Welcome to Big Ten Point Guard!
Draymond Green leads MSU to Big Ten title
Hopefully, each week I’ll have a quick read on the Big Ten basketball scene as well as what’s happening in the nation at large. Most weeks this will appear on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.
Without any further ado, let’s get right to it:
Big Ten Notables
* Spartans Clinch A Share – Going into the final week of the Big Ten regular season, Michigan State (24-5, 13-3) has already clinched a share of the conference title. MSU has a two-game lead over Ohio State (23-6, 11-5) and Michigan (21-8, 11-5).
The Spartans can win the outright championship and secure the top seed for next week’s Big Ten tournament with a win at Indiana tonight or at home over Ohio State on Sunday. Sunday also figures to be an emotional day as it will be Senior Day for expected Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green as well as guard Austin Thornton.
“We earned the spot that we’re in,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo, who has won a seventh Big Ten title in his 17th year at the helm. “Seeing where we’ve come from, I know it will be an emotional day. No matter how anything goes, for Michigan State we’ve seen one of the great resurgence over last year and one of the great leaders with Draymond Green that we’ve seen here in the last 50 years. He’s right up there in the same breath with the (Mateen) Cleaves and Magic (Johnson) for what he’s done for this team, this program and this university.
“He’s had an incredible impact. He just has that same gene that Mateen and Earvin had that we’re always searching for. You almost have to be lucky to find it.”
Michigan State was not even ranked in the preseason polls, but has now risen to fifth in this week’s AP poll. Even a decent finish would probably be enough for MSU to get an NCAA Tournament one seed. It has been quite a turnaround, Izzo said.
“Part of it was the disappointment from last year,” he said. “We had a disappointing year and some because of injuries, but some of it was not doing the things championship teams need to do with our chemistry and camaraderie. I think we worked pretty hard, but I don’t think we accomplished the things we wanted to because of distractions.
“We’ve gone from unranked to ranked and from being a long shot to win it to having a chance to win it outright. The defense has been good and the shot selection has been pretty good. We’ve been the most unselfish team I’ve ever coached.”
Indiana coach Tom Crean, a former MSU assistant, talked about what the Spartans have been able to do recently as they’ve won seven in a row coming into tonight’s game in Bloomington.
“They seem to be clicking on all cylinders,” Crean said. “Right now, when I watch them play they are the infamous war drill come to life in every game. That’s how they play. It all comes down to the rebounding and the running and all of the things they do really well. You have to be able to match that throughout the game.
“They pass the ball extremely well. The biggest difference now is how much that is a bigger part of their offense. Draymond Green is a big part of every possession in numerous ways. When your best player is as good a facilitator as he is and then you’ve got Keith Appling, who’s got the speed and quickness, it’s unique. They don’t take possessions off.
“They always believe they’re going to win it and that’s what I see. They are certainly a worthy champion with the way they have played throughout the conference season.”
* Hoosiers Can Boost Their Stock – Sitting at 22-7 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten play, Indiana is already assured of a .500 season in the conference. But final week home wins over Michigan State and rival Purdue would definitely boost the Hoosiers’ postseason seeding possibilities.
“It’s important to our fans and the program, especially with everything we’ve had to endure the last couple of years,” Crean said of IU’s resurgence. “And I think it’s a big deal nationally. Indiana has always been one of the marquee programs in the country.”
Crean said playing in the Big Ten is a great proving ground for teams headed into postseason play.
“As far as where the league is at, I think it has been really good since I’ve been back,” he said. “I think it’s that way this year more than ever. The closeness of the games shows what this league is all about. There are so many different teams that can win on any given night.
“You have to have your players. Tubby Smith is sitting there without a surefire first-round draft pick and all-conference player in Trevor Mbakwe. We played the last two years without Maurice Creek. You have to have some health in order to go through it.
“The bottom line is the teams are deep and they have a lot of different ways they can beat you. It is an extremely well coached league. There is no question about that. I think this league has a chance to be the standard league for a long period of time.”
* What’s Wrong With Ohio State? – Ohio State was cruising along in first place of the Big Ten long ago. But the Buckeyes have lost three of their last five games and have shown some vulnerability coming down the stretch. Two of those losses have been at home, where OSU had won 39 games in a row before a Feb. 11 loss to Michigan State.
