Was that a fun weekend for you? If you're a fan of a Big Ten basketball team, it was probably either a really good weekend or a stupendously bad one, because only two of the six games played were very close. Despite a brave comeback attempt, Michigan could not recover from getting blitzed by a fierce Arkansas press in the first half of their non-conference roadie. Meanwhile, Purdue was in East Lansing suffering their worst setback of the season in a 83-58 beatdown at the hands of Michigan State.
If there's one game to watch this weekend, it's Thursday night's brawl in Madison between Wisconsin and Indiana. After some early struggles in conference play, Wisconsin finally seems to be gaining some steam. Indiana, meanwhile has pulled out of a losing streak just in time to take just a little pressure off of this crucial match-up. Let's hit it.
Indiana at Wisconsin
Thursday at 9:00 PM ET, ESPN2
Four straight wins have the Badgers back in the middle of the Big Ten title race, and point guard Jordan Taylor has just been named Big Ten Player of the Week for his efforts versus Illinois and Northwestern (17 points, 5.5 assists and 6 rebounds on average). Perhaps thanks to the absence of his partner in crime Jon Leuer, Taylor is not playing as efficiently has he was last season. He's only shooting 40% from the field and 33% from three point range while averaging 4 less points per game than last season.
Wisconsin plays elite defense, but Taylor's shooting woes combined with the lack of a consistent second scorer means that Wisconsin still has issues on offense. Against Illinois, Jared Berggren pitched in 18 points and 5 rebounds on 50% shooting. That's the kind of effort the Badgers need more often from their role players if they want to make a run.
Indiana, on the other hand, sports a much more well-balanced offense that is not short on athletic play makers. Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo can all create their own offense while Matt Roth and Jordan Hulls are lethal from three point range when left open. The main reason for IU's modest 4-4 conference record then, is their porous defense that is second-to-last in the Big Ten at 1.10 points per possession allowed. Coach Tom Crean will probably be focusing on which man should guard Taylor (probably either Oladipo or Verdell Jones III) as well as keeping the ball out of Berggren's hands in the low post.
Preview the rest of the week after the jump...
Michigan at Purdue
Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET, ESPN
Despite all the good they've done so far this season, Michigan's only road win is versus Oakland back on December 10th. Their most recent setbacks were at Arkansas over the weekend and at Iowa the week before. Perhaps the biggest factor in keeping Michigan out of the loss column this season is outstanding freshman point guard Trey Burke, who was just honored as Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Charged with stepping into the big shoes of the departed Darius Morris, Burke has done all he's been asked and then some. Both Burke's scoring and passing skills have been crucial because of the inconsistency in teammate Tim Hardaway Jr.'s jump shot. Burke was a major player in the Woleverines defeating Michigan State last week despite only 10 points from Hardaway.
MGoBlog has a great piece on measuring Burke's season against that of previous great Michigan point guards. I guess I'll take this time to note that Tim Frazier of Penn State is absent from the Cousy Award watch list despite his 18 points, 6.4 assists and 5 rebounds per game. Sure, Frazier is only knocking down 41% of his shots, but 6.4 assists in that offense deserve recognition.
Anyway, Purdue is reeling after getting trounced by Michigan State 83-58 on Saturday. The Boilers are still 4-3 in the Big Ten with wins over tourney hopefuls Illinois and Minnesota, but there's not much of a non-conference resume for them to fall back on. Boiled Sports thinks there might be a leadership problem in West Lafayette.
None of this is to criticize Rob [Hummel]. It's more of a concern. We're beyond thrilled to have him back on the court and representing Purdue, but that doesn't change the fact that something does not seem right with this team. Games get away from them, whether it's blowing huge leads to lose games, or never getting into rhythm and almost appearing to give up (see MSU). As b-dowd pointed out to me, once their shooting was clearly cold and MSU began to put some distance between themselves and our Boilers, it looked like Purdue wanted to be just about anywhere besides East Lansing.
There also might be a talent problem. Purdue just lost E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson to the NBA and now Robbie Hummel is shooting just 39% from the floor. Just like Wisconsin, Purdue seems to be the case of an offense with one player having a little too much on his plate. The difference is that Purdue doesn't play defense quite as well as the Badgers. How Purdue deals with Hardaway and Burke at a roudy Mackey Arena will play a big part in deciding who wins this one.
Minnesota at Michigan State
Wednesday at 8:30 PM, BTN
For a minute there it looked like Minnesota was dead, but Tubby Smith has done a terrific job getting his team to play cohesively despite the loss of Trevor Mbakwe. The Gophers lost their first three Big Ten games by excruciatingly close margins, but after losing a fourth game to Purdue, they have bounced back with three wins in a row. Versus Northwestern on Sunday, all five Minnesota starters scored in double figures (Joe Coleman led with 16) and the team shot 58% from the field.
Coleman has boosted his game lately to give the Minnesota offense a lift, and he'll need to be in top form again on Wednesday for Minnesota to have a chance in East Lansing. It will be fun watching Ralph Sampson III battle with the hefty Spartan front court that features Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.
While many Big Ten teams only play 7 or 8 guys with any regularity, Tom Izzo has always been a fan of deep rotations. This season is no exception and The Only Colors does some great work looking into how deep Michigan State is compared to past versions of the team.
Nebraska at Iowa
Thursday at 7:00 PM, ESPNU
After a dreadful start to conference play, Nebraska has bounced back with two wins in their last four games. One was a home victory over Penn State to keep the Huskers out of the Big Ten cellar. The next was a huge upset versus Indiana that put the rest of the conference on notice. The return of injured contributors Dylan Talley and Jorge Brian Diaz has been key for Nebraska coming to life. Each player scored 10 points in the triumph over Indiana. Nebraska was since humbled in a 34-point loss to Ohio State, but they've still got a decent chance at their first Big Ten road win in Iowa.
The Hawkeyes surprised everyone with back to back wins on the road at Wisconsin and Minnesota at the start of Big Ten play, but they've since cooled off with losses in three of their last four. Still, that one win was a shocking 75-59 win over Michigan that gave Iowa a third quality conference win. Can the up-and-down Hawkeyes possibily be thinking about an NCAA bid? A bunch of ugly non-conference losses makes that a difficult proposition, but a loss at home to Nebraska would make it even more so. Fran McCaffery's squad is like a game of whack-a-mole in that you never know who is going to pop up and lead the team in scoring. Lately, Zach McCabe has been hot with 31 points in his last two games. Roy Devyn Marble has been in double figures three straight times while tossing in some assists and rebounds as well.
Penn State at Ohio State
Wednesday at 6:30 PM, BTN
Ohio State has two more conference losses than I thought they would have at this point, but they're still really good. Unfortunately, all they've done to prove that so far is beat up on inferior teams. The rematch win over Indiana was emphatic, but it was also Ohio State's only conference win over a probable tournament team. Jared Sullinger and company only have to maul Penn State to get to the real meat of their Big Ten schedule.
Although Penn State was able to play with Indiana in Bloomington through part of the second half, Ohio State has a guard in Aaron Craft who is much better equipped to cover Tim Frazier than any defender on IU. It's hard to imagine Penn State hanging around in this game for too long, but we've seen pretty much everything happen this season, so there's always a shot.