Well, we’ve reached the end of the first half of Big Ten play. Was this your predicted conference standings at this point?
...actually, save for Northwestern’s hot first half and Indiana scuffling, that doesn’t seem too far from accurate, does it? There was a lot of uncertainty in the #5-13 spots in the Big Ten heading into the season, and given that six teams are tied at 3-5, the conference has about lived up to that.
Either way, everyone’s in action this weekend. In case you hadn’t heard, Kansas and Kentucky play tonight, so if you’d like to watch ESPN have an erection for about 15 straight hours, feel free to just click over there. Otherwise, we’ve got previews and an open thread!
[As a side note: If you notice there aren’t previews or recaps for your favorite team, feel free to email both me and DJ Carver after the game of choice. We’ll probably print’em. In the case of beezer’s Futurama recaps, we gladly accept those, too. Hell, you have pictures from the weekend hiking trip you took in lieu of watching Illinois-Penn State? Send ‘em! Emails are in the profiles.]
#15 wisconsin (17-3, 6-1 B1G) at rutger (12-9, 1-7)
11am CT || BTN || wi -16
The badgers are the defensively-disciplined team the rutger strategy of "throw the ball really hard at the basket," "hope you catch the carom," "throw the ball at the basket from a slightly closer distance," "hope you catch the carom," "throw the ball at the basket from less than 2,’" and "if you don’t make it TURN AROUND AND RUN!" will not work against.
That does not bode well for the Scarlet Knights, who will likely struggle to free Corey Sanders up against a more athletic badger backcourt. Even a hand in the face hasn’t been enough to stop Bronson Koenig as of late, and Ethan Happ is (unfortunately) going to eat CJ Gettys’ lunch. Sorry, buddy. I’m rooting for you.
[Since this appears to be confusing, I will absolutely keep calling rutger "rutger" until I decide not to. Beating wisconsin would go a long way...]
Pick: wisconsin, 74-59
#22 Maryland (18-2, 6-1) at Minnesota (15-6, 3-5)
1:15pm || BTN || MN -4.5
Wow. You read that line correctly.
Now, the esteemed mowe0018 over at The Daily Gopher took to dispelling three "myths" about the Gophers basketball team that are worth a look... While I’m skeptical overall about his findings (I don’t buy "luck," and while the Gophers have the resume of an NCAA team, they have the potential for the collapse of Iowa), he makes the point that Minnesota fans need not totally panic yet, and that’s a good one.
The Gophers can use the height of Reggie Lynch and Jordan Murphy to try to get inside on the Terrapins, but it’s going to require the Gophers getting back to the line like they were at the start of the season. Force Maryland into some awkward fouling issues, and Minnesota just might make it two in a row at home against the Terps.
DJ: I'm super worried on Minnesota game, on the road and they play good defense. Not worried about Minnesota doing well on offense because Maryland is a good defensive team too, but they get careless with the ball if people press them.
MNW’s Pick: Minnesota, 67-65.
Illinois (13-8, 3-5) at Penn State (11-10, 3-5)
3:30pm || BTN || PSU -2.5
Aaron Yorke: Illinois vs. Penn State is a battle between two of the Big Ten's six 3-5 teams. It's a fight to stay relevant, as the loser could drop into 13th place by the end of the weekend. Penn State is reeling after two blowout losses to Purdue and Wisconsin, but Illinois shouldn't be as stiff of a test, especially at home.
The Illini defense is more forgiving than the units Penn State faced most recently, and John Groce's team hasn't won a true road game all season. The Lions should be able to get the penetration and free throws that they couldn't get in Madison.
On the other end, they've got an opportunity to go zone against an Illinois squad that doesn't shoot so well. That might be a good way to stay out of foul trouble this time around.
MNW’s Pick: Illinois, 77-73
Ohio State (13-8, 3-5) at Iowa (11-10, 3-5)
7pm || ESPN || Iowa -1.5
The Hawkeyes are definitely a home team, but with sportswriters beginning to question whether Fran McCaffery ought to shut Peter Jok down for a few games, this one is anyone’s guess. Jordan Bohannon should be back, but a half-healthy Jok and a green backcourt will struggling against the Buckeyes’ aggressive defense.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have won three of their last four (over MSU, Minnesota, and Nebrasketball), getting more efficient shooting performances and better inside play in each of those wins. Against the Hawkeyes, Trevor Thompson should be able to make some hay inside, and if Thad Matta’s club keeps the turnovers down (they’re still a problem for the Bucks), they could sneak out of Iowa City with a win.