The latest home loss came Sunday as OSU blew an eight-point lead with eight minutes left and lost to Wisconsin 63-60. All-American candidate Jared Sullinger had his second game in a row where he was held under 10 points, finishing with eight points and six rebounds. He was bothered by a cramp in the second half, according to OSU coach Thad Matta.
On Tuesday, Sullinger told reporters he has been bothered by inconsistent officiating, negative media coverage and speculation about his future plans regarding the NBA. Matta said he told Sullinger simply to “play his game.”
“The physicality of it is a great challenge,” Matta said. “I think ball movement and trying to place him in different places will help him a little bit.”
Over the last eight games, OSU has amassed more turnovers than its opponents and also had more turnovers than assists. Those are indicators that the offense has grown stagnant.
“We didn’t connect the dots with some of the passes we threw (against Wisconsin),” Matta said Monday. “Some of those are charges. We get a lot of charges called against us. Sometimes, it’s a better understanding of the angles we need and what teams are trying to do. We’re trying to thread the needle at times when we don’t need to. Those are things we have to get corrected.”
Matta said there is no special secret to what it takes turn a team around.
“As the season wears on, you are constantly looking for anything you can to help your team play its best basketball,” he said. “I think in terms of what we have to do, we have to come back and go to work and have an understanding of the challenges we have ahead.”
* Hawkeyes Cooled Off A Bit – Iowa still has an outside shot at a .500 record in the Big Ten, something that would have been unthinkable after a 3-6 start in the conference. That possibility took a hit with Sunday’s loss at Illinois (65-54). But the Hawkeyes still have winnable games at Nebraska Wednesday and home with Northwestern on Saturday.
Prior to that loss to Illinois, the Hawkeyes (15-14, 7-9) had won four of their previous six games.
One big reason for the resurgence is senior guard Matt Gatens, who shared the Big Ten player of the week award last week. He averaged 27.5 points in Iowa’s two games last week. One of those was an emotional 67-66 upset of Wisconsin last Thursday, when Iowa students and fans rushed the floor at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We had a pretty good week with a great win over Wisconsin followed by a tough loss at Illinois, but that sort of typifies what this league is about,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “I’m proud of Matt Gatens for being the co-player of the week. He is playing as well as anybody in our league or, really, anybody in the country right now.”
* Illini Stop The Bleeding – Illinois’ home win over Iowa was just the Fighting Illini’s second win in 11 games dating to a Jan. 10 win over Ohio State.
“We had a needed win against Iowa,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “They came in maybe as hot as anybody in the league. We needed a great effort, especially on the defensive end, which we got. It was a renewed energy and a renewed spririt. We made a commitment on the defensive end. That kind of slipped for us in the middle of the season and gave us a tough stretch of losses.
“We have to come in with the same intensity as we prepare to face Michigan.”
Illinois (17-12, 6-10) is a distant 74th in RPI. The Illini had been mentioned in NCAA projections until their unthinkable loss at Nebraska on Feb. 18. With a home game against Michigan Thursday and a game at Wisconsin Sunday, Illinois could still get back into the NCAA discussion with a couple of wins.
“We have talked about it the whole time,” Weber said. “A week ago, we were still on the board with the Bracketologists and then we lost a couple more. It’s something we talk about. But we had to get one before we could make it part of our dreams, hopes and goals. Now you have Michigan and that would be another marquee win to put on our resume.”
“We came back after Ohio State and I said the next three days we were going to do everything competitively,” Weber said. “I said the guys who competed and won in practice would have a chance to start. We started the top five guys with their record. We weren’t mad at anybody. You hoped you were motivating some guys to compete in practice. The guys who brought energy in practice got to start in the game and that’s how it ought to be.”
* Wildcats On The Verge – The NCAA Tournament has been around since 1939. But the only school at a BCS conference that hasn’t been to The Big Dance is Northwestern. That could change in the next two weeks as coach Bill Carmody’s Wildcats seem ready to punch their first dance ticket.
Northwestern (17-11, 7-9) sits 43rd in RPI and has a nice strength of schedule rating of 12th to go with it. A win over Ohio State Wednesday or at Iowa on Saturday ought to be enough to get it done.
