northwestern (13-13, 4-9), 9 p.m., Wednesday (Big Ten Network)
Kenpom: Wisconsin 59-51
Line: [UPDATE: Wisconsin -8]
Analysis: Here’s what you can always know about Wisconsin: The Badgers will be in the Big Ten race until the end, but a few puzzling road losses will do them in. The Badgers lost at Iowa (and should have lost at home against Iowa) and are a few games removed from blowing a game at Minnesota. This is one of those games Wisconsin should win but very well could lose. The Wildcats have beaten Wisconsin once in the last 10 meetings (66-63 at home in 2009). Interestingly enough, that was the only time the Wildcats were favored (1-point favorites). Northwestern is 4-6 ATS in those meetings meaning there is a decent chance the Wildcats don’t win here but do cover. It all depends on which Northwestern team shows up. As a 3-point ‘dog this weekend against an Illinois team they beat on the road earlier this season all the Wildcats did was lose by 21. Yes, this same Northwestern team beat Minnesota at home before the Gophers were really in free-fall mode. I’m curious what this line will stick at, but I would take Wisconsin to cover anything 9 1/2 or lower. If you get a double-digit line you might want to take a flier on the Wildcats. [UPDATE: Due to the single-digit line, take Wisconsin].
Penn State (8-17, 0-13) at Illinois (19-8, 6-7), 8:15 p.m., Thursday (Big Ten Network)
Kenpom: Illinois 76-59
Line: [UPDATE: Illinois -16]
Analysis: The Illinois are out of their funk. Once a national darling to a distrubing 2-7 in Big Ten  play, Illinois is now on the brink of pulling back to .500 in the Big Ten. Like many teams, when Illinois is lethal from 3-point range it is tough to beat. When John Groce’s team spends 40 minutes clanking the iron this team looks bad. This is another line that will be interesting. An overmatched Penn State team was a 22 1/2-point ‘dog at Michigan and played a heck of a game (lost 79-71). I wouldn’t expect this line to be in the 20s, but likely around 15. The hunch will be better on Thursday so check back for the final pick. My gut, like the Michigan game, is to expect Penn State to put up a huge fight in search for it’s first Big Ten victory meaning the huge spread works in Nittany Lions backers’ favor.[UPDATE: Penn State has only lost two road Big Ten games by more than this spread - 23 points at Indiana and 18 points at Purdue - meaning the odds and history are on your side here. Expect Illinois to win, but Penn State to keep it close enough].
Iowa (17-9, 6-7) at Nebraska (12-14, 3-10), 9 p.m., Thursday (ESPN2)
Kenpom: Iowa 66-59
Line: TBD
Analysis: Nebraska is one heck of a team at home. I say that not as a joke even though Nebraska is 2-5 at home in Big Ten play and also lost to Kent State at home. Nebraska is one of those NIT-hopeful teams that plays much better at home than on the road even in defeat. Heck, this weekend the ‘Huskers were 9-point ‘dogs to Michigan State and cut the deficit to 41-40 midway through the second half. Iowa is the better team and has so much to fight for in terms of NCAA Tournament selection but this should be a dog fight.Check the line later but if it’s in that 7-8 range it might not be a bad idea to back Nebraska. 
Last week: 12-6-12013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 43-19-12013 Year-to-Date: 51-22-1

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs Indiana

The first time these teams played, a 75-70 Hoosiers victory in Bloomington, the numbers looked like the Spartans should have done enough to win.

This time around the Spartans almost Houdini'd a win.

The better team won in the end, mostly due to the fact when the Spartans had the chance to steal a game it's late-game clutch free throw shooting disappeared.


Here is the defensive score sheet from the game for the Spartans:

The Spartans were actually better defensively this time around (105.7 defensive efficiency compared to 107.5 at Assembly Hall). The problem was MSU's best defenders - Keith Appling and Branden Dawson had pretty forgettable games defensively. Because of that the Hoosiers earn the regular season sweep. Who knows, maybe these teams will meet again in the Big Ten Tournament?

Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets
MSU vs. Michigan (Feb. 13)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan at Michigan State

On the heels of experiencing College GameDay at Notre Dame on Saturday and enjoying Notre Dame's thrilling-yet-improbable 5OT thriller against Louisville with a few Irish graduates and my brother I took a trek to the Breslin Center to examine both the Spartans and Wolverines in person.