If Jok’s healthy enough, the Hawkeyes sneak one out at home. Otherwise I think the Buckeyes just played themselves, along with Illinois, right back toward the bubble.
Michigan (14-7, 4-4) at Michigan State (12-9, 4-4)
12pm || CBS
DJ: Michigan lacks the height that has given MSU fits as of late, so Michigan State shouldn't struggle like they have in this one. Michigan also fails to play defense for sustained lengths at a time so Miles Bridges should have ample opportunity to go off and stop the losing streak Sparty is on.
MNW: At the same time, have you seen the Wolverines when they shoot the ball efficiently? Hot damn, Jim Beilein is some sort of wizard.
Picking this game, though, between two relatively evenly-matched opponents, always goes the way of the home team. Izzo stomps and snorts his way to victory as Beilein and his tie flail about. Michigan State, 71-66.
#20 Purdue (17-4, 6-2), at Nebrasketball (9-11, 3-5)
3:30pm || BTN
The ever-loquacious Jesse Collins stopped by to give thoughts...
JC: Nebraska basketball is going to try and compete with a Purdue attack that consists of real inside threats on offense and legitimate lane stuffing shot blockers. This. Will. Not. End. Well.
Nebraska’s continual reliance on the offense of, "Please drive to the lane and somehow not draw fouls" will - most likely - result in something like 45% shooting from the lane and a 5/32 night from long range. Why 32 shots from long range? Because for some unknown reason, Nebraska panics when the drive to the lane and not draw fouls offense doesn’t work and instead of trying mid-range, we just go with our weakest offensive weapon.
Nebraska can hang with a lot of teams in the Big Ten for most of a game because they are an annoying defensive team and generally an effective drive to the lane and not draw fouls team. Purdue plays to their biggest weaknesses and you’ll probably see that tomorrow.
MNW’s Pick: Purdue, 77-62
Indiana (14-7, 4-4) at Northwestern (17-4, 6-2)
5:30pm || BTN
Shit, I'm talking myself into this one. Indiana's defense (KP 154) is the least efficient in the Big Ten. Michigan demonstrated that open threes are there for the taking against the Hoosiers. The Wolverines also showed you can rein in James Blackmon Jr.
I'm most curious to watch Dererk Pardon and Thomas Bryant go at it in the paint. Bryant's more athletic than anyone Pardon's seen...probably since Minnesota, so this will be a good test for the Cleveland sophomore. Contesting Bryant inside while staying out of foul trouble will go a long way to forcing the Hoosiers to rely on the rest of their depth around the perimeter.
On the whole, I don't know what to tell you at this point. I'd like to see the 'Cats force Josh Newkirk into a few bad shots, control the tempo of the game, and keep Welsh-Ryan rocking. That means fewer shots and more dribble-distribution for Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey's back spasms being a one-time thing, and Pardon turning in another strong inside performance.
Pick: Goddamnit. This is when it starts to hurt, being wrong. Gothic unis and an insane WRA means 'Cats, 78-70. When the collapse begins, you know where to look, folks.
Fixing the Big Ten schedule: Protected matchups?
I’m not a fan of the Big Ten basketball schedule as it is. Not maybe people are fans of seasons where they only see long-time rivals like Minnesota-wisconsin and others play just once a season. That’s not cool.
How, though, do we fix it? My preferred solution would just to be protecting one rivalry to play twice a year and continuing the rotations as otherwise usual. That’d be 14 games accounted for (i.e. Northwestern-Illinois twice, then one game against everyone else). After that, I wouldn’t mind seeing power-matched round-robins.
Let us know your thoughts and picks in the comments, which are also your open thread for the basketball weekend! Thanks as always for reading OTE.
-MNW and the OTE Shootyhoops Gang