Big Ten PG: Hoosiers Closing In

Welcome to Big Ten Point Guard!

Victor Oladipo and Tom Crean have Indiana on the verge of the school's first Big Ten title in 11 years

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 late Monday or midday on Tuesday.

Without any further ado, let’s get right to it:

Big Ten Notables

* Indiana Closing In – With Michigan State’s loss at Ohio State on Sunday, No. 1 Indiana is two games up in the Big Ten standings with four games to play. That means the Hoosiers can clinch their long-awaited first conference championship under Tom Crean with wins this week at Minnesota tonight and at home over Iowa on Saturday.

This is a championship that would be a long time coming. IU, second to Purdue’s 22 Big Ten titles with 20 all-time, has not won the conference regular season crown since coach Mike Davis’ 2002 team forged a four-way tie for the championship. The 11-year drought is the school’s longest respite between championships dating to the 17-year period between 1936-53.

But Crean, whose team takes a four-game winning streak into the game at Minnesota, is not worrying about championship glory just yet.

“I think you start focusing on hypotheticals and you start focusing on where you’re sitting, rather than where you’re going, then I think you’re asking for trouble,” Crean said. “They know what the standings are. They know who’s playing who, they know who’s playing when.

“But we know that we’re playing (Tuesday) night against a really good team, and these guys have done a phenomenal job of playing within that all year.”

It appears that the Hoosiers will have wing Victor Oladipo in the fold for tonight’s game. He was hobbled with an ankle injury, but was still the Big Ten’s player of the week for his big performance in IU’s win at then-No. 4 Michigan State last Tuesday (72-68). In that game, Oladipo scored six of his 19 points in the final minute. He also had nine rebounds, five steals and a blocked shot.

Some are heralding Oladipo as a potential Big Ten player of the year candidate. He leads the Big Ten in steals (2.4 per game) and field goal percentage (63.9 percent). He is also eighth in scoring (14.0 per game) and 15th in rebounding (6.0 per game). Crean said it is Oladipo’s work ethic that has made him special.

“I always knew he was a hard worker when he was in high school when we recruited him,” Crean said. “He had to travel an hour-and-a-half to school each way each day. When you’re like that and getting the grades he was getting and playing at that level at DeMatha High and what he was doing in the summertime, you know he is a hard worker.

“This is nothing new with him. Since the first summer he got here with Will Sheehey, they have absolutely worn out their keycards at Cook Hall. That’s a great thing. We can have had practice, weights or film and he will still find a way to get back into the gym. It shows in his game.”

* Craft Comes Through -- Ohio State moved up two spots from 18th to 16th in the AP poll this week after Sunday’s 68-60 win over then-No. 4 Michigan State. It marked the first time in school history that OSU has defeated a pair of top-five teams at home in the same season. (OSU previously knocked off then-No. 3 Michigan in January.)

Point guard Aaron Craft enjoyed one of his best games as a Buckeye. The junior scored a career-high 21 points and dished out six assists. He went to the basket for seven layups against the MSU defense and was also 7 of 8 at the foul line as the Buckeyes put the game away. Craft did most of his damage coming off high screens by the OSU big men.

“It definitely helps because he is such a threat with the ball in his hands a lot,” Matta said. “You have his ability to make the read and when to penetrate and pull back and hit the open guy. You look at his line with 21 points and six assists. That’s a heck of a point guard line for us.”

It capped a big week for Craft, who was named as the Capital One Academic All-American of the Year. Craft is a nutrition (pre-med) major with a 3.92 GPA. A native of Findlay, Ohio, he received the NCAA Elite 89 Award for the highest G.P.A. at the 2012 NCAA Final Four.

“It means an awful lot to Aaron and it means a lot to me as his coach,” Matta said of Craft’s honor. “It’s the second year in a row he has been an Academic All-American. You look at the time and effort and dedication he puts into his academics and how dedicated he is … really, from the day he arrived at Ohio State, he had a plan for what he wanted to do.

