Every once in awhile we talk to our staff about the events going on in Big Ten country. Here are their responses this week:
1. Reaction to Michigan State's win against Ohio State, 72-68 in OT:
Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit): I thought this would have been a very close game, but would have picked MSU had I made a prediction. Both teams are great, but I thought the home court advantage would come out in the end. The fight OSU showed in the 2nd half was impressive and if they build off that for the future, they could have a great year. On the other side, MSU showed that they can play with elite teams and come out on top. Both teams have flaws, but are going to be in serious consideration for the Big Ten title later this year.
Tim Beck: The results where just as I expected. Shameless plug! OSU @ MSU Preview; see prediction. Really, the home court advantage really helped in this game. MSU was playing with passion and jumped to a big lead. When Ohio State charged back it was telling that MSU was able to hold on for the victory in OT. At this point MSU has to be the favorite in the B1G, with Wisconsin and OSU close on their heels. The game on March 9th may be for the Title.
Chris Kay (@itsgonnabeohkay): MSU winning at home is no surprise to me. I think that they're the better team even if OSU took it to overtime. It took a 7 minute or so stretch of no field goals for OSU to get it tight at the end. I'm thoroughly impressed by Ohio State, but I feel inclined to lean towards MSU playing bad.
Jason Dorow (@jasondorow): First off, what a game! That may have been the best college basketball we will see all season. Both MSU and OSU proved that they have fight in them. The Buckeyes went on an incredible 20-3 run to force overtime. Almost as impressive was the way Michigan State responded in OT. A lot of teams would have given in after that disaster late in the second half. Ohio State showed they are just as strong inside as MSU, dominating on the boards, but bad turnovers came back to bite them. This was the best two teams in the Big Ten, battling it out at full health, and ultimately the Spartans proved they have the slightest of edges over OSU.
Josh Stern (@jmstern23): Great teams playing gritty B1G basketball. Would not be surprised if both of these teams make a deep run come March, and the talent on both sides along with great coaching made it one of the best games of the year, and very well could be the best all season.
Mark Mowery: The early season conference favorite held serve at home against a challenger. Since the Spartans have to go to Columbus on the last day of the regular season, we might forget all about the outcome from East Lansing when all is said and done. If Michigan State wins the conference by a game, we'll point back to this game as one of the most important of the conference slate. Tough to tell for now since we're only three games in.
2. Take your pick: Keith Appling or Aaron Craft?
Thomas Beindit - Though Aaron Craft is one of the most painful players to watch from an opponent's perspective, I have to go with him here. Appling is a great athlete and can score when he needs to, but he lacks a lot of things that Craft has in his game. Everybody likes to talk about Craft's defense (well worthy of discussion), but he also has the ability to run an offense and score when he needs to get a bucket. Appling can have trouble with running the point and can make some boneheaded passes that really hurt his team. Both will be in the running for 1st team All-Big Ten this season, but I would go with Craft.
Tim Beck - I will agree with Thomas. Appling may be the MVP so far for the Spartans, but he struggles at times to the point where he just disappears. Craft can score, but it is his defense and leadership that pushes him over the top when comparing the two.
Jason Dorow - Aaron Craft. He simply does it all. Not only is he the best overall defender in the Big Ten right now, he's an outstanding leader. He dishes out assists and scores when his team cannot seem to find the net. Craft shows more hustle than anyone else in the conference, often diving on the floor for loose balls. And he's very crafty, no pun intended. Against Michigan State he threw an inbound pass off a defender's back and turned it into a layup. Appling is a great scorer and distributer, and he will get the job done for the Spartans, but Aaron Craft is the total package.
Drew Hamm (@drewhamm5) - Ugh, neither. But, if forced to pick one, Aaron Craft is grudgingly the choice. His defense is second to none at the guard position and he is a calming presence running the point for the OSU offense. Appling is a far more dynamic offensive talent and isn't the apple of Dan Dakich's eye, which are two plusses in my book, but he's not as able a defender and occasionally suffers from Trae Jackson Disease (which is defined by the New England Journal of Medicine as: occasionally losing the ability to make proper decisions on offense. WE'LL FIND A CURE EVENTUALLY!).
