This past week was another big one for the conference round ball squads. Before we break down what happened to each team though, I live in ACC country (Tallahassee to be exact which honestly feels like SEC country but whatever. Bobby Bowden didn't want to play tough conference teams so I guess it is technically ACC country) and I have heard a steady stream of chest thumping about how the conference was going to easily be the best in the nation. I thought about doing a long form write up on the ACC-B1G debate through the first few weeks of the season but 1) there isn't enough data to make an argument that would be really compelling and 2) why write a long form article when you can just copy Ken Pomeroy's twitter?
By who? MT @GoodmanESPN: It was widely assumed ACC was best league in America this year.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) November 18, 2013
Well said. So on to the weekend breakdown.
The Hoosiers started off the week with a scare, narrowly escaping LIU-Brooklyn 73-72 in Assembly Hall. The three time defending Northeast Conference champions had the lead late before Will Sheehey hit the go ahead three pointer with 1:47 remaining. The Blackbirds have been an NCAA tournament team the past few years so it was a nice little win for a young Indiana team that by all accounts has a lot of talent but needs time to gel a little more.
Indiana played two more games this week, dropping Samford 105-59 and Stony Brook 90-74. Overall, Indiana is 4-0 with highly touted freshman Noah Vonleh recording a double double in each contest. None of the opponents have really been sexy names but they are all decent enough to build a solid RPI which should help come March. Up next the Cream and Crimson heads to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic. They face Washington in the first round on Thursday and would face Connecticut if they were to advance.
Jon Groce's started the week off with a hard fought 64-52 win against Valparaiso and ended with an 81-55 victory of Bradley but the real story for the Illini this week was Cliff Alexander, a Chicago native and one of the top basketball prospects in the country who committed to Kansas over the weekend. The Champaign Room, which has been following Alexander's commitment closely, was understandably disappointed.
The Illini take on Chicago State this week in what should be another easy win for the Illini before heading out to Las Vegas to take on UNLV on the 26th.
Iowa continued their romp through the cupcake factory with wins over Maryland Eastern-Shore and Abilene Christian which marked the first time the Hawks have scored 100+ points in consecutive games since a three game streak in 1997. Unlike Indiana and Illinois, Iowa's four game win streak has come against teams who were projected to finish at the bottom of Division I this season which is part of what killed their RPI and kept them out of the NCAA tournament last season.
The schedule starts to ramp up in the next few weeks with a home date against Penn on Friday and then the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving week where they will open against Xavier.
The Wolverines began their weekend with a home romp over South Carolina State before heading to Hilton Coliseum to take on the Iowa State Cyclones. Mitch McGary returned for 22 minutes but Melvin Ejim, who was originally reported to be out for several weeks, also returned and played 28 minutes with 22 points to propel the Cyclones to a 77-70 victory. The Big XII isn't a very deep conference this year but the top four teams (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Baylor) are all going to be dangerous match ups during the Dance. This will only be a minor setback for a Michigan team that was a little banged up coming in.
Thursday Michigan faces Long Beach State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They will face either Florida State or VCU depending on the outcome of the first round games.
Michigan State (3-0)
The Spartans notched the most impressive win by any team this season to date by knocking off top ranked Kentucky in Chicago on Tuesday. Michigan State's victory was broken down thoroughly by the fine folks at The Only Colors so I will direct you to there in case you have been living in a hole without sports for the past week. Sparty came back to East Lansing and notched a 62-53 win over Columbia on Friday to close out the week.
Up next is a home date against Portland tomorrow night before heading out to Brooklyn for the Coaches v. Cancer Classic where Michigan State will play Virginia Tech in the first round and either Oklahoma or Seton Hall in the second round. Looking ahead, there is a distinct possibility that Michigan State could be undefeated come conference play. North Carolina looked very vulnerable with their loss this evening to Belmont and the only two road trips are against Oakland and Texas. There is a long way to go but Tom Izzo has a very good shot of being undefeated and ranked first in the nation on New Years Eve when they travel to State College.
The Gophers grabbed two solid victories this week. The first was an 84-58 home win over Montana, who was the Big Sky conference's representative in the NCAA Tournament last season. The second was a 74-59 road victory over Richmond. The Spiders aren't as good as they were when they were competing in the Sweet Sixteen a few years ago (they lost in the second round of the CBI last year) but an early road win is still good for a Gopher squad that is still trying to work into Richard Pitino's system.
