Lost in the shuffle thanks to college and professional football was a very interesting weekend in Big Ten basketball. It started off on a competitive Friday night, with Columbia giving Michigan State everything they could handle and then some before fading out the stretch. However, the Saturday and Sunday action didn't slouch compared to the quick start on Friday.
In one of the weekends two biggest games, Ohio State faced the #17 ranked Marquette team in what appeared to be a sauna. While the arena may have been hot early Saturday, both teams were anything but when it came to shooting the rock. Ohio State's impressive defensive performance held Marquette to 18.9% shooting from the field and only 1 of 18 from beyond the arc. They also forced 20 Marquette turnovers, keeping the Golden Eagles out of sync and on their way to a ghastly 35 point performance.
Marquette's poor offensive performance allowed Ohio State to cruise even though the Buckeyes were out of sync as well, with no one on the roster scoring more than 13 points and only three players scoring double digits. The Buckeyes saw little production from their starters in the frontcourt, adding only 4 points and 6 rebounds, but Aaron Craft had a big day with 10 points and 10 assists. Shannon Scott also got in on the action, adding 13 points and 5 steals. The game was about as ugly as you could get, but at least it was buried behind the early day football action. Ohio State will take it though, and regardless of the team scoring less than the football team, the defensive performance over a good Marquette team was impressive.
Penn State may have suffered the conference's first loss when losing to Bucknell, but the Nittany Lions made sure they didn't suffer the same fate in their road matchup with Penn. The team was led by senior guard Tim Frazier, adding 29 points and 7 assists and helping Penn State roll to a 83-71 victory. D.J. Newbill added 19 points, while Ross Travis led the team with 11 rebounds. The Nittany Lions shot over 50% on the day and benefited from a Penn team that struggled from outside and only hit on 67.5% of their 40 free throws, not taking advantage of a foul heavy Penn State performance.
Also on the road, the Gophers took on Richmond in their first test of the season. Pitino's team had a poor shooting performance but made up for it thanks 54 rebounds, 19 on the offensive glass, creating plenty of second chance scoring opportunities. The team was once again led by the Hollins duo, with Andre adding a team-high 26 points and Austin added 11 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. The game was close throughout and Richmond held a 59-55 lead with 7:25 remaining before the wheels fell off the bus for the Spiders. Over the last seven plus minutes Minnesota ended up scoring the last 21 points, winning 76-59 after Richmond's offense stalled late (0-10 from the field, 0-1 from the line and a turnover).
In what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the night, Wisconsin went on the road to take on an upbeat Green Bay out of the Horizon League. Green Bay gave the Badgers everything they could handle before falling 66-69 to Wisconsin. Wisconsin, like Michigan State, was apparently still hungover from their impressive non-conference win earlier in the week against Florida. The game went back and forth, with Green Bay missing a layup down 1 and then missing a tying three pointer right before the end of regulation. Wisconsin shot the ball decently, but was outrebounded by Green Bay and couldn't hit from outside. Frank Kaminsky had an impressive night, adding 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks. Wisconsin didn't benefit from their starters in the backcourt, though, only shooting 7 of 24 from the field. Nonetheless, a win is a win and the Badgers won ugly, something that isn't entirely new to Wisconsin fans.
Starting off Sunday was Nebraska hosting South Carolina State. Nebraska continued taking care of business, opening the game up in the second half on their way to a 83-57 victory. The Cornhuskers played well defensively, holding SCST to 32.1% from the field, and saw five players score in double digits. Nebraska was led by their bench, with the backups scoring 51 of the teams 83 points on the day. The game was decidedly more competitive than Iowa's game against Abilene Christian. Iowa came out on fire, shot over 60% and ended up beating Abilene Christian by 62 points in a complete laugher. The Hawkeyes were led by Roy Devyn Marble's 27 points, even though he only played in a limited 20 minutes. Every Iowa player that saw action scored besides Okey Ukah and ten different players played at least 13 minutes.
Both Indiana and Illinois continued to gain momentum during the middle of Sunday on their way to impressive wins. The Hoosiers faced a test by Stony Brook in the first half before coming out strong and taking care of business. Indiana ended up winning 90-74, shooting 50% from the field. The team was led by Yogi Ferrell's 24 points, while freshman Noah Vonleh has quickly stepped up to fill in the void for Cody Zeller. Vonleh ended up with an impressive 18 points and 15 rebounds. While the Hoosiers played great today, they'll need to improve from the line. The Hoosiers ended up getting to the charity stripe 49 times, but could only hit on 61.2% of their attempts.
Illinois opened up an early lead and gave the Bradley Braves their first loss of the season. Illinois picked up the 81-55 win with a well balanced performance, shooting the ball effectively from two, from deep and from the line. Jon Ekey had his best performance of the season, adding 19 points and 7 rebounds, while Illinois had four different players with at least 7 rebounds. The Illini point guards played nicely as well, with Tracy Abrams and Jaylon Tate combining for 16 points and 9 assists.