“It’s in front of us,” Carmody said. “The opportunity is there. We face a very good Ohio State team and then go to Iowa, which has surprised everyone. They’ve played so well the last four weeks or so. We have two games in front of us and this is our chance.”
The Wildcats came through a tough week, losing at home to Michigan in overtime (67-55) before squeaking out a win at Penn State (67-66).
The Wildcats trailed 66-65 in the closing seconds at Penn State. But PSU’s Jonathan Graham missed a pair of free throws with 14 seconds left. NU star John Shurna rebounded the second miss and was ultimately fouled with three seconds left. Shurna hit his two free throws and NU escaped State College with a critical 17th win.
“It’s funny the difference between winning and losing sometimes,” Carmody said. “Their guy missed two foul shots and our guy made two foul shots. It’s good because we hadn’t won there in a while. You have to be lucky and you have to be good.”
* Wisconsin On The Rise – Wisconsin’s win at Ohio State was historical in a sense. It was the Badgers’ first road win over a top-10 Big Ten team since a 1980 win at, where else, Ohio State. Current Badgers coach Bo Ryan was an assistant on the UW staff at that time. The win helped left UW from 24th in RPI to 18th, giving the Badgers a chance for a protected top-four seed.
After a 1-3 Big Ten start, Wisconsin (21-8, 10-6) has won nine of its last 12 games. Asked what it takes to play your best basketball at the end of the year, Ryan had a good response.
“You have to be healthy,” he said. “Hopefully you have players who are getting better through the course of the season. You don’t measure it by one game. You measure it by 10 or 15. Playing good at the end of the year could also be who you’re playing, when you’re playing and where you’re playing them. I’ve noticed that to be the case a lot of times in the Big Ten.
“You have to catch some breaks, stay healthy and have some younger guys who are getting better throughout the season.”
* The Indianapolis 12 – We are just nine days away from the biggest ever Big Ten tournament.
Once again we will project the seedings for the Big Ten tournament. It is set for March 8-11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (formerly Conseco Fieldhouse) in Indianapolis. The seedings can and likely will change as the games are played in the final week.
As of now, those would be:
Projected Opening Round (March 8): Northwestern (8 seed) vs. Illinois (9), 11:30 a.m. (BTN); Indiana (5) vs. Nebraska (12), 1:55 p.m. (BTN); Iowa (7) vs. Minnesota (10), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2); Purdue (6) vs. Penn State (11), 7:55 p.m. (ESPN2).
Projected Quarterfinals (March 9): Michigan State (1) vs. Northwestern-Illinois winner, noon (ESPN); Wisconsin (4) vs. Indiana-Nebraska winner, 2:25 p.m. (ESPN); Michigan (2) vs. Iowa-Minnesota winner, 6:30 p.m. (BTN); Ohio State (3) vs. Purdue-Penn State winner, 8:55 p.m. (BTN).
Semifinals (March 10): Quarterfinal winners, 1:40 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. (CBS).
Championship Game (March 11): Semifinal winners, 3:30 p.m. (CBS).
Check in next week for our Big Ten tournament preview.
* Bracketology – We are 12 days from the release of the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket. The Big Ten seems pretty solid to get seven teams into this year’s Big Dance.
ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi releases his updated bracket here. He has Michigan State moving up to a one seed in the West, joining Syracuse, Kentucky and Kansas as one seeds. His seven Big Ten teams include MSU, Ohio State (two seed in the Midwest), Michigan (three seed), Wisconsin (four seed), Indiana (four seed), Purdue (eight seed) and Northwestern (13 seed).
CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm releases his bracket here. Palm’s bracket, last updated earlier today, has seven Big Ten teams in the field. They include Michigan State (one seed in the West), Ohio State (two), Michigan (three), Wisconsin (four), Indiana (five), Purdue (eight) and Northwestern (11).
RushTheCourt.com also has a mock bracket here. That site has Michigan State (two seed), Ohio State (two), Michigan (three), Wisconsin (four), Indiana (four), Purdue (eight) and Northwestern (13).
Big Ten Notable Games This Week
* Michigan State at Indiana, Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – An MSU win in Bloomington would give the Spartans the outright Big Ten title. MSU won the first meeting on Dec. 28 (80-65).