I knew there was no way this Michigan-MSU clash, despite both teams squaring off ranked in the Top 10 for the first time in the rivalry's 170 meetings, could compete with what I saw in South Bend.

In terms of excitement that proved to be correct. In terms of a national championship-type defensive performance it couldn't have been more wrong.

The Spartans played what Tom Izzo called their best game in three years and made the Wolverines look like an early-December nonconference foe. I was shocked at how uncomfortable MSU made Michigan look on offense. Heck, the more careful team in the country in terms of turnovers (9.3 per game) had 16 giveaways on the night. On the other hand, Michigan, which wasn't exactly known as a defensively dominant team but was still serviceable, looked incapable of guarding anyone near the paint. It left most Michigan fans in attendance speechless.

FINAL SCORE: Michigan State 75, Michigan 52

Here is the defensive score sheet from the game for both teams: 

The Spartans posted their best defensive efficiency mark in Big Ten play (78.9) while the Wolverines posted what is believe to be their worst (113.5). Heck, if only the MSU reserves (we're talking about you, Bella Sibedwo) would have played some defense down the stretch - Michigan finished the game on a 9-1 run against MSU backups - the overall numbers might have been that much more impressive.

Previous 2012-13 Spartan Defensive Score Sheets

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Big Ten Breakdown: Michigan at Wisconsin

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on February 8, 2013)

