As usual, a lot of change at the top in the last week for the Big Ten.
The nation’s deepest conference had another brutal week beating each other up, with a couple of upsets thrown in. Michigan is now in position to ascend to the top of the national rankings after Miami embarrassed Duke last night. The conference title race is still wide open; expect to see these rankings change by the week in the next month and a half.
1. Michigan (17-1, 4-1; last week: 1) – When the Wolverines are at their best, they play the most aesthetically pleasing style of basketball in the country. Don’t get me wrong, this year is wide open and I think at least eight different teams could win the National Championship, but top to bottom Michigan is the most balanced team in the country. They can defend every position, run the break, hit 3′s, rebound on both sides of the floor, and most importantly, they seem to genuinely enjoy playing together. Kudos John Beilein.
Freshmen Nik Stauskas (12.6 ppg, 50% 3-point percentage), Glenn Robinson III, (12.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Mitch McGary (5.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) have been better than advertised, playing key roles in making Michigan the most dynamic team in the country. A home game against Purdue tomorrow and a trip to Illinois on Sunday are the only things that stand in the way of Michigan being ranked No. 1 for the first time since December of 1992.
2. Indiana (17-2, 5-1; last week: 2) – We may have found a weekly staple in this column courtesy of Tom Crean’s ongoing struggle to prove he’s a competent basketball coach. Last week it was his refusal to run plays for his best player (Cody Zeller) down the stretch in a home loss vs. Wisconsin.
In this week’s edition we learn how NOT to run an offense when facing a 1-3-1 half-court trap.
Down 14 at the break on Sunday, Northwestern broke out the Bill Carmody-era staple 1-3-1 half-court trap to start the second half. The man at the bottom of Northwestern’s 1-3-1 this season has been 6’0 point guard Dave Sobolewski (another head-scratcher of a coaching decision that I won’t get into here). So one would think, “Okay let’s penetrate into the paint and get easy buckets for our 7-foot All-American.” Right?
Instead, Indiana’s guards panicked. They turned the ball over plenty, letting Northwestern get within five on three separate occasions. No ball reversal, no penetration, lots of rushed 3-point attempts, and very little Zeller. Crean called three timeouts during this sequence, and Indiana responded by turning the ball over twice after he had time to draw up plays.
Indiana squeaked out the road victory and in response, Coach Crean offered us this in his post-game press conference:
“It took us a little bit to get the ball where we wanted it against their 1-3-1. And I think they’ll see on the film where we missed some opportunities and how we wanted to attack it, where we wanted to get the ball. And that was key. The other night against Wisconsin, it was almost two to one on balls being shot on the first side rather than the second and the third side.”
Way to adjust Tom. Now go watch some film.
3. Michigan State (17-3, 6-1; last week: not ranked) – Tom Izzo knows what he’s doing. After fighting through another brutal non-conference schedule the Spartans are battle tested, and poised to make noise in the Big Ten. And probably March. Yet again.
The 2013 edition of Michigan State basketball may not score as many points or be as pretty as in years past, but what they lack in style has certainly been made up for in defense and rebounding.
Derrick Nix (9.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Adreian Payne (9.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are college basketballs version of the retro Knicks frontcourt of Larry Johnson and Charles Oakley – physical intimidators who dominate the paint and the glass in a tandem act. Something we haven’t quite seen in the Big Ten since the Lucas Johnson/Sergio McClain Illinois teams of the early 2000’s.
The Spartan’s get back into these rankings courtesy of grind-it-out wins at Wisconsin and at home vs. Ohio State. Tom Izzo and the Spartans control their own destiny in the regular season title race. Yet again .
4. Ohio State (14-4, 4-2; last week: 5) – Deshaun Thomas and Trey Burke are waging the best conference Player of the Year competition in college hoops. Thomas did his part this week averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds in Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State and win over Iowa.
Ohio State needs to get some kind of contribution from the supporting cast besides Thomas, as only Aaron Craft has played up to expectations offensively – and those weren’t high to begin with. That burden was supposed to be lifted by contributions from the sophomore trio of Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, and Amir Williams – yet they have only combined to average 18.8 points per game.
Deshaun Thomas is a machine and Ohio State is solid defensively, but that average is going to have to increase. At least if the Buckeyes plan to advance deep into March.
5. Wisconsin (13-6, 4-2 last week: 4) – Wisconsin lost two games in the last week. A four-point loss against a rising Iowa squad, and another in a ‘Bo Ryan special’ 49-47 loss to Michigan State (For those of you asking, a Bo Ryan special is a game in which Wisconsin slows the game down so much that the final score resembles more of a football shootout).
The Badgers are what they are: an efficient team built on skill more than athletic talent. A team that lowers the amounts of possessions per game in order to hide their athletic deficiencies. The fact is they will always hover around the top of the Big Ten because they are the best in the country at playing this kind of basketball even though it may hurt to watch.
Must-See Games This Weekend
Saturday 1:00 CT
#12 Minnesota @ Wisconsin
This game won’t be pretty. Both teams coming off back-to-back losses in what is a must win game for each team to keep their fading conference title hopes alive.
Prediction: Wisconsin 56 Minnesota 50
Sunday 12:00 CT
#13 Michigan State @ #7 Indiana
This one has the makings of an instant classic. And it’s your only chance this weekend to watch Tom Crean’s increasingly entertaining lack of ability to effectively coach this immensely talented team. Should this game get close, well see if Tom has learned from his mistakes and starts to feed Zeller the ball in crunch time. I see Michigan State being more disciplined down the stretch in what should be a thriller. Stay tuned for live tweets from Assembly Hall.
Prediction: Michigan State 72 Indiana 70 in OT
Sunday 5:00 CT
#2 Michigan @ Illinois
Trey Burke and co. play their beautiful brand of ball and steamroll Illinois as Illini fans start to seriously worry about their NCAA tournament chances.
Prediction: Michigan 88 Illinois 70
These Super Power Rankings were brought to you by Jim Rome’s Douchebag Tweet of the Week:
Remember that one Jason Statham movie where he wears designer clothes, looks slick and breaks dudes’ faces?Love that flick.
— Jim Rome (@jimrome) January 18, 2013