In Sunday's biggest game, the Michigan Wolverines traveled to Ames to take on Iowa State in an electric arena. The game marked the season debut for Mitch McGary, who played 22 minutes off the bench. In limited minutes, McGary added 9 points and 6 rebounds and showed signs of being perfectly healthy, though the coaches are easing him back into the rotation. The team could have used a completely healthy McGary today as they saw little production in their frontcourt, routinely playing small. Forward Glenn Robinson III also had an unimpressive performance, shooting 4 of 14 on the day.
The Wolverines ended up shooting 42% from the field and only 27.6% from three. The three point numbers take a significant drop when you drop out Nik Stauskas's numbers, as he added 4 of the teams 8 threes and led the Wovlerines with 20 points. Today was the first day when you could tell the Wolverines really missed Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., as the team seemingly struggled to find a go to guy when they needed a bucket. Without anyone to turn to, Michigan had several stretches where they couldn't score and Iowa State took advantage of it. The first stretch was towards the end of the first half when Michigan saw a 24-19 lead evaporate as Iowa State went on a 7-2 run. Iowa State took advantage of the momentum and frenzied crowd to keep ahead of Michigan at the half after trailing most of the first half.
Michigan ended up fighting back to take a 62-57 lead with with 8:07 remaining before going over five minutes without a field goal. Iowa State took advantage once again, coming from five behind to take a six point lead. Glenn Robinson III would make a layup to cut the lead to 1 with 2:17 remaining, but they would miss seven straight shots before a late jumper by Walton cut the final deficit down to 7. Overall Michigan fans had to be pleased to see McGary see some minutes, while Derick Walton Jr. showed signs of what he's capable of, but without Burke and Hardaway Jr. there is no major weapon for the Wolverines that can clean up outside of McGary. Without that potential scoring threat it raises questions about how Michigan will handle close games like these, especially on the road. At the end of the day it could lead to a Michigan team that either lives or dies with the three or has to ride McGary all the way. Michigan will hope to see Walton, LeVert and Irvin develop into a more prolific scorers or this season could get problematic in Ann Arbor.
Later on in the night was Purdue's matchup against Rider. The game started off causally enough, with Purdue opening up a double digit lead and seemingly on pace for an easy win. However, Rider fought back and worked it back to a 40-40 tie at the half, partially thanks to Purdue's inability to shoot free throws. Rider would then outplay Purdue early on in the second half, opening up a manageable lead before Purdue fought back down the stretch to tie the game before...
Whistle. Foul. Whistle. Foul. Whistle. Foul.
Seriously, one of Rider's guards ran at Ronnie Johnson, initiated contact and got a foul out of it. Then on the very next possession Ronnie Johnson ran right at a Rider player not even defending him, bumped into him and used the move to get to the line for two free throws. If this is how games are going to be called it's going to be a very, very long season. I know, I know, scoring was low last season and the NCAA wanted to improve the point totals. But I've said it before and am asking this again, does extending games over 30 minutes and increasing scoring solely because of free throws improve the quality of the product? Because it doesn't. I can understand making the rules in favor of the offense, to some extent, but when you make it so an offensive player can simply run at a defender, bump him and draw the foul every time...even when the defender isn't doing anything defensive or anything to warrant a foul...that's just completely unnecessary. The fact that teams are still shooting jumpers and simply not attacking is something that blows my mind. Why put up low percentage shots over free throws that can also lead to players fouling out?
Purdue ended up pulling off an 81-77 comeback victory over Rider, thanks to Rider going cold from the field (and the line) late in the second half and Purdue seeing several clutch plays by Sterling Carter, Ronnie Johnson and Jay Simpson. The team may have shot horribly from the free throw line, a major area of concern, but the guard play was impressive on the day. Also, Hammons got in early foul trouble but the performance from Simpson was more than impressive.
Wrapping up the night was Northwestern, who hosted the Illinois State Redbirds. In a home game for the Wildcats it was definitely surprising to see the team come out so flat, failing to do anything offensively and falling behind 22-40 at the half. Northwestern did manage to improve considerably in the second half, making a game out of it before falling to the Redbirds 64-68. The game highlighted the major issue currently facing the team, as Northwestern was constructed around the Princeton offense and Chris Collins wants to run an entirely different offensive scheme. The Wildcats saw little production from center Alex Olah, lost out on the glass and shot 27.8% from deep. The end result was a team that had to live and die by the three and Northwestern's inability to shoot effectively killed any chance of a come from behind victory.
So while a lot of people are still in football mode, we had a very exciting weekend for Big Ten basketball. We witnessed Ohio State pick up a marquee win for the conference while Michigan lost their first test of the season. We witnessed Michigan State and Wisconsin almost lose to mid-majors after impressive non-conference wins earlier in the week. We saw teams like Purdue and Northwestern play in exciting games, Minnesota and Penn State pick up road wins and plenty of teams easily handle their lesser known opponents. The season is finally underway and, fouls aside, if this weekend is any indication of the product we're going to see, it's going to be an exciting season.