Everyone that follows the Big Ten was obviously invested in conference favorite Michigan State taking on #1 ranked Kentucky tonight. And of course they showed off the excellence of the Big Ten with a victory over the nation's top team, positioning themselves to take over the top spot. Also of relevance is Wisconsin, who is currently taking on (and winning) Florida as I'm typing this up. Bo Ryan's team has came down to earth after a blazing performance in their opener against St. Johns, but they've still been outstanding.
The rest of the night included five other Big Ten teams facing off against varying level of mid-majors, with Indiana's game against Long Island-Brooklyn being the toughest of the remaining five match-ups. Thomas already recapped the slim Hoosier victory so I'm going to focus on the four other games below.
Michigan 93 South Carolina State 59
Remember when Michigan came out and posted only 23 points in the first half against Umass-Lowell and everyone wondered what was going on? Yeah, no one remembers that now. The Wolverines ended up rolling against Umass-Lowell in the second half and continued cruising against lowly South Carolina State. It's not a marquee win, not even close, but any 34 point victory is something you'll take for your team. Of course it's always easy enough to win when you shoot over 50% from the field and hit on 15 of your 28 three pointers.
So far two games into the season and probably the most impressive Wolverine has actually been Caris LeVert. In tonight's game the guard was absolutely lethal from deep, hitting on 6 of 7 three pointers for 24 points. The team also saw vintage Nik Stauskas, who was 5 of 6 from three and added an additional 23 points. Without McGary in the lineup, the Wolverines once again relied on Jon Horford down low and he had a solid night with 9 points and a team high 15 rebounds.
Any talk about Spike Albrecht being the starting point guard, at least early on in the season, seems to be off the mark. Albrecht once again came off the bench and played less minutes than freshman Derrick Walton Jr. Walton's 1 assist to 3 turnovers wasn't overally impressive, but his athleticism makes him the ideal starting point guard going down the road. I'd expect Albrecht to spell him off the bench and be used more as a three point specialist than a viable starting option at the point.
Minnesota 84 Montana 58
Pitino's Gophers looked impressive in their second outing, taking care of business against the Grizzlies and winning by 26. Minnesota was led in scoring by Andre Hollins with 24 points, while his brother Austin led the team with 10 rebounds. Center Elliot Eliason was a presence down low, adding 5 blocks to his stat line that also included 6 points and 8 rebounds.
Minnesota is a hard to team when trying to figure out just what to expect, but the team has seen solid contributions from the entire starting lineup. If the team can see similar performances by Eliason and Mathieu, the Gophers could be considerably better than expected. The team has shown early on that Eliason may be a capable defender and can clean up on the glass, while the Hollins duo can do a little of everything and Deandre Mathieu is capable of handling the point.
The only question is depth, with numerous fresh faces on the bench trying to establish themselves. The rotation will likely solidify over time but the back end is relatively open and probably the biggest question mark for the team as of now. Pitino's team has played relatively well the first two games and will need to keep it up as they travel east to face Richmond on Saturday.
Nebraska 62 Western Illinois 47
Nebraska came back down to earth but still was good enough to easily dismantle the Leathernecks of Western Illinois. Building a 19 point halftime lead, Nebraska coasted and kept the game at bay to win by 15. The team's shooting slipped considerably from their impressive opener, but the defense stepped up holding Western Illinois to 37.8% from the field and 4 of 19 from beyond the arc.
Coming off of his player of the week honors, Shavon Shields added 13 points and 4 rebounds. Walter Pitchford, Terran Petteway and Leslee Smith all added double digits while the remaining roster added only 12 points. The team's production may have slipped but there was still a balanced approach based on production. Nebraska's young team has a medley of weapons and seems like they won't rely too heavily on just one guy, which could be pivotal for the team. Their new arena will make Lincoln a hard place to play at and now they will host South Carolina State this weekend. The Bulldogs are coming off of a Michigan beatdown and Nebraska will look to get in on the fun.
Ohio State 79 Ohio 69
Ohio State scored the first 9 points and held a sizeable double digit lead the entire first half. The Bobcats eventually cut it to 7 with less than two minutes left, but Aaron Craft sealed the deal with 5 made free throws down the stretch. On the day Craft shot a whopping 18 free throws. The game itself was heavy on fouls, with the Buckeyes taking advantage of 51 free throw attempts (30 more than Ohio's free throw amount). The Buckeyes 51 free throw attempts were more than the number of field goals they attempted on the day as well. So far it seems like the rule changes are definitely impacting the game.
Of course Ohio State isn't minding right now, as they used the free throw advantage to keep a pesky Bobcats squad out of reach. Ohio State has struggled passing the ball around, only recording 9 assists tonight. Even though the Buckeyes should have the size and athletic advantage, they also only beat the Bobcats on the glass by a rebound. Guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith only hit on 3 of 11 field goals and LaQuinton Ross struggled on 3 of 10 shooting. The Buckeyes were uncharacteristically missing on shots they usually make.
It'll be interesting to watch Ohio State. They ended up allowing a young MAC team to crawl back into contention and flirt with an upset. The team's shooting hasn't been really impressive and the teams struggled creating assists and limiting turnovers. Look for Matta to get his team prepared and ready to turn the corner sometime soon, though his time is limited as Ohio State travels to play Marquette this weekend in one of the conference's top games of the week.
Anyway, the Big Ten once again won all of their games tonight. There were a few close calls, namely Indiana, but the conference took care of business. The night's marquee win (and probably best win before conference season starts) would be the Michigan State victory over Kentucky, putting Sparty on pace to be the nations #1 team. Wisconsin looked sharp on defense against Florida, even if they struggled a bit with scoring. A defensively minded Badger team is basically everyones worst enemy, so keep an eye out because Wisconsin has a history of sneaking into Big Ten title consideration.
So far the Big Ten has been one of the best, if not the best, conference in the country right now. Expect more going down the road and join us as we anxiously wait for the Big Ten conference season to officially kick off. It's going to be a fun year.