Indiana is the class of the Big Ten – both in the record column and in the efficiency margin column. The Hoosiers picked up a pivotal win at Michigan State and control their own destiny with a two game lead over the rest of the league. Wins are Minnesota and against Iowa this week could lock down at least a share of the Big Ten crown for the Hoosiers this week but they need three more wins to clinch the title outright.
Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan are now all tied in the loss column in second place. Michigan has been the most efficient of the three teams while Wisconsin is the only team in the top third with just one game left against another top team. The differences between those three schools hasn’t changed; Wisconsin plays the league’s best defense, Michigan’s offense is matched only by Indiana and Michigan State provides a reasonable mix of both offense and defense. Ohio State has slowly creeped back into the picture but has work to do if it wants to secure a Big Ten Tournament bye.
I’m not sure anyone had a worse week than Northwestern as injuries are finally causing the Wildcats to unravel. Bill Carmody’s team was outscored by 59 points combined over 120 possessions in losses to Wisconsin and Purdue. That’s just shy of a half point per possession and has the Wildcats tied with the winless Nittany Lions at the bottom of the efficiency margin table. The worst news for Northwestern is that two of Northwestern’s last three games are against Ohio State and Michigan State. Perhaps the more interesting game will be Thursday, March 7th when Penn State travels to Evanston. Could the Nittany Lions finally score a Big Ten win in the final week of the season?
Game of the Week: Indiana 72, Michigan State 68
This game was a joy to watch as Michigan State and Indiana played great basketball on both ends of the floor. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne played great for Michigan State while Victor Oladipo continued to build his Player of the Year resume (which will certainly be proof read by Tom Crean). Michigan State led 67-63 with just 1:37 to play in the game before Christian Watford contributed the most important bucket of the night, converting in the paint through an Adriean Payne foul. After a pair of late Victor Oladipo baskets, Gary Harris would miss one of three potentially tying free throws to allow the Hoosiers to escape with a marquee road win.
Stat Line of the Week: Victor Oladipo: 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds, five steals, one block vs. Michigan State
Oladipo is everywhere on the court defensively (and on the glass) and he’s extraordinarily efficient because he gets so many easy looks. Oladipo’s performance in East Lansing has triggered some Player of the Year buzz as he influences a game in so many facets despite playing with an extremely talented group at Indiana. As previously mentioned, Oladipo essentially iced the game with clutch plays in the game’s final minutes and is easily the most important reason that Indiana has a comfortable lead in the conference standings. It’s tough to think of many recent players that have followed a similar trajectory of improvement as Oladipo. As a freshman he was an athletic role player, as a junior he appears poised to be a lottery pick.
Unsung Hero: Jordan Morgan, Michigan: 1 point, 6 rebounds vs. Illinois
Michigan’s defense struggled just like it has throughout the last three weeks on Sunday – when Jordan Morgan wasn’t in the game. Still not 100%, Morgan made a game changing impact while anchoring Michigan’s defense. Morgan was phenomenal showing, hedging and recovering on pick-and-roll scenarios and Michigan was simply a different team when he was on the floor. The Wolverines outscored the Illini 46-21 during the 17 minutes that Morgan was on the floor and was outscored 37-25 when he was on the bench.
Surprise of the Week: Ohio State knocks off Minnesota, Michigan State at home
Ohio State winning home games is far from a surprise over the last several years but the Buckeyes were floundering entering this week. Thad Matta’s team had lost three of four games and was dismantled at Wisconsin, 71-49 in a 60 possession beat down. The Buckeyes impressed by thrashing Minnesota, 71-45, and then grinding out a victory over a Michigan State team that had been playing as good as anyone entering this week. The win over Michigan State was just Ohio State’s second over a top 25 team this season and keeps the Buckeyes in the thick of the conversation for a Big Ten Tournament bye.
Disappointment of the Week: Nebraska 64, Iowa 60
I’ve touted Iowa as a team that should play its way into the NCAA tournament and I think the Hawkeyes are a pretty good team but this loss looks like a certain bubble popper. The dangerous part of winnable games and an easier schedule is that you actually have to win them. Nebraska had a week to prepare and is learning how to play tough basketball under first year head coach Tim Miles but NCAA tournament worthy teams don’t lose at Nebraska. Iowa led by 19 points (41-22) with :53 seconds to play in the first half but simply choked the game away down the stretch. Nebraska closed the game on a 20-7 stretch over the final 9:30 of action and Iowa’s weakening NCAA tournament odds probably rest in a road win at Assembly Hall on Saturday.
Upcoming Game of the Week: Michigan State at Michigan
Last time we put this as the “Upcoming Game of the Week”, Michigan State trounced Michigan on its home floor in a 23 point win that wasn’t even that close. But with both teams sitting on four losses, this is the best Big Ten game on paper once again. Michigan will hope for a better performance in front of its home crowd and this game could go a long way toward either school pushing for a No. 1 seed down the stretch. Michigan State will have a week to prepare after losing two difficult games – home to Indiana and at Ohio State – while Michigan has a midweek trip to Happy Valley to handle first.
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