They have two games this week, Coastal Carolina tomorrow and Wofford on Thursday, before they head out to the Maui Invitational the following week where they will play Syracuse in the first round.
Nebrasketball picked up two more wins this week, taking down Western Illinois and South Carolina State. Both teams won over 20 games last season and Western Illinois did play in the post season (they lost to Purdue in the first round of the CBI) so if those teams can duplicate their success from last season they will both provide a nice RPI boost for the Huskers. That probably matters more to Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue teams that are actually going to have a shot at the NCAA tournament this year than it does to Nebraska.
Thursday the Big Red heads to the Charleston Classic where they will face UMass. They will then take on either UAB or New Mexico in the second round and one of Georgia, Davidson, Temple, and Clemson in the third round. This is probably going to be a 1-2 trip
It was a week to forget for Northwestern. The Wildcats dropped a 71-58 tilt to Stanford in Palo Alto on Thursday before coming home and losing to Illinois State 68-64. Rodger Sherman writes that this may be the, "worst Northwestern sports season since the dark ages". I am going to disagree because if the Cats finishes with a 4-8 football record and at least five basketball wins this would still be a better year for Northwestern athletics than the 1999 season where the football team finished 3-8 and the basketball team went 5-25 (0-16). Northwestern men's basketball and football also combined to win 14 games in the 2007-08 year (despite a .500 football record) and 17 wins in 2006-07. I think Northwestern can get 10 basketball wins this season and beat Illinois which would only make this the worst Northwestern sports season (for the two major men's programs) since 2007-08.
The Wildcats play at UIC on Wednesday and host IUPUI on Friday.
Ohio State (3-0)
The Buckeyes knocked off in state rival Ohio 79-69 on Tuesday to start the week then went to Milwaukee Saturday where they demolished Marquette in the second half en route to a 52-35 victory that was so aesthetically unappealing that I actually switched over to the Kansas-West Virginia football game at one point in the second half. Nonetheless it was a great road win over a ranked team so kudos to the Buckeyes.
Next on the schedule are home dates with American and Wyoming. Like Michigan State, this is a team that could potentially be undefeated when the conference schedule kicks in. The Buckeyes host Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and take on Notre Dame in the Gotham Classic but the rest of the slate is at home against teams from mid major conferences so it wouldn't be inconceivable for the Bucks to be without a loss when the go to West Lafayette on New Years Eve.
Penn State (2-1)
The Nittany Lions were the first team in the conference to lose a game this season, falling to Bucknell on Wednesday 90-80. They managed to bounce back however and grab an 83-71 victory over Penn in the Palestra. Tim Frazier is averaging 22.3 points per game so far this season and DJ Newbill is averaging 18.3 which is the highest combined points per game of any two players on the same team in the Big Ten. Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis also are both averaging double figures but the rest of the Nittany Lions are averaging no more than 6.3 points per game.
Their two games this week are a little interesting as they host LaSalle on Tuesday (the Explorers were a Sweet Sixteen team last season) and Longwood (who knocked off Big XII bottom feeder TCU earlier this season) on Sunday.
Matt Painter's squad started the week Wednesday with a 109-73 dismantling of Central Connecticut State (the Blue Devils in case you were wondering what their nickname is). They followed it up with a close 81-77 win over Rider Sunday night. The Broncos were tied with Purdue at 40 during the intermission and made things interesting by cutting the Boiler lead to two with a little under 39 seconds to play but the home team closed on a 4-2 run that iced the contest.
Purdue hosts Eastern Illinois on Wednesday and Siena on Sunday. The following week will be their first major test as they face Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in Orlando as part of the Old Spice Classic.
While Michigan State was downing Kentucky on Tuesday the Badgers added their own victory over an SEC contender as they defeated Florida 59-53 in Madison. The Badgers took the lead off a three point shot by Ben Brust with 3:31 left in the first half and never trailed the rest of the game as their defense shut down Billy Donovan's Gators. Bo Ryan's team finished the week with a Saturday road victory over Green Bay 69-66.
Wisconsin plays three games this week, North Dakota on Tuesday, Bowling Green on Thursday, and Oral Roberts on Saturday with all three games at the Kohl Center.