“To see the load he carries with the major he has … it’s great to look at what he brings to the table on a daily basis as a student, an athlete and as a person on a daily basis to the Ohio State community.”

* Berggren Leads Badgers – Wisconsin has won five of its last six games down the stretch to get to 19-8 overall. UW’s lone win this past week was a 69-41 pasting of Northwestern, where senior center Jared Berggren had 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

For the year, Berggren leads the Badgers with averages of 11.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

“He’s been very consistent,” said UW coach Bo Ryan. “What he’s done for us by being the man in the middle, he’s inspired our other guys that if you stay consistent and keep working things will even out. He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s always ready for the next possession.

“I think that’s been a steadying influence for our younger guys like Sam Dekker and George Marshall. Jared is looked at as one of those guys where you say, ‘Hey, we can count on him.’ ”

* Sputtering Spartans – Michigan State had risen to its highest rankings perch yet at No. 4. But the Spartans had a rough week with the home loss to Indiana and Sunday’s defeat at No. 18 Ohio State. The losses dropped MSU from fourth to ninth in this week’s AP poll.

And there is no rest for the weary. MSU next two games are at new No. 4 Michigan on Sunday and home with No. 15 Wisconsin on March 7.

“We lost two games in disappointing fashion,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo. “The loss to Ohio State, we had a nine-point lead and I’m sad we did not finish the job. We’ve had some injuries and guys playing through some things. We’re regrouping a little bit.

“We’re going through our gauntlet like every team in this league has been through with four straight games against ranked teams. You’re not going to play anybody that’s ranked and play average and win. We’ve played average in a couple of games and had chances to win, but didn’t. We have to do a better job.”

* Hope For The Hawkeyes? – It was a rough week for Iowa. Its game at Nebraska was moved back two days because of a winter storm that pummeled the Midwest. The Hawkeyes went into the game at 17-9 and, with a big late-season run, could have positioned themselves for a potential NCAA at-large bid.

But whatever hope was left in that regard may have been extinguished with a 64-60 loss to the Huskers. That defeat snapped a three-game winning streak and dropped Iowa to a distant 91st in RPI. Typically, teams need to be in the top 50 to feel good about an at-large bid. Nebraska rallied from a 19-point first-half deficit to steal the win on Dylan Talley’s three-pointer with 9.2 seconds left.

“We played well for a half,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “But they played a lot better than us in the second half. That’s a credit to their team and their coaching staff.”

The schedule change also threw a wrench into Iowa’s travel plans.

“After the game, one of the things that happened as a result of the change of the game was that we couldn't get out right after the game, we had to wait,” McCaffery said. “We went back to the hotel, we ate, then we waited for the plane to come and get us, then we went home.

“The mood was as you would have expected: pretty quiet. We broke the tape down right there. We kept our setup. I did my TV show there. We got a lot of work done. Then we just got on the plane and went home.

“You kind of let them just deal with it on their own. You don't belabor it. I challenged them after the game. I wasn't happy. The interesting thing was, and this happens a lot, this is why I try to temper what I say after the game, even if I'm upset. My perception of what happened in the game was a lot different after I watched the game than it was when the game ended.”

* Head Games – Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said recently his team may have needed help with
the “psychology of winning.”

After back-to-back 20-point losses to Iowa and Ohio State, Smith reportedly put those words into action. He asked Twin Cities sports psychologist Dr. Rick Aberman to speak to his team this past weekend.

There were no details on how the sessions went with Aberman, who has worked with the Minnesota Twins and other Gophers teams in the past. With top-ranked Indiana due in tonight, Smith was likely looking for any edge he could find to turn his team around.

It would help if Smith could count on a couple of his key players, forward Rodney Williams and guard Joe Coleman, to answer the bell. They have dealt with injuries in recent weeks.

