B1G Ten Ballin’: The Hardwood Hustlers
With the Big Ten conference season coming to a close, Greg Mroz makes some key judgements about all of the Big Ten’s top teams in this week’s edition of Big Ten Ballin’: The Hardwood Hustlers.
Volume 5: Burning Down The House
The Big Ten has become the foundation of upsets the past few weeks in college basketball. Indiana and Michigan have both been upset by unranked teams twice in their last few games, and the rest of the conference has turned into a mish mosh of teams who can beat anybody on any given night. So lets take a look at our complicated situation and make some judgments on how this season will end up.
Indiana still can’t win on the road, but heck in this conference, who can? They are the number one team in the country and have two of the best players in college basketball in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, but like they did last year, the Hoosiers fail to win clutch games on the road. Their defense looks worse and Zeller never establishes position inside when the Hoosiers are away from Assembly Hall. By now, we know that Tom Crean is a great recruiter, but I am starting to question his ability as a game coach. Crean is very energetic as we’ve all seen, but when it comes down to crunch time, coaches like Tom Izzo will eat his lunch every single time. The Hoosiers have three games left and sit at a conference record of 12-3. If they can beat Iowa and Ohio State at home, you can lock the regular season conference title in the bag. Even though it might not matter in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding, the March 10th game at Michigan will be a true test of Indiana’s road toughness. Win in Ann Arbor, and you know the Hoosiers are for real to win the whole thing.
Michigan State is better than Michigan: In most years, this is true, but coming into this year, everybody thought that the Wolverines would be the better team, and for the most part, they have been. Yet, in their first head to head matchup, the Spartans won by 23 at the Breslin Center. Michigan has also proven what most people know about a John Beilein coached team: guard play can only take you so far. If Michigan had bruising bigs, there is no way they would’ve lost to a team like Penn State. Despite having lost two in a row, Michigan State is as solid as a rock, and Tom Izzo’s team will make a statement in Ann Arbor on March 3rd about who is really the state of Michigan’s basketball team.
Wisconsin wins the right way: Nobody really expected the Badgers to be much this season, yet here they are second in the conference and another 20 win season under Bo Ryan’s belt. They play great team defense, rotate the ball well around the perimeter and down low, and by gone they just know how to win. The Badgers beat Indiana when they were ranked 2nd and they beat Michigan (on a half court buzzer beater to send it to overtime) when they were ranked 3rd. This team is damn good, and you can expect them to give a great performance during the Big Ten tournament. Heck, they may even win it this year, they are that in sync right now.
Ohio State rides the Dark Horse: With guys like Jared Sullinger gone, not much attention has been paid to the Buckeyes. They have 7 total losses on the season, none of them coming to unranked teams. They can beat anybody and they have a player in Deshaun Thomas who is one of the most versatile players in the conference. Its weird though, how nobody has been talking about them, which makes them all that more dangerous to win the conference. Still, its hard to imagine Ohio State outside of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, so look for them to fly under the radar and surprise a lot of people come the time of the big dance.
Minnesota and Illinois will make the tournament, Iowa can make the tournament: Once you’ve beaten a team that is number one in the country, you can solidify yourself as a tournament team. Minnesota and Illinois played great in non-conference play, but struggled mightily at the beginning of conference play. Minnesota has been up and down, while Illinois was down, and then all of a sudden caught fire. Minnesota has great interior play with Trevor Mbakwe, while Brandon Paul is leading a guard attack for the Illini that has been real hot of late. While big wins have basically assured Illinois and Minnesota of making the tournament, the same cannot be said for Iowa. The Hawkeyes are the beneficiaries of playing in the strongest conference in college basketball, and because of that, they still have a chance of making it to the tournament. They currently stand at 18 wins total, and two of the three games they have left are at home against winnable opponents, Illinois and Nebraska. Add in one win in the Big Ten tournament to those two, and you will see Fran McCaffery’s team going dancing, and in a sense, they will have burned down the house.