Big Ten Blog
Player of the Week
Games played while a team is heading into the end of the term can always be tricky, and sometimes are best simply to get them over with and burn the tape. Ohio State as a team did not have the best showing against IUPUI on Thursday night. The team that had not allowed their opponents to score more than 45 points in any the past four games was not at their typically high level. IUPUI came out scoring on six of their first seven possessions to start the game en route to 35 for the half and a tie ballgame. They followed it up by starting out the second half strong as well scoring on seven of their first nine possessions opening up a nine point lead. Sullinger took advantage of the overmatched Jaguar zone and put in his final 22 points in the final 11:43 to lead Ohio State to a 76-65 win. He ended up breaking the Ohio State freshman scoring record with 40 points in the game, and the first Buckeye to hit the 40 point mark since Dennis Hopson in 1986. With finals over with on Sunday, Ohio State did not have the same problems with slow starts jumping on Western Carolina early with a well balanced attack and ended up cruising to a 25 point win. While Sullinger did not have another 40, he get to the line all afternoon putting in nine of twelve to help get him 17 points on just 8 field goal attempts.
Michigan’s Improved Play
Before the season, it was difficult to see how Michigan would be able to improve in a season where the conference is especially loaded and the two dominant players from last year, DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, were no longer with them. The beginning of the season did not dispel that sentiment when the Wolverines dropped their two games at the Legends Classic in Atlantic City and struggled mightily to score points having shot 36-115 from the field. Since that trip, however, Michigan has started figuring things out. Darius Morris has made great strides as the leader of the offense and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates. In their three recent wins over Clemson, Harvard, and Utah, Morris has averaged 15 points, 7.7 assists, 3 steals, 5 rebounds, and only 3 turnovers per game. As Head Coach John Beilein put it "He's 0-fer (on lobs)" but of late he is throwing less of them. In Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway Jr., Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass, Michigan has players around Morris who can score, but none are the above the rim athletes he seems to be accustomed. With the top half of the conference as strong as it with five teams in the top 25, it is unlikely Michigan works its way too far up the league standings, but they are making the case that there are not going to be any gimme games once league play starts.
Michigan State running on fumes
“We turned into a pretty-boy jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team we should be.” That is kind of a cliché line for a coach to throw out after a disappointing loss. He could have done better. “Our guys inside weren't covering anybody and that's solely on me. If the team doesn't play hard enough and is tough enough that's the coach's fault and we'll fix that. I feel like the New York Jets.” It really is wonderful that Izzo went back for the second. This is not college football, rankings really do not matter. It is all about getting a team ready to win in March. When most teams taking the easier route when the players are finishing their semesters, Tom Izzo put on Syracuse in New York City and Oakland University at Auburn Hills. Coming out of the week with a split is not surprising, nor overly disappointing. Syracuse was a bigger, stronger team playing was in essence playing a home game while Michigan State has had a more difficult four weeks of basketball than the Knicks. Oakland is a respectable mid-major program with an NBA prospect in Keith Benson, but simply did not have enough weapons to get over the hump. No team has assembled a more difficult schedule than Michigan State. It is a wonderfully arrogant way to approach the college basketball season, but the Spartans looked this week like a team that can use a bit of a break.
Conferences fastest rising prospects from Aran’s most recent big board