Michigan is playing Saturday which means the nation is in store for another instant classic. The past two Michigan games – an 81-73 loss at Indiana and a 76-74 OT win vs. Ohio State – have not only lived up to the hype but also are already on the short list of potential “Games of the Year.”
The only thing that seems fairly certain about Saturday’s game in Madison is that it would be a miracle if the game was played in the 70s. For as efficient as Michigan’s offense is, it still plays at a slower pace and has failed to reach 70 points in four of 10 conference games (That said, Michigan has scored 94 and 95 points, respectively, in a pair of games as well). Wisconsin actually had a stretch of games from Dec. 12 until the beginning of February where it allowed just one opponent – Iowa – to score at least 60 points in a game. The Hawkeyes did it again Wednesday night – needing 2 OT of course – in another home game Wisconsin should have lost but found a way to win.
What that tells us is a game in the 60s seems like the best guess for the Wolverine-Badger tussle. Here’s a big breakdown of Saturday’s showdown at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center (h/t to Kenpom):
Michigan  (21-2, 8-2) at Wisconsin (16-7, 7-3), noon, Saturday, ESPN
Line: Michigan -1 1/2
Kenpom ranking: Michigan 4th, Wisconsin 14th
Offensive efficiency: Michigan 125.2 (1st), Wisconsin 109.5 (36th)
Defensive efficiency: Michigan 90.3 (36th), Wisconsin 85.5 (7th)
eFG%: Michigan 57.1 (3rd), Wisconsin 49.4 (131st)
TO%: Michigan 14.8 (2nd), Wisconsin 14.7 (1st)
OR%: Michigan 34.8 (78th), Wisconsin 34.6 (83rd)
FT Rate: Michigan 27.9 (335th), Wisconsin 30.8 (287th)
Tempo: Michigan 63.7 (281st), Wisconsin 61.5 (324th)
Let’s make one thing clear before even digesting the above numbers: While Michigan plays slow it isn’t the same reason Wisconsin plays slow: The Badgers’ swing offense (although Bo Ryan has actually used a more conventional offense this season with some swing principals incorporated) uses a lot of clock and is a way to exploit mismatches because, quite frankly, Wisconsin isn’t that athletic. Michigan, on the other hand, can really run with any team in the country thanks to uber-athletic players such as Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr., just to name a few. Michigan plays slower because it tries harder than many teams to get undoubtedly the best shot down each trip (except the could-have-been-game-winner against Ohio State at the end of regulation where a time out resulted in Burke dribbling down the clock before heaving a fade-away triple despite being guarded by a big!).
Basketball Prospectus’ John Gasaway had an interesting breakdown of how this Wisconsin team isn’t that much different from Bo Ryan’s previous teams. The breakdown compares 2013 to 2012 where, in Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s eFG% (46.5 to 46.7), TO% (15.4 to 15.6) and OR% (31.3 to 29.2) are very similar. In fact, those numbers would lead you to believe Wisconsin should be better offensively in conference play. Except the Badgers (through Jan. 30) were .05 PPP worse. The free throw line is the reason, where Wisconsin had been making just 52 percent of freebies compared to 77 percent last season. That trend undeniable is the reason Wisconsin’s offensive efficiency is at it’s worst clip since a 20-13 season in 2009 (Wisconsin got a 12 seed that year compared to the 4 seed the Badgers have received each of the past three seasons – and not including the No. 3 seed in 2008 and No. 2 seed in 2007).
Interestingly enough, the Badgers’ free throw woes might be irrelevant on gameday because Michigan doesn’t foul and Wisconsin doesn’t exactly make it a habit of getting to the foul line. (In fact, Wisconsin didn’t attempt a free throw in a 58-49 loss at Ohio State on Jan. 29 – just the 27th team to do so in the past 10 years). But in a close game down the stretch when attacking the rim is a necessity, if Michigan happens to foul this could be a factor.
Wisconsin’s free throw woes, which are at 62.2 percent on the season (329th in the country) aren’t even in the “Top 3 Keys” to the game. I would  put those as follows: Michigan’s 3-point offense vs. Wisconsin’s 3-point defense, Wisconsin’s 3-point offense vs. Michigan’s 3-point defense, and Trey Burke vs. Traevon Jackson.
Michigan’s 3-point offense vs. Wisconsin’s 3-point defense: Michigan’s 40-percent clip from beyond the arc is 6th in the country. In fact, Michigan is one of six teams shooting 40 percent from 3-point range and 50 percent from 2-point range (Indiana, Duke, Creighton, NC State and Harvard – yes, Harvard, led by former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker – are the others). Just recall how Tim Hardaway Jr. got hot against Ohio State in Michigan’s comeback. On three straight trips he swished a triple and, a few possessions later, canned a fourth. Despite being at 43.1 percent (47-for-109) Hardaway isn’t even the teams’ best long-range shooter. That’s Nik Stauskas who is at 48.7 percent on the year (58-119). GR3 is right at 40 percent (18-45) while Burke “lags” behind at a still stellar 37.9 percent (44-116). That gives Michigan four starters who kill it from deep to go with the inside presence of Mitch McGary, Jon Horford and, still-not-100-percent Jordan Morgan who do all their work inside. The McGary-Horford-Morgan trio hasn’t attempted a triple all season.
Even against an Ohio State team that has been one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the past handful of years Michigan went 14-for-24 from 3-point range. Give Michigan any space (and even that isn’t needed sometimes) and it’s a very lethal way to play defense.
