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As our tempo free aerial illustrates this very clearly but three teams are playing significantly better basketball than the rest of the league: Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Purdue. These three teams are not only playing better defense than anyone else, they are scoring much more efficiently. Wisconsin’s home win over Ohio State has actually put the Badgers slightly ahead of Ohio State in this week’s efficiency numbers but there’s still a rematch in Columbus which could even that out.
The middle of the pack is hard to distinguish. The numbers say Illinois is playing better basketball than the rest of the Big Ten’s middle but you wouldn’t think so watching the Illini play. Bruce Weber has called out his senior leadership publicly and his team is 3-6 over its last nine games. With so many seniors on the roster, the question is whether Illinois can turn it around and starts spiraling downward. Everyone started to write Michigan State off a week ago but the Spartans are down but not out. A couple big wins and Michigan State is right back in the thick of things around the 4-5 spots.
Michigan’s numbers put the Wolverines closer to the basement (hint: allowing 20 point leads to collapse into 4 point wins doesn’t help) than the middle of the pack but the Wolverines are playing much better basketball lately. Michigan has scored 1.11 points per trip and allowed 1.04 over its last 372 trips possessions in the last six games — far improved from the handful of deflating setbacks early on. Things won’t be easy down the stretch as the Wolverines still have three more road games left on the docket. – Dylan Burkhardt
Surprise of the week: Iowa giving Wisconsin all they could handle in Iowa City on Wednesday, pushing the Badgers to overtime before falling 62-59. Iowa has actually been very good at home recently, blowing out Michigan State two weeks ago and beating a tough Indiana team as well. The Hawkeyes actually seemed to be in control much of the game and took a 23-18 lead into the locker room at halftime. But Wisconsin is Wisconsin for a reason, and Jon Leuer, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and company made sure the Badgers escaped with a victory. – Joe Stapleton
Disappointment of the week: Iowa getting blown out at home by Minnesota just four days later. The question going in was would Iowa ride the momentum of playing the No. 13 team in the country so close the game before, or was that game simply a gut-punch that would deflate the Hawkeyes. The answer was the latter. Michigan can relate a bit: after losing a close one at Crisler to Ohio State, Michigan then went on to play two of its worst games of the season at Indiana and Northwestern. Iowa reacted to the tough loss in similar fashion against Minnesota. The Hawkeyes were dominated on the glass and shot just 21 percent from 3 in the loss. – Joe Stapleton
Unsung hero: Trevor Mbakwe from Minnesota in the Gophers’ tough loss to Illinois. While Minnesota lost a great opportunity for a very good Big Ten win, Mbakwe was very effective in the loss, tallying 17 points and 16 rebounds. In the gophers’ two previous games, Mbakwe scored just seven and eight points against Indiana and Ohio State, respectively, so it was good to see him get back on track. The performance appeared to get Mbakwe back on track as he notched 24 points and five rebounds in Minnesota’s win at Iowa. – Joe Stapleton
Stat line: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin. Against Ohio State the guard was terrific, racking up 27 points on 13 shots as well as seven assists. 21 of those 27 came in the second half and Taylor solidified himself as one of the most clutch players in the Big Ten. When his team needed him, he stepped up big. Taylor scored eight straight points late in the second half, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers. Can you name a Big Ten guard you’d rather have on your roster than Jordan Taylor? – Joe Stapleton
Game of the week: Wisconsin beating No. 1-ranked Ohio State on Saturday. True Big Ten fans understand that this wasn’t really an upset, but it was a great game nonetheless. The game was close throughout and Wisconsin needed a major second-half run to beat the previously undefeated Buckeyes. The Badgers went on a 15-0 run in the second half and pretty much rode Jordan Taylor to victory. What a year for Wisconsin athletics — not only did they unseat the previously top-ranked Ohio State basketball team; they did the same thing in football. Fans stormed the court after the victory just as they did at Camp Randall a few months ago. – Joe Stapleton
Game of next week: Wisconsin at Purdue on Wednesday. A battle between teams ranked No. 10 and No. 11, respectively as well as two of the top teams in the conference. Purdue will be looking for revenge after dropping the game in Madison on Feb. 1, and Wisconsin will still be riding the momentum of their huge win over Ohio State. The last meeting was a dogfight, with Wisconsin needing 24 points from Jon Leuer and some big plays in the final minute to hold of the Boilermakers. Considering Ohio State has to play Wisconsin again and travel to Purdue, the winner of this game might hold onto a (small) shot at a share of the Big Ten title. – Joe Stapleton