* Freshman Of The Week – Nebraska’s Shavon Shields was selected as the freshman of the week. He had 17 points (12 in the second half) and seven rebounds in the Huskers’ come-from-behind win over Iowa. The 19-point deficit is the third-largest comeback in NU school history. Shields won the freshman award for the second time this year.

* They Were Watching – ESPN’s coverage of No. 1 Indiana defeating No. 4 Michigan State last Tuesday averaged 3.7 million viewers and a 2.7 coverage rating, making it the network’s second most-viewed and second highest-rated regular-season men’s college basketball game this season.

It is only topped by then-No. 3 Indiana defeating No. 1 Michigan on Feb. 2 (4.035 million viewers; 2.9 rating). These two Big Ten contests are not only ESPN’s two largest audiences for a men’s game this season, they are also the network’s top two most-viewed Big Ten Conference games ever.

For Indiana-Michigan State, Indianapolis was the top market with a 19.4 metered market rating followed by Louisville (10.8), Detroit (9.0), Dayton (5.8) and Columbus (5.4).

On Sunday, CBS’ coverage of Michigan State-Ohio State earned a 1.9 overnight rating. That game was up against the Daytona 500 coverage, which drew a 10.0 rating on FOX.

* Naismith Award Candidates – Six Big Ten players are among the top 30 candidates for the Naismith Award, presented by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club. They are Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas and Illinois’ Brandon Paul.

It will be awarded during the Final Four April 7 in Atlanta.

* RPI, Bracketology Updates – Here are the latest RPI rankings for the Big Ten teams:

Michigan, sixth; Indiana, seventh; Michigan State, ninth; Minnesota, 17th; Ohio State, 19th; Wisconsin, 25th; Illinois, 33rd; Iowa, 91st; Nebraska, 100th; Purdue, 126th; Northwestern, 135th; Penn State, 200th.

Here are what two of the top Bracketologists are saying for Big Ten teams:

ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi Top Seeds: Indiana (Midwest Region), Duke (East), Florida (South), Gonzaga (West). Other Big Ten: Michigan State (second), Michigan (second), Wisconsin (fifth), Ohio State (fifth), Illinois (ninth), Minnesota (11th).

CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm Top Seeds: Indiana (Midwest Region), Duke (East), Michigan (South), Gonzaga (West). Other Big Ten: Michigan State (second), Wisconsin (fifth), Ohio State (sixth), Illinois (seventh), Minnesota (ninth).

* Looking Forward To Chicago – Some things seem to be coming into clarity for the Big Ten tournament. For instance, Indiana looks like it will be a lock to be the one seed – barring a late-season collapse.

At the same time, it looks like seeds two through four will be decided between Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Ohio State isn’t far back, but looks ticketed for the five seed – unless it can win out (with a win at Indiana) and get some help.

And Penn State, winless in league play, is one loss from clinching the 12 seed.

If the season ended today, here is a look at the seedings for the Big Ten tournament. It is set for March 14-17 at Chicago’s United Center. The tournament moves back to Chicago for the first time since 2007 after a five-year run in Indianapolis.

As of now, those pairings would be:

Projected Opening Round (March 14): Minnesota (8 seed) vs. Iowa (9), noon Eastern (BTN); Ohio State (5) vs. Penn State (12), 2:25 p.m. (BTN); Purdue (7) vs. Nebraska (10), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2); Illinois(6) vs. Northwestern (11), 8:55 p.m. (ESPN2).

Projected Quarterfinals (March 15): Indiana (1) vs. Iowa-Minnesota winner, noon (ESPN); Michigan (4) vs. OSU-Penn State winner, 2:25 p.m. (ESPN); Michigan State (2) vs. Purdue-Nebraska winner, 6:30 p.m. (BTN); Wisconsin (3) vs. Illinois-Northwestern winner, 8:55 p.m. (BTN).

Semifinals (March 16): Quarterfinal winners, 1:40 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. (CBS).