Wisconsin, probably because the players are used to defending against 3-balls in daily practices, is in the top 45 of the nation’s better 3-point defenses. Why is Wisconsin so successful defending long bombs? It all starts with switching defenses and high hedges on pick-and-rolls. Against the majority of teams the Badgers are so confident at their defensive rotations that they don’t worry about momentary switches or going the extra few steps to make a point guard’s job that much harder.
The key against Michigan will be this: The Wolverines are quicker than most Big Ten teams which means even slight mismatches will be exploited. If Wisconsin hedges hard it allows Burke, who hasn’t been bothered by high hedges that much this season, an easier passing lane to a likely cutting GR3 or Hardaway for an easy bucket. Wisconsin wants to make every possession a grind-it-out one, but doing so might mean picking your poison against Michigan’s 3-point offense.
Wisconsin’s 3-point offense vs. Michigan’s 3-point defense: What Wisconsin does almost as good as any team in the country is get open looks for 3-point shooters, especially it’s bigs. The trio of 6-11 Frank Kaminsky, 6-10 Jared Berggren and 6-6 Mike Bruesewitz has attempted 146 triples this season. The problem has been the success rate (47-for-146 is a blah 32.2 percent). It’s the guards (see Jackson who’s off-the-front-of-the-rim-and-off-the-backboard-before-falling 3-pointer with 20 seconds to play against Iowa on Wednesday tied the game and eventually forced overtime) who seem to make the most of open opportunities. Still, as a team Wisconsin’s 34.4 percent from deep is hardly Wisconsin-esque. For a team that attempts roughly 20-25 triples a game that isn’t exactly the formula for a great team. In fact, it’s the formula for a likely double-digit loss team stuck in the 7-10 range on Selection Sunday.
Michigan won’t have to change it’s defense all that much to account for Wisconsin’s heavy 3-point offense; instead the Wolverines will just have to make sure quick switches don’t allow the Badgers easy dumpoffs to cutters. 3-point shooting, for both sides, is really the key to this game.
Trey Burke vs. Traevon Jackson: Yeah, I know you’re laughing.It’s like Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas. (Oh, see what I did there! Start at the 7-minute mark for the knockout sequence). In all seriousness, that’s kind of what this point guard matchup is like. Burke is a serious contender for national player of the year (He’s No. 1 on Ken Pomeroy’s KPOY rankings) vs. a guy who was going to play this season as a backup point guard before Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser was hurt in the preseason and is out for the year. After going up against Aaron Craft, who should be the national defensive player of the year without question, this should feel like playing against me (I’m 5-5, 130) in a game of one-on-one. Jackson isn’t a great defender and he’s probably worse offensively (87.7 would make him the 41st best player in the SWAC!). Burke should have a field day offensively and some of that greatness could come off his one-on-one defense with the likely-to-struggle offensively Jackson. Expect Burke to have his usual 15-point, 7-assist, 1-or-2-turnover game while being the catalyst for Michigan while Wisconsin tries to survive a 6-point, 3-assist, 3-turnover game from Jackson.
The pick: I love Michigan in this spot. After grinding out a win against the Buckeyes – a team that I don’t think is that great but has the number (or close-to number) of many Big Ten foes including Michigan – the Wolverines can see the path to a Big Ten Championship. It still includes a home date with Indiana (9-1 in the Big Ten), a home-and-home with Michigan State (8-2) but that is really it unless Michigan slips in a home-and-home vs. Penn State, home against Illinois or at Purdue. Kenpom has Michigan projected to win every game left but, with three percentages in the 50s (including this game, a 62-60 Michigan victory) the likely outcome is a 14-4 Big Ten record. That should be good enough for a Big Ten championship, but nothing would be sweeter than controlling their own destiny by winning out (16-2 would guarantee a non-shared title). Wisconsin has shown the ability to get rattled at home this season against inferior teams (a loss to Virginia and a should-be loss to Iowa). Michigan doesn’t get rattled in any venue and should not only win this game but do so in fairly convincing fashion (for a low-scoring game). I’m thinking Michigan wins 63-55, easily covering the 1 1/2. That means Michigan will be your new No. 1 and will have to defend that ranking Tuesday night at Michigan State.
Other Big Ten games:
Northwestern at Iowa, 4:30 p.m., BTN
Line: Iowa -8
Kenpom: Iowa 68-60
Analysis: One of the more surprising teams in the country is Iowa. The 14-9 Hawkeyes (3-7 Big Ten) are 33rd in Kenpom’s rankings. He has Iowa projected to finish 8-10 in Big Ten play, which would mean a 19-12 record heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Is this a team that could crash the Big Dance as one of those last few teams in? Well, it all depends. Right now Iowa’s biggest win is at home against Wisconsin. Other big Ten wins (at Northwestern and vs. Penn State) are pretty much useless in terms of NCAA talk. So too is a future home-and-home with Nebraska, home games with Northwestern and Purdue and a trip to Happy Valley to face Penn State again. That’s why Wednesday’s loss at Wisconsin was so crippling in many ways. Iowa’s chances for a “big” regular season win are now down to this: Feb. 17 vs. Minnesota, March 2 at Indiana and March 5 vs. Illinois. Realistically it would appear Iowa has to beat two of the three (Minnesota and Illinois seems like the likeliest of combos; a win against Indiana in Bloomington would go a long way to putting Iowa in the field). So, what does all this have to do with Iowa’s game against Northwestern? Not much, except that Iowa has big dreams and games like this one are high-risk, no-reward contests. Iowa should win and should do so easily. Iowa whipped Northwestern 70-50 on the road early in conference play – that was coming off a three-game-losing-stretch of facing Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. Expect a similar double-digit win from the Hawkeyes making it a given to lay the 8 points.