Josh Stern - Aaron Craft. I imagine Aaron Craft to be the guy that every Ohio mother wants their daughter to bring home. Incredible GPA in the classroom, has been playing at Ohio State since 2006, and seems to be a great teammate and all around player. Basically, he's easily the most hateable opponent in the country not namedMarshall Henderson, and would be my favorite player if he wore Maize and Blue. Since he doesn't, I still hate him.
Mark Mowery - Aaron Craft. Knee jerk reaction to the massive amount of tournament experience he has already acquired in his first five... er.... three years at Ohio State. Going to a Final Four two years ago and an Elite Eight last year is, in my opinion, the best way to differentiate the two at this point in time.
3. Illinois is now 13-3 and ranked 23rd in the country. Are the Illini a Contender or Pretender?
Thomas Beindit - This largely depends on what you are considering them for right now. Are they pretenders for the Big Ten title? Sure, if you had them in the running, but most did not. Their main goal this season appeared to be making the NCAA Tournament and I do not think they are pretenders at all in that regard. They have a few good wins on their resume already and have more than enough opportunities to get even more. One loss (though bad) to Wisconsin is not going to make them pretenders for the postseason.
Tim Beck - Illinois is for sure a contender to make the NCAA tourney. At this point I don't see them with much of a chance at winning the B1G, but they could make a run in the B1G tourney. They should finish the season somewhere between 4-7th in the conference and even 7th place should be good enough to make the Big Dance for them.
Chris Kay - I like the question, but it's a little vague. I think Illinois is a pretender to win the B1G season overall, but a contender in B1G tournament. There's no way in a full season they can compete with the top teams in this conference, but they have the players to get on a hot streak in 3-4 days and win the B1G in that sense. I agree with both Thomas and Tim. There has to be a realistic part of expectations from players and fans and I don't think anyone from Illinois is sitting here saying they will win the B1G. They should easily contend for a seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Jason Dorow - Contender. Illinois is a tournament team, but they aren't as good as the rankings say they are. The Illini are not anywhere near the level of the top four teams in the conference, seen in their blowout loss to Wisconsin. In fact, they are probably closer to sixth or seventh in the conference. They snuck by IPFW and Dartmouth, and it took overtime for them to defeat Indiana at home. I'd take Iowa, Michigan, and maybe even Minnesota over Illinois. However, sixth or seventh in the Big Ten is good enough for John Groce's squad to go dancing.
Drew Hamm - With a bench made up entirely of freshmen contributors, it's hard to consider Illinois contenders for the regular season title. And with the trial by fire that is the B1G conference season already upon them, Illinois will need the freshmen to grow up quickly. While the conference tournament is a different beast, with so many games right in a row, the Illini youngsters will be battle-tested come March and more able to contribute against the upper echelon of the B1G. Like Chris said, there is almost no chance that Illinois wins the conference during the regular season, but, ifRayvonte Rice gets hot for a weekend and the starting five has capable subs to give them a breather...OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin should be wary of Illinois come tourney time.
Josh Stern - Pretender. While they have some quality wins (at UNLV, Missouri, Indiana), I don't think they have enough firepower. The other Ray Rice will not average 20 points a game in the B1G, and I simply don't think they're deep enough. The X-factor for this team will be the inside presence of Nnanna Egwu. If Egwu can exceed his general production, Illinois has an inside threat that goes along with the extremely solid guard play of Rice, Bertrand and Abrams. If not, Illinois cannot compete with the upper echelon of the conference, as they got blown out by an excellent Wisconsin team Wednesday night.
Mark Mowery - Pretender. The Illini have been playing with fire all season in the form of almost losing to something called IPFW and Dartmouth. Their current signature win, a neutral court victory over the Missouri Tigers, just took a massive nosedive when they lost to Georgia at home yesterday, and they play the conferences top 4 teams (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa) twice a piece. They might have one of those signature Weber collapses in them just yet.