Championship Game (March 17): Semifinal winners, 3:30 p.m. (CBS).

Big Ten Notable Games This Week

* Indiana at Minnesota, Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – Minnesota is reeling, but a win over the top-ranked Hoosiers would make everything right again in Gopherland. IU won the first meeting in Bloomington (88-81).

* Ohio State at Northwestern, Thursday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) – The Buckeyes pulled it together last week. But NU, which has lost seven of its last eight, always seems to give OSU fits when the teams play in Evanston. OSU pulled away late for a win in the first meeting (69-59).

* Iowa at Indiana, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network) – If Indiana can defeat Minnesota, the Hoosiers would be playing to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title at home against Iowa. IU won the first meeting in Iowa City (69-65) back on Dec. 31.

* Michigan State at Michigan, Sunday, 4 p.m. (CBS) – The Wolverines will be out for revenge after losing at MSU on Feb. 12 (75-52). The Spartans will come in off a seven-day break after losing their last two.

National Games To Watch This Week

* Memphis at Xavier, Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) – Memphis has clinched at least a share of the Conference USA title. Xavier is in desperate need of a signature win to boost its NCAA hopes.

* Florida at Tennessee, Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – Tennessee has won five straight and now faces the SEC’s best in Florida at Thompson-Boling Arena.

* Georgetown at Connecticut, Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) – Georgetown begins the week alone in first place in the Big East. But the Huskies will be out for their 20th win – even if they can’t go dancing. They will treat this as their national championship game.

* San Diego State at New Mexico, Wednesday, 10:15 p.m. (CBS Sports Network) – A pair of 20-win teams will square off at The Pit.

* Duke at Virginia, Thursday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – The Blue Devils can’t get caught looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Miami.

* Gonzaga at BYU, Thursday, 11 p.m. (ESPN2) – Gonzaga is honing in on the West Coast Conference title and an NCAA No. 1 seed. But winning at BYU will not be easy. Gonzaga won the first match-up at home (83-63). That was the first of 10 straight wins for Gonzaga.

* Louisville at Syracuse, Saturday, noon (CBS) – Syracuse won the first match-up Jan. 19 at Louisville (70-68). Expect another Big East nut cruncher.

* Miami (Fla.) at Duke, Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN) – The week’s marquee match-up pits No. 3 Duke against No. 5 Miami. The ‘Canes rolled to an easy 90-63 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 23 at Miami. Miami can clinch its first-ever ACC title with a win.

* Arizona at UCLA, Saturday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – UCLA won the first meeting at Tucson (84-73). UCLA has won four of its last five to get back into the Pac-12 race.

* Cincinnati at Louisville, Monday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – Cincinnati has lost five of its last six after an 18-4 start. The Bearcats desperately need to flip it around.

My National Top 20

Here’s what I have: Indiana, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan, Miami (Fla.), Georgetown, Kansas, Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona, Kansas State, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, St. Louis, Memphis, Butler, Marquette.

Big Ten Standings, Schedule

TEAM CONF OVERALL
Indiana 12-2 24-3
Michigan State 11-4 22-6
Michigan 10-4 23-4
Wisconsin 10-4 19-8
Ohio State 10-5 20-7
Illinois 7-8 20-9
Minnesota 6-8 18-9
Iowa 6-8 17-10
Purdue 6-8 13-14
Nebraska 4-10 13-14
Northwestern 4-11 13-15
Penn State 0-14 8-18

Tuesday’s Game

Indiana at Minnesota, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Nebraska at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Wednesday’s Games

Michigan at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Purdue at Iowa, 8:36 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Thursday’s Games

Ohio State at Northwestern, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday’s Games

Penn State at Minnesota, 3 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Nebraska at Illinois, 5:15 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Iowa at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Sunday’s Games

Purdue at Wisconsin, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Michigan State at Michigan, 4 p.m. (CBS)

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