Michigan State at Purdue, 7 p.m., Saturday, BTN
Line: MSU -4
Kenpom: MSU 65-59
MSUPurdue-DawsondunkAnalysis: Attention trap-game believers, here you go. The Spartans are likely to face a Top-5 Michigan team next week and are coming off a grind-it-out 61-50 win against Minnesota (56 possessions!) on Wednesday. Playing at Purdue’s Mackey Arena is always tough, even when Purdue is “down” as it is this season. Still, Purdue played Michigan State tough earlier this season (the game was tied at 38 with 16:34 to play before Michigan State hit another gear for the final 16 minutes to win 84-61). I would expect the Spartans to win a close game but wouldn’t be surprised at all if Purdue pulls the upset. Therefore, take Purdue +4 points knowing the Boilermakers very well could win outright.
Penn State at Nebraska, 9 p.m., Saturday, ESPNU
Line: Nebraska -6
Kenpom: Nebraska 61-55
Analysis: Unless you attend Nebraska or Penn State or have a child playing in the game you’re very unlikely to watch this game (heck, even some parents might not watch this game). Penn State is awful this year and has a good case to be the country’s best “BCS bottomfeeder.” (You be the judge: Is Penn State worse than the SEC’s Mississippi State, the Big East’s DePaul, the ACC’s Wake Forest, the Pac 12′s Utah, the Big 12′s Texas Tech?) Nebraska isn’t a basketball school but you have to be impressed watching Tim Miles’ team compete, especially at home. I like Nebraska to win big here, easily covering the 6-point spread.
Indiana at Ohio State, 1 p.m., Sunday, CBS
Line: Indiana -1 1/2*
Kenpom: Indiana 72-71
indiana, Ohio State, basketballAnalysis: On Thursday we finally got to see Indiana’s first real road test of the season. The Hoosiers, for the most part, looked like they were playing at their own Assembly Hall in building and playing with a comfortable double-digit lead for much of the game. Then, in the closing minutes, Indiana choked. The offensive game plan resembled garbage and defensive breakdowns allowed Illinois to hit crucial 3-pointers. A historic defensive gaff on the final inbounds play with 0.9 second left gave Illinois the shocking victory. The road only gets tougher as, after this game, Indiana still has to visit Michigan State (Feb. 19), Minnesota (Feb. 26) and Michigan (March 10) so the road to a Big Ten title definitely has some hurdles. As I stated before, I think Ohio State is a good team, but it’s more like the Ohio State Thomas’ than anything else. Everyone now and then it looks like a fairly well-rounded team but when Thomas is about 50 percent of the offense it’s tough to seriously consider a squad Top 10 material. That being said, Ohio State doesn’t lose to bad teams (Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan, Illinois), it just has trouble with really good teams. (Illinois was 13-2 and playing like a NCAA Tournament lock in early January and, as mentioned above, did just dethrone the No. 1 team). This game comes down to if Ohio State can get easy buckets off Indiana turnovers because I think Indiana’s offense is good enough to break down OSU’s defense. Plus, it would be shocking if Victor Oladipo had any assignment other than to stop Deshaun Thomas for 40 minutes (unless minutes here and there making life miserable for Aaron Craft is on Tom Crean’s wish list). I like Indiana here in a major bounce-back spot. Take Indiana unless the Hoosiers are giving more than three points.
Illinois at Minnesota, 6 p.m., Sunday, BTN
Line: Minnesota -8 1/2*
Kenpom: Minnesota 76-65
Analysis: This game got a lot more interesting after Illinois’ 74-72 victory vs. Indiana on Thursday. The Fighting Illini finally have a recent notable win to go with early-season wins over Butler, at Gonzaga and vs Ohio State. As the world saw on Thursday this team lives and dies by the three. When the shots are falling, especially since Illinois fires shots at an alarming rate. More than 40 percent of Illinois’ field goal attempts are from deep. I suspect that Illinois will have to make plenty of 3s to stay in this game. Minnesota should win, but look for Illinois to make it another Big Ten classic by covering the spread as long as it’s above 3 1/2 points.
*Sunday lines won’t be released until late Saturday so these are estimates.
BONUS PLAY: Louisville at Notre Dame, 9 p.m., Saturday, ESPNLine: Louisville -5 1/2
Kenpom: Louisville 70-61
Analysis: If you know anything about Notre Dame basketball… congratulations. The Irish program has been a very solid under-the-radar program under Mike Brey. It’s not great, but it’s always solid, especially at home. ESPN’s College GameDay sets up in South Bend on Saturday meaning the place will be rocking much more than normal. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Louisville will be expected to win (and picked to win by most experts not named Digger Phelps). However, not only am I expecting Notre Dame to cover I’m expecting Notre Dame to win (maybe even going away!). I’ll have a first-hand look at this one as I’ll be attending the game with my brother and two friends who are both Notre Dame graduates. Will make for a fun weekend, especially when I take Notre Dame with the 5 1/2 points.
Last week: 6-4 (NCAA hoops) 1-0 (Super Bowl XLVII)2013 College Hoops Year-to-Date: 31-132013 Year-to-Date: 39-16