* Ohio State at Northwestern, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. (BTN) – A win would likely cinch an NCAA bid for Northwestern. The Buckeyes just want to get their house back in order in time for the postseason. OSU rolled 87-54 in the first meeting in Columbus back on Dec. 28.
* Michigan at Illinois, Thursday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – Michigan won the first match-up 70-61 in Ann Arbor. Illinois desperately needs a win to increase its fleeting NCAA hopes.
* Northwestern at Iowa, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (BTN) – Iowa could be in a place to get to .500 in the Big Ten with a win. NU won the first meeting in Evanston on Feb. 9 (83-64).
* Ohio State at Michigan State, Sunday, 4 p.m. (CBS) – This is the big senior send-off for Draymond Green. OSU would like to avenge its earlier loss at home to MSU on Feb. 11 (58-48). If Indiana beats MSU and OSU defeats Northwestern earlier in the week, OSU would be playing for a piece of the Big Ten title.
* Purdue at Indiana, Sunday, 6 p.m. (BTN) – The Hoosiers will be looking for a regular season sweep of the hated Boilers. IU won big at Purdue on Feb. 4 (78-61).
National Games To Watch This Week
Some of the smaller conferences are already starting their tournaments this week. Here are some of the notable games this week:
* Florida at Vanderbilt, Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – Second place in the SEC could be on the line in Nashville. Florida won the first meeting 73-65 in Gainesville.
* Marquette at Cincinnati, Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) – UC is looking good for an NCAA berth with 20 wins. Marquette has won 12 of its last 13 games and is on a rampage. That includes a previous 95-78 win over UC.
* Georgetown at Marquette, Saturday, 2 p.m. (Big Ten Network) – This is a match-up of top-12 teams and you’ll only find it on local TV or the web. Georgetown won the first meeting 73-70 in D.C.
* Louisville at Syracuse, Saturday, 4 p.m. (CBS) – Syracuse hopes to wrap a 30-1 regular season with a win over UL, which has won eight of its last 10. One of those losses was a 52-51 heartbreaker at home to the Orange on Feb. 13.
* North Carolina at Duke, Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – These old rivals start the week tied for the ACC lead at 12-2 and 25-4 overall. Duke visits Wake Forest and UNC hosts Maryland prior to their showdown at Cameron. Austin Rivers’ three-pointer at the buzzer gave Duke an amazing 85-84 win over UNC on Feb. 8 at the Dean Dome. A number one seed in the ACC tourney and possibly the NCAA could be at stake.
* Kentucky at Florida, Sunday, noon (CBS) – Top-ranked Kentucky hosts Georgia Thursday before going to Gainesville to wrap the season. UK is also hoping for a 30-1 finish. The Wildcats blasted Florida 78-58 in the first meeting on Feb. 7.
* Missouri Valley Championship (at St. Louis), Sunday, 2 p.m. (CBS) – This looks like a two-bid league with Wichita State and Creighton. But if somebody else can score an upset and get to the tournament title game, maybe that becomes three. Wichita and Creighton split their two games during the regular season.
My National Top 16
Here’s what I have: Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Missouri, Marquette, Baylor, Ohio State, Georgetown, Michigan, Wisconsin, Murray State, Florida, Wichita State.
Big Ten Standings, Schedule
TEAM CONF OVERALL
Michigan State 13-3 24-5
Ohio State 11-5 23-6
Michigan 11-5 21-8
Wisconsin 10-6 21-8
Indiana 9-7 22-7
Purdue 9-7 19-10
Northwestern 7-9 17-11
Iowa 7-9 15-14
Illinois 6-10 17-12
Minnesota 5-11 17-12
Nebraska 4-12 12-15
Penn State 4-12 12-17
Michigan State at Indiana, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Minnesota at Wisconsin, 8 p.m. (BTN)
Penn State at Purdue, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Ohio State at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m. (BTN)
Iowa at Nebraska, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
Michigan at Illinois, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Nebraska at Minnesota, 12:30 p.m. (BTN)
Northwestern at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (BTN)
Michigan at Penn State, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Illinois at Wisconsin, 1 p.m. (BTN)
Ohio State at Michigan State, 4 p.m. (CBS)
Purdue at Indiana, 6 p.m. (BTN)
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